Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Drop

The Drop

It stands poised in midair,
The drop from my reclusive pen…

It should let itself go,
Fall from grace, be bold,
Rage a storm, blow dust,
Lash everything in sight…

But, the soil isn’t ready,
It has crossed its arms,
The earth hides a weak heart,
Its mouth is not eager…

To swallow the blood
That will splatter its face
When the drop disintegrates
And sows wayward seeds

But, it thunders now and then
Lightning strikes in anticipation
The soil teases and churns
Soon, the drop will bite the dust

Inseminated, soaked to its bones,
Pregnant with unholy secrets
The soil will spring to life
And wanton blooms will streak it scarlet.

- Archana Pai Kulkarni

Friday, March 2, 2012

Much ado about a four-letter word

The first time my children chorused that the sambar I had cooked was really ‘sexy’, I took the new association between a laden word and the spicy concoction in my stride. The alliteration did it, methinks! Gradually, I realised that everything—just about everything—seemed ‘sexy’ to my children and they aren’t kindergarten tots; they know what the dictionary has to say about the word, and more, I presume. Clearly, the connotation of the word had evolved. Even when the children’s friends gathered at our home, I heard the word flying around casually. It wasn’t uttered in hushed tones. None of the gang seemed uncomfortable using it in my presence or thought they were being disrespectful. The controversial word had somewhere along, acquired an asexual personality. So, from “Hey, that’s a sexy top” to “I just finished reading I have a Dream. Sexy book!” to “Masala Magic has sexy corn cutlets” to “What a sexy room”, the word was thrown around nonchalantly, without the worry that it would raise my hackles. So, in its new, ubiquitous, multi-dimensional avatar, used to describe everything but women, it meant trendy, cool, beautiful, good, fantastic. However, Ms Sharma of the National Commission for Women (NCW) said at the seminar at Jaipur, that women should take the word positively, if someone compliments them. But, not every woman likes to be branded ‘sexy’, especially by a lascivious male whose intention is to convey that she is the answer to his bedroom fantasies. Eve-teasers and their ilk have a field day throwing the epithet, with lustful glee, at unsuspecting women. Also, every woman should reserve the right to either accept it as a compliment or feel affronted, depending on the occasion, the intention of the user, and who is paying courtesy. After all, it’s a volatile word! Rakhi Sawant or Poonam Pandey (with due respect to the ladies and their prerogative to choose their stance) may not object to being referred to as ‘sexy’ because it is their portrayal as desirable women that brings bread, butter and jam to their breakfast table. Both women have no qualms about projecting themselves as bold and covetable. Ditto with other Bollywood actresses—some of whom may be offended at being referred to in the same breath as the aforementioned twosome, as they project a different brand of ‘sexy’—but won’t take umbrage at being described as alluring to the opposite gender. But, try saying that to someone who’s just not interested in being a ‘sex symbol’ and you’ll have a situation on your hands. Imagine telling, say, Mamta Banerjee that you feel she’s a ‘sexy’ politician—‘sexy’ here meaning honest and efficient, no less! Her reaction could be nothing short of a political upheaval. Imagine the government being toppled by a four-letter word! You may say the problem is not with the word, but with the mindset. But, there are many, who will take the word at face value, refuse to acknowledge its tweaked character, and not without reason, given that it was originally used to objectify women and is still bandied occasionally to that end. Years ago, when Karisma Kapoor gyrated to the number ‘Sexy, sexy, sexy, mujhe log bole, the hit song from Khuddar, opportunists, social activists, feminists and a host of other people voiced their protests loudly, and subsequently, a tamer version, Baby, baby, baby...was produced to smooth ruffled feathers. I don’t know how many women were soothed by this version which infantilised them. Honestly, it’s Hobson’s choice between ‘baby’ and ‘sexy’ and being infantilised and objectified. As to whether Iwill take the word positively, as Ms Sharma suggests...well, it depends on whether I feel complimented or commoditised at that point of time. The context decides the overtones and the reaction. But, if you ask me about the weather now, I’ll say, “It’s sexy!” 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

It takes a while to shed my garb,
The nocturnal creature in me,
As I stride across the grey morning track.
The trees, comrades in arms, my witnesses,
Lean towards each other to whisper,
Their supine shadows holding hands.

