Thursday, 26 May 2016

To You, Universe


(Background: GG wrote to me telling me how angry, broken and sad she was with life. In the middle of our telephonic interview I asked,

"...wait. You know that To You is a love letter writing service, right?”

It can’t just be an angry rant I thought, no matter how justified, delayed or well deserved.
So this love letter is wearied, frayed at the edges and slightly worn: like how love is for a large chunk of its life. But despite how wearied, frayed and worn it gets, sometimes knowing that it’s just around the corner waiting for you, chewing gum and whistling an obscure ad tune from the 90s, is enough.)



To You
Universe,



I’m so mad at you I could hurt you if I only knew where you lived.



I’ve stood at your highest points, gathered love like a full season’s harvest in my hands, I’ve seen glory made flesh and I’ve known what so many women’s blogs use as a template title, “what it’s like to have it all." And I knew I did. I know this in the razor sharp brutality of retrospect, because right now I don’t.


The apple of my parents’ eyes, loved, nurtured and protected, I knew hard work and the sweet fruits of labour. The head girl at my school, the title winner at the college farewell and an easy shoo-in into medical school: The Golden Girl, my tuition teacher would say.
Until with a throw of dice, you didn’t just think I’d had enough, you decided I’d had too much and moved up from the floor where you’re always lying indifferent to grotesque problems like deaths of children from starvation, terrorism inciting people to blow themselves and each other up for an abstract belief and daily cruelty. 
For years I watched you, from the corner of my eye, not stir, not once for any of this. Until you decided to get up for me and not just correct the balance, but take it all away so quick and so fast, that even my memories are singed with burn scars.


Full thickness burn is what we call this level of fire damage. 
The outer skin may bear telltale signs of scarring but the heat and burns sometimes permeate all the way down to the muscle and bone. Which was all that my father was to me: bone, tissue and sinew. I could go into details of his first heart attack in 2010 or how wonderfully you timed his death, a month into my marriage in 2013 but the weight of time will not carry the burden I do. Of shouting at him five months before, telling my mum as I stared shocked at an empty mithai box, that if he continued to eat so recklessly he wouldn’t survive for more than six months. He didn’t.


I never gave you permission, to work through my body or my words, because you’ve left me with the spine bending weight of grief and guilt. I replay those words in my head like a scratched record, hoping that one more time would mean I hadn’t said them.
Of constantly wondering why all those years I fought his beliefs.

“No Papaji, I call myself 23 because I have lived 23 years of my life. I haven’t turned 24 and I can’t call myself 24 because what if I don’t even get to see the end of this year? That is how birthdays work.
Now please write my correct age on the application, you cannot live by your own age rule.”

He died 13 days short of 58 and I don’t want to be right, I want to be horribly wrong and humbled and ashamed: I want to be all of this and have him back.



You let me walk into a marriage, which was weighed down with a depression like big, smooth-surfaced, heavy rocks in my coat pocket invisible to everyone: everyday felt like a walk to the river where all physics had planned for me was to sink swiftly to the bottom. Seven months of marriage with a depression and a throbbing, violent lack of warmth, passion and intensity was like a permanent cold.
You think you can get through life with a permanent cold? 
It will disintegrate your days with the precision and purpose of an atomic bomb. And yet I pleaded, cajoled, begged and negotiated when I was served one day with divorce papers. I searched for loopholes and drew up lists to stay. In between sobs, which still echo inside my ribs, I understood that somethings have no answers, no blame, no reason and no brakes.



So back to why I’m mad at you, Universe.

You took my best years and put them in a blender. I have nothing to show for them except aches and wounds and who has the time or hashtag to look at that?

My face at 32 today, isn’t what it was at 29 when I married. My heartbeat races to win against my pulse if I ever Facebook stalk my ex-husband to see how happy he is with the girl he married a month after we divorced.
No, I am not mad at him. 
He lived in a small town where gossip served as the only form of evening entertainment. I was a fish out of water and I know you pulled me out to put me where I belong. 
I have forgotten how to talk though. Somewhere in the internal screams hurled at you, I lost my voice. I replaced it in my throat with a constant sinking feeling.


