Tuesday, 27 December 2016

To You, Running

(Background: Nazuk wrote to me asking me to write a letter from her to running. Having fallen in love with it myself followed by having lost my will to do it, how could I pass up this chance?
I remember starting out with Nazuk when she trained for her half marathon (2015 for both of us), I remember being inspired by her run timings and her dedication to the program, I remember also bragging about this to colleagues over lunches.
But more than any of this I remember running lifting me up on days I didn’t even realise I needed lifting. So here it is.)

To You

Slap. Sla. SL.Slap.
Slap. Slap.

Those could read like dance beats to the new hip-hop track that’s dropped just in time for the Grammys, a reality check that 2016 was on a larger political level, or the simple, quiet crunch and sound of my footsteps every morning when I’m on the trail. That running is all of this: a waltz with yourself where you’re sometimes leading and sometimes falling behind, a meditative reality check and sometimes just footsteps is something every runner could tell you.
That it’s meant the world to me, and changed how I moved in my own, is what I’m trying to say here.

It’s interesting how you remember colours, sounds and smells from a time that does not feel right. 

I was in between jobs, lost, and settling deep into a strange void which I can identify much easier in hindsight. There was the regular buzz of people, drinking and seeking of good times which at the time felt like an easy remedy. Essentially I was trying to perform open heart surgery by reading instructions off WebMD. That’s when I met running.

I'd been working out with Chavvi who encouraged me to try my first outdoor run in Phase 1, Gurgaon. From there I found my way to a running group, unsure if it was safe for a girl in these times to run alone in Gurgaon. That group gave me what I needed most then, a focussed program and a clear understanding that despite the best intentions I ran fastest and clearest alone.

Pinkathon 2015 came around as my first competing 21km run, followed by Airtel Delhi Half Marathon, both of which I finished in a sub-2 hr time. The Adidas Grand prix (one of my favourite runs) came when I ranked on the podium three times in a row and found myself a part of the Adidas Run program. The races came with a training schedule to match and a deeper understanding of my own body and what my lifestyle could take away or add to it. Talk to a runner and they will tell you how sleep or water intake can impact time and pace, but you’re going to have to lace up and be out of breath outside to understand how running can change your mind.

If I listed the ways it changed me, it would sound like a self-help book, it would all be true of course but the best love letters sidestep the cliches. So I will too. To wrap those up quickly, yes it made me empowered, self-reliant and gave me confidence while teaching me lessons that only sport can teach you. But above all this, it sculpted a relationship between space, the micro-acres my body occupies and the continents my mind stretches towards. Like potters clay, this is a relationship I’ve made and remade into useful objects (a bowl to place your feelings and to-do lists in) and some purely decorative ones (a phoneix sculpture for days when the world is too small to contain me.) I’ve pounded trails, hit uneven grounds hard while making and rethinking identities for myself, ideas and perceptions. I’ve found new ways to articulate my own drive, to struggle with it and make friends with it so we’re at peace. I know better than to just “will my body”, I know how to work with it when it hits a slump, I invented a trick to scream out loud when my legs don’t go faster and to find reserves of energy and peace when my mind won’t be stilled.

I know there are days when I start my warm-up feeling euphoria which morphs into anger, fear, desire sometimes mid-run and ends with a stillness and nonchalance. I can watch these emotions fly in and out while my legs, knees and feet are working out a rhythm and resting place for each of them. I can take a feeling of humiliation out for a run and come back with the lightness of having a friendly parrot hanging out on my shoulder. Cuckoo bird references aside, Running, you’ve changed the way I move inside and out, when I’m on the trail and when I’m not.

You’re a shape-shifting beast who is a friend, mentor or a sulking cousin on a different day.
And every day, I lace up my shoes, face the sky and get to know you and fall in love with you, all over again.



                  (These pictures above are some of Nazuk's favourite run memories.)

(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 or on my Instagram account @hyperbolemuch)

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Lafz ~ Stories From Urdu

(Urdu; Words)

Two had laces untied and ran recklessly into the traffic on the front road.
Few were fresh-faced and first day of school nervous.
Most though, acting out like acne-attacked, misunderstood 17 year old boys.
Those closest to me were older, weak-backed and never able to shuffle out of the front door. - My words, they never learnt what I needed them to say.

~hyperbolemuch.blogspot.com (Watch the video here.)