As the sun breaks out on my forehead.
Dark half moons rise under my eyes.
Sleep has streaked my eyeballs crimson,
Curled my spidery hands into fists.
Fragments of my dreams incubate within.
My midnight stories crouch inside my palms,
A sliver of ecstasy is a thorn in my side
The one I slept on, with my back to the wall.

Stealthily, the jasmine flowers in my hair
Dawn settles softly around my irises
The ghouls stop digging their teeth into me.
Daylight is such a devil, it woos me.
I am a sunflower now, a young bud...
As my head turns, giddy and light,
I moult—my evening skin, a memory.

I laugh, as my shadows stalk me;
I know the trees will guard my secret.

-         Archana Pai Kulkarni

Friday, February 10, 2012

Today's confession:


I’m the bitch in the house,
Say my son, daughter and spouse.
My grumpy mornings and snappy days
Leave no room for defence.

I don’t choose to wake up
On the wrong side of my edgy bed.
Or determine the pace of my rabid strides.
Don’t hold me culpable for my hissing room,
Or the rancid smells permeating my hearth.

Don’t condemn me for my hot breath
Or deride me for my defiant gait.
Truly, I was never a candidate for mutinies.
I didn’t prod the canine in me
Or enroll to learn to snarl. 
It was you…

The seasons changed, the tides turned.
I have stopped taking the garbage out,
I have stopped cooking five-course meals,
I have given up waving white flags.
I refuse to perform on demand.

As I hum a tremulous tune,
My nonchalance a fa├žade,
I sip my wicked coffee
With a deliberate air of calm,
And notice with a shudder
That I don’t apologise or grovel anymore;
But, it doesn’t hurt me any less when I bite.

- Archana Pai Kulkarni

Thursday, February 9, 2012

How I Steal Time

Time Thieving

No one gives a woman time,
She has to grab him by its neck,
Her shy, withdrawn lover,
Pin him down mercilessly,
Claim him as her own,
Throw her weight and sit on him,
Wrench him away from the hob,
Pull him from under the grinding stone,
Rescue him from wailing children,
Gather him from dusty corners…

Lest his elusive legs
Go wandering again
Out of sheer habit
To lands embroiled in drudgery,
Places best forgotten for a while
And kept aside, concealed,
Till she’s waltzed with her reluctant slave
Kissed, embraced and made love to him
To her heart’s content.

When he deserts her,
As is his wont,
Her short-lived dalliance
With her visiting lover
Won’t leave her heart-broken.
He’s made her a crafty robber.
She’ll leave her door open,
Wait with hot, bated breath,
Wide open arms, fresh memories
A sedulous woman
Who’s tasted sweet blood,
And she’ll go prowling again.

