22 Birthdays

Every birthday I love to write about how far along I have come that year, a romantic letter for 1, if you may.

On this birthday too, I have many such accomplishments to write about. However, this heart simply has no space for pride tonight.

When I woke up this morning I wished with all my heart that I was not in bed.

Then, I lay there a lot longer.

I was thinking about where I would rather be-

roaming, exploring a palace in a quaint South Indian town, making up cute stories of everything I did there as a princess in my previous life- dancing through glorious hallways, running down winding staircases, adorning myself in crafted mirrors.

The Mysore Palace is a symbol of many things for many people. For me, it is a sign of everything that could have been. A love that I lost, a life that I could never create, a time that will never come back.

Or maybe I want to be in the cold neighbourhoods of Indiranagar, watching pretty flowers that have bloomed and children running off to school. I want to wear a large red hoodie and order breakfast dosas. I want us to share our dosas because for me the way you ate always seemed tastier. I want to feel cold hard mosaic tiles and large wooden doors. I want to feel at home, even if for just one day.

22 birthdays today.

I’ve been asking everyone what they were up to when they were 22, and my favourite response so far has been from my 26-year-old friend, who claimed he was ‘having lots of sex’, other responses had to do with college, travel, and a bunch of other FOMO inducing statements.

Be 22 or be 30, or be 40, every year I don’t celebrate with you I might never truly be happy, no matter how hard I try. But what do I know? I’m only 22.

Gloom time

I Have A Couple Of Things To Say To You, Actually.

You don’t look good in that cap. Remove it this instant. How could you ruin that beautiful head of hair? How could you mess it up so badly?remove it.

I lay in bed all day today and yesterday, and last week- when I could. Then I gathered the energy I found in tiny crevices that had been sealed away from you (yes, there were a few- and thank fuck for that) and walked to the supermarket. I did the most purposeless grocery shopping that there could have ever been, choosing apple after apple with the utmost care. I picked only the most perfect ones. I wanted not one scratch, not one soft spot, not one discolouration- perfect.apples.only. There were only 4 of such. I gathered them into the bag and left.

I ate the meal we ate long ago on February 14 in another country- masala dosa that could never match the one we had and filter coffee that didn’t seem to find the sugar.

Then the waiter told me he had no sweet for me. Not badam halwa, not any halwa. So I sat there wondering why I put myself through all that spicy chutney. What was I looking forward to?

I teared up, but didn’t cry- I can handle some amount of spice after all.

Now I am home. I have realised I have been breathing in something that could be poisonous, that could be fatal. I should be worried, I should be making plans to move away, but here I am, upset and losing myself because I see you, in another country, slowly but steadily moving away from everything you used to be. Doing the things you said you never would- being the very person you detested.

We are both inhaling poison, I guess- you by choice, and me by lack of it.

I have never felt so betrayed. If there was no badam halwa, why did I put myself through all the spicy chutney?


Jelly for Papa

Today is my father’s birthday. Though he didn’t celebrate it much, I’m sure he would have liked to. How do I know this? I just know.

I remember that he wanted a very grand 50th birthday party, but that never happened. I guess we were just too small to be able to plan one for him. I wish we weren’t.

But we did something anyway, in our small capacity–We made jelly. Jelly has always looked very rich and glorious to me, like a precious ruby stone if the light hits it right. It was chosen that day because too much sugar has always been frowned upon in our house, and jelly wiggles around somewhere on the borders of that restriction.

Red jelly was made in a glass bowl, and a tiny silver teaspoon was slipped inside. I don’t know why. Perhaps because we needed a cause to eat through this wobbly substance that makes your teeth question their purpose.

Jelly in hand, we went to him that afternoon as a Malayalam film played on in the background. He sat on the edge of the sofa, legs stretched out and resting on our carpet, crossed at his ankle. He smiled kindly at our jelly. We sang happy birthday, and he scooped some of that shiny red onto his spoon.