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Taaruf ~ Stories From Urdu

(Urdu; getting to know someone)

Newspaper rolls slapping faces of houses with messages of air strikes, gold medal wins and 10 reasons why actors are getting divorced.
Slippered shuffling of feet as the early riser in every house washes sleep away from his eyes.
That first boil of cardamom brewed tea.
Soft whirrings of ceiling fans,
Aching knees
and promises of new beginnings.

This is how the morning introduces itself every day. 


#StoriesFromUrdu Dedicated to beautiful October Delhi mornings. (Watch the video here.)

Mohtaaj ~ Stories From Urdu

(Urdu; Dependent/ a slave to)

My greying memories of you.
That misbehaved, foam-topped tide of the ocean: both left sleepless and then calmed by the many fickle moods of the moon. 


#StoriesFromUrdu (Watch the video here.)

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Ishtiaq ~ Stories From Urdu

(Urdu; longing) 

Longing is a desert wasteland where thousands are lost, wandering and setting their compasses to objects of affection who are now long gone.

Longing is a quilt they stitched out of their own skin, memories and dreams, it's what holds them warm and stirs them to sleep when winter nights come around.


#StoriesFromUrdu (Pictures from that happy blur of a holiday in New York, the summer of 2014.) Watch the video here.

Ilzaam ~ Stories From Urdu


(Urdu; Blame)

Sunday nights misbehaved like runaway brides.
Cars in traffic, leisurely catching up with each other over carburetor gossip.
People always alienated people.
The seasons never fell in line.
You courted sleep like a lover who would not relent.
Tomorrow's spine was prematurely bent with your to-do lists.

Thus reads the chargesheet of all the accused who stood between you and your dreams. 

~hyperbolemuch.blogspot.com (Watch the video here.)

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Maihroom ~ Stories From Urdu

(Urdu; Without/ Deprived of)

Our fights were illogical, with no one ever saying what they really felt. Arguments like trapeze artists, swinging wildly from point to point, when all they wanted was to rest their feet on the ground.

The afternoons are yawning now.
The nights, humming with silence.

It's been quieter and lonelier since the circus left the town.



#StoriesFromUrdu (This unbelievable waterfall is  from Plitvice National Park, Croatia where water was king. Watch the video here.)

Zarra-Nawazi ~ Stories From Urdu

(Urdu; one of my fav words/phrases this literally means kindness shown to a mere speck. It is used to express gratitude and give thanks.):

The last leaf of autumn is so lonely in her fraying marriage to that weak branch. Thickened veins of effort run deep through her now browned skin.

And yet.
That young, gallant wind of the night slows down on seeing her.
Shushes the howls of his eager friends.
Waits softly in the dark day after day after day through September.
Letting her finally choose when to declare winter.


#StoriesFromUrdu (This was requested by the lovely Prerna Jaiswal​ who was my fav person to clown around every cantata at school with. Video here.)

Thursday, 20 October 2016

To You, Aish

(Background: Namratha called me to write this letter for her best friend, Aishwarya.
Me: “I’ve barely been doing To You letters, Nams. I don't want to commit to something I may not be able to do. I want to be very particular about what I take on.”
Nams: "You can’t be more particular than Aish. I mean....."
She followed up that gibberish half sentence with three pages on how amazing Aish is and proceeded to give me one of the longest interviews ever. She was right I haven’t heard a more loving story in a long time.
Happy birthday Aish, sorry this took a long time coming, hope you’re smiling when you read this.)

To You

Anyone who knows me can testify how casually I sometimes use the word “best friend”. Anyone who knows you can testify how seriously you take this role.
How you wear the word around your shoulder like a red suede cape. 
What else would explain the countless times you’ve flown to my rescue no matter which part and weight of the world I’m curled under? 

I don’t remember a life change you haven’t Captain navigated me through. 
From the time I wanted to switch from tech to marketing and had trouble with my first presentation. Or the time I failed my first GMAT attempt and like a soul wizened beyond years you took me to have cheap wine (Rs.125!) and somehow I came out of there hopeful, shiny and very, very buzzed. Like a knight in shining armour I wouldn't recognise at first, you came into my life in Class 12 on your sidey Kinetic Honda, which in your hyper-active imagination was almost a bullet! The revs and throttles still resound on MG Road. 
We had the routine that most kids about to enter college do: aim to escape home and roam wild for as long as you can. Especially if the day of the week was Wednesday and everyone was going to be at FBar. An espionage level of lying mechanism would auto-kick into place: Rachita would say she was at Swati’s house,who claimed to be at the college fest and I would be over at yours.