- Archana Pai Kulkarni

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What if I Lost It All

The other day, I was returning home in a cab from work when a TMT bus, a veritable sardine can on wheels, parked itself alongside, at a signal that had just turned red. Speeding as it was on a crater-filled road that also threw up dust and cement from the flyover construction site nearby, it almost nose-dived before it stopped with a forceful jerk. All the commuters—those sitting uncomfortably in their seats and those standing with their bodies glued together by the sweat and  grime of a day’s work—were first pushed violently forward, then backward and forward again, before they could steady themselves and untwist their twisted arms that held on for dear life to coiled, worn-out handles. Next, I heard some expletives fly out above the blaring horns, screeching tyres and racing motors. The bus looked angry as people gathered themselves after disentangling their bodies from the mass of limbs that had flailed about when the bus driver had braked abruptly.
I have seen crowded buses before but this one looked like no air could circulate inside it. Though I was comfortably ensconced in the cab, I started feeling asphyxiated and claustrophobic. Gratitude filled my heart. I was privileged. I wasn’t in that bus trying hard to breathe. The forces that create us had been kind to me. ‘What if?’ I thought, as a chill ran down my spine, all that I have taken for granted vanished overnight? What if I had no car, no money to travel by cab, no roof over my head, nothing? What would I do? Suddenly, nothing felt permanent—not my clothes, my books, my little desk at home, my job, the plants I watered every morning, the people in my life, the buildings, the park, the bank accounts, the pan card, the passport, the cheque book, the travel plans, the vision board, the dreams! I shuddered!
What would I do?” Where would I go? What would I have? The sky would hopefully not turn its back on me. The sun would rise and set. The moon would flood the nights with silver light and stars would twinkle. I could take these for granted. Well, maybe. My fears made me doubt even that which seemed to have always been around and seems eternal. Love would still cause heartburn, longing and all the bitter-sweet things love does. I imagined myself standing under the azure sky, looking upward, all alone, wondering which direction to take. I pictured myself in the wilderness. Long stretches of land, wildly green, sullen brown and grey and orange. It terrified me. It liberated me. It deposited me into a fantastic world where anything was possible and everything was, at the same time, so dangerously adventurous! Would I be able to live without my Blackberry and vada paav and hot running water and a clean loo? If there was a way in which I could find out without it ever happening, I’d love to take a walk in the wilderness.  

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Shoe Bite and Walking Light

Someone stole my walking shoes last week. I am no Imelda Marcos. I owned just one sturdy pair. The Nike pair had supported me all through my arduous journey of knocking off a few pounds. I loved them. They had witnessed my agony and the pain in my calves as I increased my speed and then the distance and then the duration of my brisk walks. They didn't bite me either. They gave me my space. Toe room, to be precise. I was distressed. Who could have stolen a weathered, well-worn pair of shoes, on the eve of the New Year? As far as I knew, it certainly wasn't any of my neighbours. Most of them have fancier pairs. Our building boasts of tight security. So, it couldn't be an outsider. "Was it someone with a fetish for women's shoes?" my wild imagination asked. Whosoever it was, the shoe thief managed to make me more resolute about re-starting my walking regimen, which had been truncated a few months back, because of fresh domestic challenges.
I discovered the theft on December 30. First, I looked frantically for my stolen pair in all the places that I may have left them (I still couldn't come to terms with the fact that someone had stolen my lifeline). Once I was convinced that there had indeed been a thief on the prowl, I sat silently and mourned for my departed pal. The bigger issue was that starting my walking regimen from the first day of the New Year was my topmost resolution and it was broken even before I attempted to honour it. People walk—in chappals, sandals, stilettos, wedges and all types of footwear. They are the brave ones. I need my shoes. For spinal and moral support. I was mortified that I wouldn't find the time to buy a new pair before January 2012 arrived. My worst fears were confirmed, when I reached home from work, way past 9.30 pm. on the 31st. Woe was me! But, I was determined that I would be out at the crack of dawn, 5.30 am to be precise, and walk, come what may. I examined the four pairs of footwear I own. Though they are sensible, functional pairs, they didn't look like they'd last the assault on their being of a 50-minute brisk, purposeful walk. I needed a pair of walking shoes urgently.
As I racked my brain to think of a source, I saw my daughter's er... soiled pair sitting desolately on the shoe shelf. It had obviously not seen the outdoors for a long time. That we wear the same shoe size was a blessing. Never have I exulted at the sight of a pair of shoes, not even at annual sales that sell the best of designer brands for half the price, as I did then.
At the crack of dawn, when the world slept and the rest nursed a hangover, I walked for a good hour in borrowed shoes. It felt awkward at first. As if my feet didn't belong in them. Then, the nip in the air grazed my skin lightly. I shivered a bit but. Fresh air hit my nostrils. It felt good. I had begun the New Year on a rejuvenating note. But, my woes were not over. While the walk revved up my blood circulation and added roses to my cheeks, the shoes were unfriendly. They bit my toes with a vengeance and were decidedly uncooperative, as much as they could be on knowing that a stranger was wearing them. I still have the shoe-bites on my toes but now, I have a bright new pair of Reeboks, in white and lime green.
They are a snug fit. I haven't walked in them yet, but something tells me that they will share my new journey towards fitness. Also, I'm taking no chances with them. They are hidden away in a dark corner of the lowest shelf in the shoe cabinet. Away from prying eyes. I'm sure nobody will make the effort to bend down to fish them out. For now, I'm set. With Bandaid, a soft pair of socks and some grit. I love the lightness of being coming my way.