I’m seething with rage when I think of those misguided attempts to marry myself on shaadi.com. On the boy I spent months talking to and never heard from again.


So why am I writing this letter to you?
Because I know that sometimes even the best love breaks down, and you and I were epic. 
It always starts with faith. Mine’s as shaken as a weary bridge under a train track, rusted and corroded with years of rain. But it’s still standing and this is why I am reaching out.



It’s time we spoke, you and I.
It’s time we worked things out.
I think of you when it rains, each time it does. 
I almost forgive you then for creating sadness, because you created both and rain comes on top winning. On some tough days only by a small margin, but it does. 
We were beautiful together when we worked. You and I. You perfected blush coloured sunsets on blue skies and my smile never learnt how to contain itself. I look up often and I still catch glimpses of those sunset pinks, so I’m going to give it my best to smile again, hoping that together you and I can recreate the magic.

My father, when I was three, always had on his desk a jar full of lollipops. Carrying one in his back pocket, he would sit in front of me and conjure up gibberish spells and all kinds of complicated incantations. He convinced me he knew magic and would produce a lollipop for me, sneakily from his back pocket, wherever I went.


Well, he’s sitting in your living room somewhere. I’m sure between the two of you, you have enough magic saved up to remind me how to love, be loved, find a doctor who understands me and my work, build myself  a simple, small, content and meaningful life and be your Golden Girl again. 



Yours in waiting and standing faith,
Golden Girl

(GG).


                                    ( Gunjan said she had no picture to give me, so until she finds her own, I'm leasing out my happy picture and caption from last week to her, with all my love: "Roses are for other girls, dammit. I'm going to be that goofball, sunlight chasing, badass sunflower.")





(To You is a letter writing project I started because there are not enough letters and love going around. If you have something to say with love-- for your ex girlfriend, you current husband, pizza (promise not to make it cheesy), your landlord who let you skip rent or even Ryan Gosling-- I'll write that letter for you. The love letter can go with real names, back stories, as many pictures as you like, aliases and even super powers.
The final letter will be up on my blog and a copy will be handwritten and posted to you or to an intended recipient. Kisses on the envelope only on my discretion. Give me a shout at: kakulgautam@gmail.com )




Friday, 6 May 2016

To You, Ma



(Backstory: There were a few requests to write letters on mother’s day  so I gave it an honest attempt. The problem became glaringly obvious when my mum and her anecdotes sneakily snuck into each one. So I gave up and decided to write one for her instead. Also, it is colossally hard to even attempt to describe how much you can love your mother without making a royal mess or a Hallmark card of it; here’s hoping I've done neither. This picture was taken after she came back from work. Her first question at ("50+  and not a day older") was, “is this for a hand modeling job?”.)



To You
Ma,



You have a distinct knack of getting under my skin.
I think it’s because you made me, so you know all the secret passages, password protected doors and every emotional loophole in the contract.

What I’m trying to tell you today is that I love you, indescribably, inexplicably, inconsistently and insistently. Let me break that down:


I was five, seven, or nine (only in adulthood have I kept a meticulous track of my age almost willing it to stop) when you came home with four cages with birds and a strange man waiting outside our door, squatting. Your face was beaming with a plan as you hustled me outside. 

Squatted man, bhaiya, looked at us like we were screaming mad or his best cons of the day. Either or. I think my role being outside was only to add legitimacy to your plot.
Hi Bhaiya, look at my innocent daughter. I’m a mother which makes me sane and respectable.

You proceeded to buy ALL his birds and watched hawk-eyed as he transported the birdcages into our living room the window of which opened up to an expanse of sky and a car park below. After shoving inside each cage tiny containers of water and seed, you told me to pick out my favourite bird.