Those days and nights seem like a 90s music video blur to me. Time was endless, the days stretching on like sticky toffee and the city was our personal playground. The weather seemed to congratulate our bad behaviour and despite your asthma we’d ride like warriors into the rain, singing at the top of our lungs and getting soaked to our bones.

Some of the rain from those scooter rides must’ve sneaked inside and set up tenements inside my bones. It’s what keeps me warm on days when life seems like a badly written plotline.

Sneakily and without notice Aish, you turned into my family, foundation and the space from where I takeoff on happy days and on other days where I put my head down to rest (even if via texts). Because everything’s safer and quieter there.
Which is why I worry when you worry.

You’ve been going through a phase where your self worth and you are making faces at each other. But Anju, you’re the girl who has it all. That fact is standing at your door like a childhood classmate waiting for you to recognize and embrace it.
Since you’re a fan of lists, here’s mine:

You left a job at a top consultancy to run your own startup in the developmental sector.

You are dedicated like a Buddhist monk in prayer, when it comes to going to the gym and focusing on fitness.

You take Kathak classes with such dedication that after 3 years of brilliance you even performed on stage, while all my hobbies till date have a life span of a two weekends.

You’re learning the piano.

Despite being hurt in love, you can stretch your heart to love as well and as hard as only you do. Ask anyone who has been loved by you and they’ll attest.

In a world where people are built and destroyed daily over likes, you have your own personal cheering squad: one so head over heels in love with you that they will fly in from Singapore for a weekend if you find yourself unable to face the world. (Hi Li!).

Just listing this out gave me a headrush. And while you’re doing all this, which to me is short of running a country, you manage to check in on a friend if she’s having a rough time.

Do you see what I mean Anju? You’re superhuman and that terrible Kinetic was a cost-cutting alien ship.

So this is what I want for you this year my darling girl.

To see you like we do. To be staggered, bewildered and amazed by your own accomplishments, grit and ability to extend yourself. This year stop judging yourself by any harsh standards and until you find your own, take mine for you. (Cheat sheet: you’ve excelled in all parameters already, you can really just take the whole year off.)

You’ve struggled with your weight for a while and while on some days the road ahead to perfection is all you see, what I see and admire are the three years of hard work, dedicated fitness goals and the amazing journey you’ve covered, warrior-princess.

This year Anju, I want for you to know that I would not want to live in a world where Anju doesn’t love me. 

And I hope you don’t have to anymore either.

Happy birthday beautiful.


(Nams and Aish, in Aishwarya's room where they did most of their growing up, 2011)

                                          (Aishwarya, Hampi , 2011)

(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 )

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Mukhtasar ~ Stories From Urdu

(Urdu; Brief)

The lifetime it took for an unemployed, aimless dust particle, high above the Earth's atmosphere, to freeze into a crystal.
Turning its body into art no one had or will ever see before, only to fall like a candy droplet from the sky and melt into oblivion against the heat of your skin.

Like I did.


#StoriesFromUrdu (Watch the video here)

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Baraqat ~ Stories From Urdu

(Urdu; Blessings, a benediction)

Fat purple feathers, a head of plumage, her face obscured by a party of silver sequins on it. That's how she stood at the station waiting for her train.

Another at a lunch, had on a tail and dog ears trying to balance a drink while wearing boxing gloves.
I almost forgot that doll-faced fairy, so surly all she ever did was curse.

The best blessings I've run into all looked like costume party rejects.
My favourite ones looked nothing like they were supposed to.


#StoriesFromUrdu #HyperboleMuch #PeopleAreStrangeWordsAreStranger (Watch the video here.)

Haqeeqat ~ Stories From Urdu

(Urdu; Reality)

The sages, the yogis, the shamans, the poets and Sufis
Built silences, dances, sermons and songs,
All of which you searched through,
Turned inside out, and peered into--
Never realising that you best created your own:



#StoriesFromUrdu (Watch the video here.)

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Maraasim ~ Stories From Urdu

(Urdu; Relations/ Connection.)

Your questions are lonely, tired and wrinkling around the mouth now with age.
Yet, you powder and carry them around in your front pocket every day, convinced that any evening now they will meet the right answers and live happily ever after.