From South Mumbai to Virar, the mini rages

My response to the outrageous article in First Post:

If a person from Virar shifts to Bandra, will there be a paradigm shift in his outlook? What is appropriate or right is surely relative, born out of conditioning, the way we are brought up, the mores in the type of social set-up in which we move? Is the author then suggesting that a girl in a mini-skirt is more likely to be raped in Virar than in South Mumbai, because the outrage generates lust? Should she stick to wearing mini-skirts only in South Mumbai? Also, is the male libido more in control in South Mumbai than it is in Jogeshwari? Do we have statistics to support that supposition? What happens if a potential rapist from, say, Jogeshwari East travels to South Mumbai? Will his mindset change just because he's in a place where minis are a norm? Is it kosher for such a man to unleash his libido on a mini-skirt sporting girl on his home-ground? Do we then conclude that because wearing mini-skirts is scandalous in these god-knows-why-they've-been-chosen-as-examples suburbs, the chances of rape in these areas will be high and even justified? Are incidences of rape actually higher in 'such' areas? Statistics, someone? Should women who want to wear miniskirts shift to South Mumbai and assume that men from Jogeshwari will not follow suit? What should be the desirable length of the mini-skirt? How many inches above the knee will the Jogeshwari resident find appropriate? Do all Jogeshwari residents think alike? Or will there be differences among them regarding the length of the skirt and its appropriateness? How about our very traditional Indian sari worn five inches below the navel, with a blouse that exposes almost all of the back? Is that not provocative, because it's traditional and Indian? So, do Indian men from the suburbs think of women in western clothes as objects and therefore, fit for rape?  I think the author should walk the by-lanes of Jogeshwari and Virar and see for himself the huge number of women sporting the sari in a bold avatar. Is the author from South Mumbai or Virar? I ask because his own reaction will depend upon where he lives, right? Are education, awareness and a broadening of outlook are unheard of? Does the writer have a dress code for men too, both from South Mumbai and Virar? Is it okay for a Virar guy to wear a 'banian' and shorts in public? It must be. After all, women are not given to prescribing dress codes for men. They have better things to do. And they wouldn't dream of raping the man, whatever he wears. So, it's not the mini that needs to be restrained, it is the wild, uncouth male libido and the objectification of women—whether we are in South Mumbai or Virar. Get it? 

And the afterthought: Did you need a picture of a girl in a mini skirt to illustrate this obnoxious piece of writing? Where was this picture taken? Virar or South Mumbai? People, react according to the place you live in. Will this photograph be seen by men in Virar too? Tsk...tsk... Now what?

Really, how ridiculous can people get? 

Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Eternal Quest

It always happens. Every year, without fail. As December comes to an end, hope wells up in my heart—that things will certainly be better than the year that's taking leave of us. Now, don't get me wrong. It isn't as if the year that was had been unkind to me. Every year brings with it its fair share of joys and sorrows, ecstatic moments and disappointments. Some days bring with them inclement weather. Others are sunny and warm. That's what life is all about. Knowing this does not mitigate the desire in me that things will be absolutely perfect the next year. That I will wake up at the appointed hour as soon as the alarm goes off. I will not hit the snooze button, tell myself that I need just five more minutes of shuteye, and then jump out if bed like I've been electrocuted, after a good hour, cursing myself for over-sleeping. I believe that the New Year will energise me so much that I will not miss a day's walk or exercise and do the Sudarshan Kriya before I start my daily chores. I know from experience that when I manage these things, I walk out of the house with a radiant smile and there's a bounce to my step. But then, years have gone by and, every year, some days have thrown my life out of kilter. There have been bolts from the blue that have flummoxed me and I have had to accept them and deal with matters that needed urgent attention—much more than the extra flab around my middle that haunts my mind. Last year, I intended to post on my blog every single day. But, a wedding, a loved one's surgery that needed post-operative care and the arrival of a little baby in the family, who loves to stay awake at nights, kept me away from it. I experience withdrawal when I don't find the time and space to read and write. There are moments, when I want to drop everything and flee to the other end of the world with my books and my laptop or just some writing pads and pencils to be alone with myself and my thoughts. Mind you, I fantasise often about leaving no forwarding address, and living all alone on a small piece of land, which has miraculously materialised, tilling it, growing my own vegetables and being in communion with nature. But, that is a momentary escape and the fantasy, a temporary refuge. The reality is that despite feeling trapped, beleaguered and overwhelmed by life's vicissitudes, I can't imagine wrenching myself from those I love. Given a choice, I would slave some more. Willingly. Drudgery is in my DNA. It is difficult to shake off. So is hope. It's what makes my tomorrows seem so promising. There are several other things that I fancy will be different. My hair will be glossier, my eyeliner will never run, wrinkles will stay away, I shall eat only healthy (organic, never mind if it kills my budget) food, drink the eternally prescribed eight glasses of water, take enviable charge of my finances, stop using the credit card, not indulge in impulse buying, not look at the wonderful designer top that's available for a fifty per cent discount, not buy a new book till I have read the 100 lying on my bedside table, be friendlier towards my neighbours, look them up now and then, call up my mom-in-law regularly, take the stairs always, resume writing my dust-wrapped novel and the like... Some of these I do manage to do every year, if not diligently, fairly regularly at least. But there are others which I struggle to accomplish, often giving up. Nothing's ever been perfect. I have concluded that perfection is a myth, excellence is a goal that one can achieve. It does not follow that I have given up hope that this time round that things will brighter, more wonderful, simply fabulous. In fact, it's the hope that keeps me going. It made me post on my blog today and will egg me on to do so tomorrow. It is this very hope that rears its head when I've had a challenging day or a period of creative drought and tells me that I can take a step forward, that everything will be okay. So, I live with this Utopian quest. It co-exists with my reality checks. My feet stay firmly on the ground. And, I look forward to 2012 with a song in my heart..Que sera sera...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What do I read now?

I know I am a book addict. I just need to look around my room and know that I need rehab. Urgently. On my bedside is a huge pile of books that I've bought and not read. Yet. I have every intention of reading each one of  them, but by the time I lay my hands on one, something incredibly interesting comes up and I empty the contents of my purse to buy it. If you've been introduced to Flipkart, you'll know how easy it is to get a book home. Those guys are so professional that one day, I suspect they'll deliver a title to my doorstep before it is even published. Click, buy, read. That easy. Only, I miss my trips to Crossword, Landmark, Strand, Oxford, Giri Stores and the King's Circle footpaths, where I hunt for books like one possessed. I forgot to mention the books I receive for review (am grateful to the generous publishers), not all of which I want to read but some of which I just can't put down. So, there are the books I want to read, the books I have to because it's part of my job, the books I like to study as I read because I'm struggling to write a novel of a similar genre and books I must read as part of the research for my novel.
Whew! Can anyone blame me for being flummoxed. My crime is I want to read them all. At once. I do have the habit of reading fiction, non-fiction, poetry and some highfalutin spiritual stuff at the same time. Then, one of the books has me hooked and I keep aside the other three for some time, though I miss them dearly. Right now, I have Julian Barne's Sense of an Ending, sitting pretty with Joan Didion's Blue Nights lying next to Murakami's 1Q24 holding hands with Ann Patchett's State of Wonder that hides Steve Jobs' biography that has shoved Elizabeth Mayer's Extraordinary Knowing to a corner. I'm not going to begin mentioning the other books that are waiting to be cuddled. They'll have their turn.  Ann Patchett now crouches in my bag. I can see her raising her arms, reminding me to pick her up. I tossed a coin in her favour. For now, I'm sorted. Tomorrow is another day.