I picked the parrot and you said his name was, “Mithoo”, colloquial Indian name for friendly parrots who are dearly loved. I peered inside Mithoos cage and saw specks of blood and solemnly reported this to you, objectively and with no emotion, already showing promise of a future as a journalist. Quick inspection later you said that Mithoo had worn his beak thin and was bleeding, having pecked away at the wires of his cage. My eyes turned to liquid, watery discs enough to be a small-sized city swimming pool, but I had lost your attention. You turned to the cage and half-sang, half-cooed
Mithooo
Mithooo betaaa



Talking to the bird like it understood you, you somehow stuck your finger into the cage. Horrified, I was convinced in a second that your forefinger would be soon be an ornitho-french fry. Mithoo beta however, suck up that he was rubbed his fat, parrot-green belly against it. Slowly lifting my hand up, you unlocked with it Mithoos wire cage. I gasped and stumbled five steps back. Mithoo did not even blink. You told me to carry on with my 500-piece jigsaw puzzle and Mithoo would be ready, when he was ready. After an hour of watching intently with the corner of my right eye, I saw him tentatively put one claw out and then clumsily flap his wings and half fly, half fall out of his cage.

“Ma, it’s flying.”


I was told to please not to disturb him: did I like anyone watching me practice my Bharatnatyam steps? And soon enough, after flying, perching on a vase, flying and collapsing, excitedly pooping next to our TV remote, perching on the blades of our ceiling fan, flying, perching on the top of the never-dusted bookshelf he eventually flew out of the window and into the sky.
We hugged and clapped spent all afternoon freeing the remaining birds.
Our maid, the next morning, refused to clean what looked like the inside of a giant angry birds cage.


I don’t know why I remember that afternoon so well, of the countless others. You made me name all the birds before we freed them. Too tired to be imaginative I just went with 

Mitthoo 2
Mitthoo 3
Mitthoo 4
And so on.


Why do we have to name them all?
A name is a powerful thing, Kakul. Yours was chosen with love and you’ll carry it no matter where you are, or how old you are. It will set you apart and when someone tells you that it is lovely, tell them the story behind it.




You were 28 years old when you completed your Phd, married and had me a year later. Year28 accomplishments for me have been lying face down across my bed congratulating myself on surviving my commute and wondering how many friendships would continue if I never actually met the people involved because I had zero energy and I was a barely functioning adult.


I left home at 19 and only then did I decidedly conclude that you had probably been sneaking into my room at night like a Wiccan mixing the smell of you into my bones. What else would explain why I carry that smell inside the knots of my stomach when a day turns itself on its head and me with it?
For when I travelled, lived and worked in colder climates you were the sum of all those fat pink bottles of cold cream, cardamom in your morning tea and all the dog-eared old books that fell asleep on top of you, when you did. You were summer, winter, spring and monsoon in India, especially summer.
Why else when friends, heartache, studies, jobs didn’t work out did I crave to just be near you and bury my face into the side of your stomach knowing that no matter how old I got and how many almost failures or complete disasters I stacked up, you’d think I’m perfect and always have a shot at absolute and complete stardom?


They say you get your creativity and insecurities from your mother: but what I got most was your mind, your will and your optimism which was sometimes so deluded I think life gave in due to its sheer audacity.


Growing up you taught me the Latin names of plants while my friends were happy to point out gnarly trees as “the one that ghosts lived under”. Ficus Religiosa: Because my elder brother taught me that when you learn the ecosystem you’re a part of you really understand your place in the world, you’d say.
We learnt how to love plants, art, animals and each other because we couldn’t help it: we were of you. You worked yourself into our lives so seamlessly and cleverly that we don’t know how to function without. Just FYI you’re a microbiologist PhD which is not a real doctor and so your advice on antibiotics should be taken with a pinch of salt or not really at all. 

Yet, all I’ve ever known what to do whenever I’ve fallen sick is call you, report symptoms and wait for further instructions.


That’s how you took care of your father, when you were 19 and he was paralysed with cerebral thrombosis. You'd come home from school, sit by his bedside and read him Ghalib and Mir Taqi Mir while he wrote translations and meanings on a paper for you. That’s what you did, when a few years ago I was heart broken and crying in my room. You sent me an Iqbal poem on text saying:
Abhi sitaaron se aagey jahaan aur bhi hain.