It was a pathetic way to celebrate a birthday I think, but it is the only celebration of his birthday I can remember. So I made the jelly again today, on his 59th birthday. But there is no Asianet film no interrupt, there is no glass bowl, and there is no papa to spoon out glorious red jelly, and giggle at the spoon frozen inside.

There is only a void of regret, memories that wiggle near the border of sweet and unsweet, and a white bowl of jelly with a spoon stuck inside it. Purposeless jelly, serving it’s purposelessness.


How That Night Went

I have only a vague memory of this- the few sensations I could salvage from a piece of memory soaked in alcohol- it was my birthday after all.

We sat on my bed, fresh sheets- a deep red with specks of gold, laid out clean and straight a few hours before. On my body is silk. A sullen pink that could perhaps be mistaken for brown. My hair, freshly washed, so that when we sat very close to each other a few hours later- my back leaning against his chest, his chin on my head, he would be greeted with the scent of coconuts and flora.

Drunk ramblings. My mouth gushing with words that I don’t remember too well. I am overcome with emotion- a typical birthday…

Until I put my head down, covered by coconut and flora-scented hair. I am weeping.

It was the first and the last time, I wept about my father and was held with love. Topics were not changed, water was not poured.

Just two people, on a bed of fresh red, hugging and crying.


Entries in Grief

I had been left behind. Everybody else was slowly resuming their lives at full speed, and I, like a car slowly breaking down on a smooth highway road, came to a sputtering stop. What set me aside from everybody else, making me feel absolutely left out, was the fact that I could only begin my grieving forty days after my father passed away. The following are excerpts from my diary entries:

October 19, 2020

12:00 AM

Was crying. Cleared up my tears to pick alleged ‘friend’s’ phone call. Answered his stupid doubt through my sniffles. Asked if I had a cold. I said no. He kept the phone.

How to politely say, I am hurting, the loss of my father is hurting, why do you all bug me with your stupid doubts?

October 20, 2020

12:00 PM

My mother’s tongue.

It does not sound good, no.
It does not allow a child to grieve her father,
Nor does it allow her to laugh at his tombstone.
My mother's tongue,
In the morning it insults him,
and in the evenings it prays the rosary.

October 22, 2020

12:57 AM

I miss my father very much. My phone gallery has one photo with him. I wish I had taken more. It has a video of him wishing my sister for her anniversary, the next photo is of him in the coffin, two cottons stuffed in his nose. I miss him very much, especially after my sister left to Dubai today. I wish this was all a prank and he comes back, but I know he won’t. I saw his body, bleeding, going into that horrid looking coffin, and then getting cemented in that dark hole. I saw it. I saw my papa being sealed shut. I wish I didn’t have to see it so soon.

My phone gallery is a liar. If you swipe right, my dead father comes alive. If you swipe left, my alive father lays dead.

October 23, 2020

6:00 PM

I don’t care for the photos they send me. I couldn’t be bothered about anything they say. I wish they’d all leave me alone and stop asking me things.

9:00 PM

I wanted to be a food writer three years ago, today I find eating laborious. An obstacle that comes in the way me and my writing. A pure waste of my time. I have just finished a sad meal of spicy prawn curry and rice.

October 24, 2020

3:00 PM

I strongly believe red velvet cannot exist without cream cheese. The two put together are divine. But red velvet needs cream cheese more than cream cheese needs red velvet. Any other icing on a red velvet should be illegal. Except maybe chocolate… chocolate goes with all.

But I’ve never had red velvet and chocolate, I can only assume.

4:00 PM

Can the world stop showing off their fathers?

October 25, 2020

The world thinks mourning the dead ends in a week. I don’t want sympathy, no, not at all. I merely wish they didn’t expect me to do everything- feedbacks, laugh, send assignments and answer queries. When do I mourn my dead father? Everyone else’s feelings seem to have died with him too.

October 28, 2020

I hate my own writing now. It does no justice to the tantrums in my head.

October 29, 2020

12:00 PM

Note: Grieving lasts longer than the person claims it does.