#StoriesFromUrdu (Watch the video here.)

Aadab ~ Stories From Urdu

(Urdu; Hello)

Is the music always this loud?
We've only just met, you and I.

So far, you've murmured your job title.
I've complained about the evening commute every day.
You mention that friend we may have in common.

But, I have to stop talking now because  your deep,dimpled smile is just joining us.
I must greet her properly.


#StoriesFromUrdu (Watch the video here.)

Monday, 12 September 2016

Shiddat ~Stories From Urdu

(Urdu; Intensity)

The heat in a farmer's gaze
When he stares at the skies,
Two weeks before monsoon,
Every year.

Searching for a sign.
Reading between the lines and
Soft rumblings of her fat,
Curly-haired, grey skin uncles.

Rain is his most fickle lover.
And he's never learnt not to believe in her promises.


~hyperbolemuch.blogspot.com (Watch the video here.)

Monday, 5 September 2016

Mukammal ~Stories From Urdu

(Urdu; Complete)

Not all love stories get to have a home on that address.

~hyperbolemuch.blogspot.com (Watch the video here)

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Betakalluf ~StoriesFromUrdu

(Urdu; without formality)

The way you rushed into my heart running,
Without wiping your shoes,
Leaving fresh mud prints and grass stains everywhere.

The way you left in the silence of the night,
Leaving the bed sheet and me, permanently wrinkled.


#StoriesFromUrdu . Watch the video on Instagram @hyperbolemuch or here.

Badastoor ~StoriesFromUrdu

(Urdu; of Habit)

Reaching for the salt, before even taking a bite.

Because all the taste and flavour I'd grown up with, played, passed notes to and fought with, is on that stone kitchen slab,
Sitting patiently inside the meal my mother had made.
Still waiting for me to come home.


#StoriesFromUrdu #PeopleAreStrangeWordsAreStranger (All stories updated regularly on instagram: @hyperbolemuch.) Watch the video here.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Safeena ~ Stories from Urdu

(Urdu, noun; a boat)

A collage of faded news stories and matrimonial ads from 1983 make up her body.
Your grimy, 7 year old fingers had given her uneven edges and a sharp, curved nose.

33 years later.
Bent with age.
She still carries your childhood dreams to the shore, every night.


Watch the video here.

#StoriesFromUrdu #PeopleAreStrangeWordsAreStranger #HyperboleMuch  #Urdu (the picture of the gorgeous paper boat from @manju6180)

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Awam ~ Stories From Urdu

(Urdu; noun: the common man)

When the barrel of cities,
And brick and mortar of guns
Leaves in its wake more hunted and hunters,
Than even the jungle,
Nature says
"That's not how I made you."


#StoriesFromUrdu #HyperboleMuch 
(To Kashmir, Madinah, Nice, impending dangers in the South China Sea, the #BlackLives movement in America and the sadness of knowing I'm sure I've left something out in this map of horrors.)

Watch the video here.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Itifaaq ~ Stories From Urdu

(Urdu, noun; a coincidence)

Living in the same city
And never having met you.

: Itifaaq

~hyperbolemuch.blogspot (word from my permanent cutie Ankita Gauba​) #StoriesFromUrdu #PeopleAreStrangeWordsAreStranger

(All videos on Instagram @hyperbolemuch. Watch this one here.)

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Ada ~ StoriesFromUrdu

(Urdu, noun: a style that's completely yours.)

Affectionately stroking the tea-cup rim, every time you were mid-sentence.
Mistakenly dialling my number, five years too late.
Laughing too loud to encourage a small, shy joke.
Arranging waves of hair that smelt like a night of jasmine.
Talking Love into sitting still.

See video here.
#StoriesFromUrdu (video from my friend and photographer @madamphotographer)

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Stories From Urdu

Impatience and lack of a new writing project lead to this: On my Instagram (@hyperbolemuch) now, a new series where I write a short story on a word from Urdu (which other language has so many words that sound like rain, bells and pain?).
Send me an Urdu word you love, and I'll do a post for you.

Below, on Mashooq.

(Urdu; noun): Beloved/Lover

A lover.
The one who would map the distance from his house to mine in sighs.
On some nights I still hear them, 
but Ma says, "That's just the wind searching through the leaves for its lost belongings.
Go to sleep."



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

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


                                    ( 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

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 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 )