Thank you ma for giving me my ridiculous, weird ideas of life. For teaching me with example that the only way to love a family is to give them space to grow into their own, for knowing so much about kitchen made face packs and having so much disdain about practical complications to achieving ridiculous personal dreams, for consistently talking about the importance of personal hygiene “because millions of microbes live everywhere”, for teaching us to laugh into the face of all paranoia and doing it for us when we couldn’t, for taking all our weird, sullen, ungainly, stubborn bits and turning us into a family.
For never knowing how to tell an anecdote and always starting from, “so back when I was in college, Anita and I,”, for being the girl who experimented with smoking with her brother and his friends and the mother who bragged about it to us years later, whose own heart got broken until she found my goofy (ridiculously cute and Prince Charming to the entire family) Pa, for never learning to keep account of money or keys in her bag, for being the voice in my head and for telling me definitively year after year, “I am telling you, fashion goes in circles. Flared pants will make a comeback.”
You’re right, they did.



With all our love,
Kakul & Mithoo Beta


(To You is a letter writing project I started because there are not enough letters and love going around. If you have something to say with love-- for your ex girlfriend, you current husband, pizza (promise not to make it cheesy), your landlord who let you skip rent or even Ryan Gosling-- I'll write that letter for you. The love letter can go with real names, back stories, as many pictures as you like, aliases and even super powers.
The final letter will be up on my blog and a copy will be handwritten and posted to you or to an intended recipient. Kisses on the envelope only on my discretion. Give me a shout at: kakulgautam@gmail.com )

Sunday, 17 April 2016

To You, Daan

(Backstory: Contours of friendships and countries were never meant to be drawn out by man. Land and love run where they must, wilfully errant, incorrigible and responsible for the best poetry.  This To You letter is of a friendship and love between two people who admittedly would have been together had they not already been married when they met.
This is a birthday letter because mail was made to transcend distances and blur those damned lines of land and love.)



To You
Daan,



The first time I met you I was a corporate fawn. A week old in that new organization.

I walked into your cabin to say hello, business-face and MBA head screwed on tight. That plan would've been executed flawlessly had your almost faded denim-blue eyes not disoriented me from the pitch I had prepared and rehearsed so well in my head. 

So I sat down and did what instinct had taught me best to do: I rambled. I rambled long and hard about my vision for the company and my role, outlining basics and emphasising on the necessity to focus on digital if we were to look at any growth. You patiently let me carry on, only to interrupt gently, what were technical definitions I was spouting at this time, to point out, “I do know a little bit about digital, you know.” I think my cheeks flushed an entire blood stream.



Moving to a new city while your friends and husband stay back in another is much easier in your early 20s than when you’re almost 30. Did people make new friends anymore? How did they do it? Was Dale Carnegie still relevant? I’m fairly certain that the dread of eating lunch alone in this city’s oppressive heat made me lose my appetite. Until you saw me, lone wolf around the office elevator and kindly said, “You’re not going to eat lunch alone.” Unlike what Instagram memes would have us believe, kindness isn’t being thrown around like confetti; which is why I remember that day and wonder how much of it you had in spades to take time out from your schedule as Marketing Director and eat lunch with me.



Being new to the city and the job meant I came in to work before others. So did you; to get a head start and some music into your day. Soon, over coffee, discussing favourite songs we stumbled onto a friendship, with me always hyper-aware of the food chain hierarchy over us, and you never, not in a gesture or even an affliction of a word reminding me of that.
I could attribute that initial connection to you not being from my country but kindness, grace and chemistry between two people is rarely culture specific.
I could give you a timeline of our friendship but in my head it’s like the riff of a fantastic old school rock-n-roll song: all guitar, a little bass, just enough drums and no lyrics. I don’t recall when we slipped into texting each other for at least an hour a day, but there I was on my phone at home with a pissed off room mate who was annoyed that our House M.D binge-watching tradition was being interrupted.

My 30th birthday in a strange city could’ve been meaningless but you and a few other friends at work made it into a carnival even my own hyperacid dreams couldn’t match. When all the champagne was done and the last of the revelers had left, I asked if you would stay. You did and we out-lasted the night,talking up until 6.30 am. Making me realize that if world leaders just hung out at night, talking and being vulnerable there would be more peace and definitely complete disarmament.



Which is what your eyes did to me the first time we went to dinner at the Korean restaurant. You took off your glasses and went from 38 to 25 and I had to recite the entire periodic table in my head, backwards, to will my body from not sending all the tell-tale blood to my face. Sometimes I think you deliberately and premeditatedly broke through my barriers. There I was, awkwardly handling chopsticks and telling you about my dreams, my relationships and all the questions I had from life. And somewhere in the too much talking and too few pauses we became us. A friendship so unique and special that I will body block anyone who tries to harm it.