During breakfast my mother said, “Some guy died today.” I couldn’t help but think how some other family might have said that about my father. I thought of him on the ventilator. He had looked so troubled.

4:17 PM

I saw the papa butterfly today! The last time I saw him was in Wayanad after the 40th day mass when we went around looking at his old house. That black and white butterfly- exactly the color combination he always wore. That day he was fluttering around his neighbor’s plants, today he was fluttering around the pink flower plant, the one I always pluck to leave at his grave when we go visit. I saw him as I was reading the newspaper. He disappeared when mom came, and came back when I pulled my sister to come out and see.

8:06 PM

Today I am thinking of the morning of 8th September. At 4:00AM I had finished a second viewing of a documentary about the politics in a tea plantation. I went in for a shower and began to cry. I knew today was going to be day. I hoped I was wrong. I didn’t sleep until an hour later. I was crying, repeating to myself, “Papa, you were a good papa.” I just knew it was happening today. There was nothing I could do. I slept.

At 9:00 AM my brother in law was knocking loudly outside my bedroom door. By 9:30 AM I was at the hospital. What would Papa think? I was going to meet him and I hadn’t even washed my face properly.

Everyone stared at my sister and me, the phone buzzed. I didn’t look. My sister did. Her eyes turned to me, widened in fear. I didn’t look. I told her to keep quiet.

They called us into the ICU.

His chest was moving up and down, still attached to the ventilator. It looked like a cycle pump pumping air into the cycle tyre. I hate that it looked like that. The bed was not slightly raised anymore- like the last time I had seen it, it was a straight, 180 degree line. I wondered why? He was breathing after all. His eyes were mildly open, they were a cloudy grey. I began to cry holding my mother’s hand that was on my waist, I didn’t know why.

“Can he hear us?” I asked

“No he can’t”

He was dead. He passed away at 9:16AM. That was the message. I was a fool.


Shirt Collars

Papa always ironed our school uniforms. Only he knew how to straighten tough pleats that made our tiny bodies seem larger than they really were. He had a special technique for it.

The trick was to take them straight from the washing machine while they were still wet enough to make your hands cold.

A novice would think that the shirts were the easiest part to iron in a school uniform, since they were such thin material often hidden under weighty pinafores or skirts. They would conclude that it didn’t matter if it was ironed well or not. But Papa knew better than that. Which is why he always ironed the shirts first.

He would begin- focusing all his energy- on the collar.

“The collar must be straight, then only people will take you seriously.”

He would adjust his own imaginary collar as he looked at me. Pulling both sides together, a special proud arrogance would flash across his face, the type you would find only in the eyes of independent men who had started long ago from scratch, and have had to make their way up alone, “We must show them who we are.”

To papa, a well-ironed shirt collar meant many important things. That you were professional, you were organized, and most importantly, that you were proud to be his daughter.

I never knew how important this reassurance was until I realized I will never see the light dancing above his beautifully smooth bald head as he straightened up his imaginary collar ever again.

He was gone, leaving me to straighten my own collar.

I never knew collars were so hard to straighten. But truly they are. They take all your energy, leaving you too exhausted to straighten out the other parts well. These were the parts that papa’s trained eyes could catch at a glance.

Looking up from the newspaper, his face would shrivel as he’d observe the awkward blue shirt that seemed to have crinkled itself further on my body. He would scoff, and then lament that it hadn’t been ironed well enough. By the next weekend, stiff, straight ironed clothes would mock me from the cupboard. I knew I had been terminated from my ironing position.

Perhaps, if I had practiced my ironing better, my frail little Vitamin D deficient hands would have had more strength to massage his dying legs. Perhaps, they would have been stronger to help ease him of the gripping pain that made him scream out in pain during odd hours of the night.

I could have straightened out those terrifying crinkles of pain that forced a mighty independent man to depend on others so much towards the end.

I could have helped straighten my Papa’s collar.

In loving memory of beloved Papa, who will miss his birthday on 14th January, but will now be fondly remembered on all days instead of just that one day.