My own marriage had a fractured limb and it was you, and our friendship that held my hand while I tried to slap on a plaster and work my way through the pain. You navigated me, like only you do, sternly, objectively and protectively through crisis after crisis. Your advice though never emotional was always laced with worry and concern for me: and that got me wondering how I’d made it through the 29 years before, without it.



You’ve moved countries, but it seems like we've beaten time, space and geography. At least it feels like that on all days other than the ones I want to meet you for our customary four hour brunch conversations.  I don’t know of a day when we haven't spoken, even when I whatsapp “BRB” and show up 5 hours later.

I’ve lived days of your life when you would put me on video so I could say hi to the kids while they ran around and you made breakfast for them. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve bugged you about the length of your hair because Nick Carter only barely made that look work in the 90s. I’ve forgotten to track the number of times your impish smile and truly sometimes-evil sense of humour have made sense of a harrowed day for me. There’s also a constant wondering why, like Michaelangelo’s David, must you think and pout at the same time?



It’s your birthday, best friend, and I remember today a story you told me of many birthday ago when all you got in the name of presents were socks. That broke my heart. So this year, for someone who loves words, I’m giving you all of mine:


Happy birthday blue eyes, I wish for you to invent finally that time travelling machine so we can fly back and forth in and out of each other’s daily lives, until then I wish for both of us to always have strong wifi.

Happy birthday friend extraordinaire, I want you most of all to be surrounded by love. To have the happiest marriage where when you come home after a hard day’s work, you know that numbers and targets are immaterial to what you have at home.

Happy birthday best buddy, more than anything else I wish for the world to reflect back at you trademark sparkling conversations, intelligence, kindness, grace and a limitless appetite for fun that only you have.


This is sealed with all my love,
A.L


                              (A.L sent this picture, it's from a brunch that wouldn't end, she tells me. From a Sunday that always makes her smile)


(To You is a letter writing project I started because there are not enough letters and love going around. If you have something to say with love-- for your ex girlfriend, you current husband, pizza (promise not to make it cheesy), your landlord who let you skip rent or even Ryan Gosling-- I'll write that letter for you. The love letter can go with real names, back stories, as many pictures as you like, aliases and even super powers.
The final letter will be up on my blog and a copy will be handwritten and posted to you or to an intended recipient. Kisses on the envelope only on my discretion. Give me a shout at: kakulgautam@gmail.com )

Sunday, 28 February 2016

To You, The Boy From Far Away



(Backstory: Most of my To You letters are written after long phone-calls and email exchange interviews, this was the first which happened over several cups of coffee and too-loud laughter. This letter is not for a boy (though, of course there is a boy). This is for a feeling which, in the white noise of everyday and too many internet trolls, sometimes comes far too rarely. With this girl it took years coming and the letter is so she can trap it on paper for posterity.
For those who are suckers for plot-outlines: these two kids aren’t "officially dating"; they’re not more but they’re not less either. They’re stuck somewhere in the interesting: in the in-between).



To You
The Boy From Far Away,



I’ve always been obsessed with the idea of memory. 


The way it lends itself more to what’s happening right now than to what has already happened. Maybe this is what makes me want to rush in like a firefighter and scoop all the sounds and sights and smells and tastes on my tongue and ledger them in a ruled notebook, alphabetically for posterity.


Maybe this is why, I’ve always had trouble thinking and talking linearly and why I can’t tell beginnings apart from endings. And yet, I remember you with a fluorescent burn clarity from that party I never intended to go to.
I was running late, with a mocking half fever and absolutely no desire to meet “new people”. My best friend badgered me through a slew of two word texts and there I was, waiting for her, because like always she was running on promises and behind time. I want to say I saw you glimmering through the crowd but the only time I remember you is when suddenly for the first time that night the “my name is this/this is what I do/etc” conversation actually had my attention. 
The gauzy haze of wine, mostly white, intensified my interest in your interest of me.



This is how I’m doing most of the retelling, through feelings and Granta-approved  detailed anecdotes. Wondering if what I feel for you today is shiny, sparkling brand-new? Or is it a lumbering awakening of what I felt before, the last time I started to fall into love and a relationship? 
That was 10 years ago; five of which were spent in a beautiful relationship and five in unwrapping myself from its hold.
That’s what you did, BoyFromFarAway, you smashed your too-tall self through the explanations, flow chart order, grand plans and way of life I’d outlined for myself. 


I'd pledged allegiance to the church of the Agnostic to Love. I’d eventually wanted a companion, sure. Someone I loved and wanted to go home to, but here you have me fussing over the texture of your voice. The slow drawl of the “hey”, each time you call, and the way you make my insides squeal, dance and behave like a 14 year old girl at a concert. I stare at my phone far too often, willing for you to text and I’m a distracted heap of nerves during meetings when you do. I’m alien to my own body and it’s mutinous defiance of the importance of a working Monday!
Was it only a few weeks ago when we were at my house drinking merlot? Your fascination with full-bodied wines being a point of such deep interest to me that I wonder why sociologists, anthropologists and artists aren’t dropping everything and paying attention to this fact and its obviously startling beauty. So there we were, drinking Merlot and talking and soon it was 4.30am. 
We’re warriors of time, you and I, when we’re together. Beating it, bending it and slipping in and out of black holes of sleep, schedules and pauses; what Amelia Earhart I think was really attempting to do.


Which is what I almost told you that evening when I spent an hour discussing my theories of the multiverse with you. I self-edited hastily, which I’m excellent at and wondered if I was talking too much? But you taste my rambles, like you do wine: swirling what I say inside your mouth, keeping my point of view there and never forgetting to savour. 
I do the same with your operatic silences. I can lie on my back and float through all that stillness with you. It was in one of these silences when I first mentally mapped your body. Knowing well that if I was an architect or had any way with brick and mortar, I’d draw buildings and cities in tribute: clean lines, angular planes, sharp symmetry but once inside: all home.

In my home, my mom wrapped us in hugs more than blankets when we were growing up and yet a part of me never learnt how to give affection, always hungry silently though for its receipt. I’d forgotten how to be affectionate with touch.  You brought tenderness back into my life, and I’m not quite sure how to navigate it. Next time just don’t kiss my forehead so easily and carelessly. It’s unchartered territory and leaves me more vulnerable than my rambles can find words to explain. 



I don’t know if this is scary for you to read. Spelt out loud, in text.
How much intensity of emotion is ok to display? For your health? For that of others? 
Those are questions I never felt I needed to answer, until now. Because I find myself wanting to spend my evenings, bleary-eyed as I may be the next morning, with you. Like that work Wednesday when we ran into each other at the bar. I promised to stay for a drink, rapidly forgetting my own internal scoff of promises (especially those I recklessly, valiantly and repeatedly make to myself). Details flutter away from my hold, but I remember fragrances, too many wearied, dismembered peanut shells strewn around our table and all the energy of all the world intensified around your mouth, as you told me stories from when you were 15: the boy in high school who played too much football and built a house with his grandfather from scratch.



So what next, Boy From Far Away?
Maybe we’ll have grander adventures. Maybe we’ll officially date. Maybe we’ll succumb to those famous thrill-dulling vagaries of time. Maybe we’ll walk into many rooms and laugh together at many fun-house mirrors. Maybe this too will become a caricature, as most things are ripe to be.
Maybe you’ll finally have heard all my stories and maybe I would have thrown a dance-party to all your silences.

Let’s take another second to find out.



Yours,
The Girl Who Never Thought She Could. 



                              (In memory of evenings out, this one is from my fav one last year with my childhood friend at Perch, Delhi)


(To You is a letter writing project I started because there are not enough letters and love going around. If you have something to say with love-- for your ex girlfriend, you current husband, pizza (promise not to make it cheesy), your landlord who let you skip rent or even Ryan Gosling-- I'll write that letter for you. The love letter can go with real names, back stories, as many pictures as you like, aliases and even super powers.
The final letter will be up on my blog and a copy will be handwritten and posted to you or to an intended recipient. Kisses on the envelope only on my discretion. Give me a shout at: kakulgautam@gmail.com )