Break

Sometimes I feel like a twig
On yesteryear’s dying sprig
And I think, “How much can it take?”
“What happens if this twig breaks?”

But then as I look around
At the sights and the sounds
At the stranger in a throng
At the painting angled wrong
At the false notes when I sing
And the broken-promise-ring;
I realise we are all broken things.

The wall is broken by the window
The light breaks the shadows
The door often breaks my room
A friendly ear breaks the gloom.

Self, broken by a mirror’s reflection
Heart, broken by fear of rejection
Mind, broken by a need for perfection
Body, broken by youth’s diminution.

But is it so bad, the act of breaking?
Not when it is followed by remaking.
See the branched cracks in a once-broken ring,
And crack a smile at the beauty of broken things.

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Published in: on October 18, 2017 at 1:08 pm  Comments (2)  
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Tick Talk, We’re Still Here

“Right up to the penthouse, sir,” said the butler who’d let him in, as though it were a huge honour being conferred upon him. And it probably was. For Calvin Elliot, junior reporter for the celebrity columns of e-Planet Feed, this was supposed to be a big moment. He knew that most of his peers in the newsroom were probably dying of envy, thinking how he, a nondescript desk flunkey, had been invited to interview the richest and most reticent trillionaire on the planet.

Calvin wasn’t quite as pepped about this opportunity. A man who hadn’t spoken to a single member of the press in over a decade had suddenly chosen to single him out by name. I want to speak with Calvin Elliot. One short sentence, delivered over phone to the CEO of e-Planet. The poor fellow had had to cross-check several databases to figure out whether he had an Elliot in his employ. Soon afterwards, the errant knight had been found, marched into the CEO’s office and then ushered out with a transcription digipad and a warning to not screw up.

As the transparent elevator climbed past the skyline, he noted the absence of the buzz of the city, like the sound of blood pumping in one’s ears. It was discomforting, and added to his growing list of apprehensions about this whole affair. The butler stayed motionless at his side, dismissing the view as if he was watching paint dry. Finally, the elevator slowed its ascent. and the butler merely said, “I’m glad you don’t suffer from vertigo, sir,” as he looked straight down at the urban sprawl a mile below his feet. Calvin nodded his gratefulness as well. The elevator opened silently, and Calvin stepped out, even as his pensive guide stayed behind with a certain air of reverence.

For all the trouble it would take to get there, the floor was fairly simple in its content and design. White walls sparsely populated with art pieces, a television, a table and a bed. One might have expected more from an eccentric old man. “Not as ostentatious as you expected, Mr. Elliot?” called a heavy voice from the bed. Shaking himself out of his reverie, he walked towards the source of the sound. “Yes, I figured something more opulent in the way of golden chairs and silver floors,” he replied.

As he reached the bed at the centre of the room, he saw its sole occupant, a bald, wrinkled creature swathed in blankets. The emaciated face that peaked out was almost skeletal, but his deep-set green eyes were sharp, bespeaking a brain that refused to give up, unlike the body. This was the famous Alexander Luthor, who had been known as a scientist, philanthropist, politician and genocidal maniac at different points in his life. The once-supervillain cracked a tired smile and motioned to a hoverchair beside him. “You’ll pardon me for not getting up; as you can see, I’m not as sprightly as I expected to be today.” Calvin was unsure of how to respond to this, so he merely nodded (in what he hoped was a sympathetic way), while slowly taking the designated seat.

Luthor stared intently at him, saying nothing. After half a minute of trying to avert his gaze, Elliot squirmed a bit in his seat, fished around for his digipad and coughed lightly. “So… I was told you asked for me specifically, Mr. Luthor. Is there something you would like to tell the people of the world through my department?”

Luthor kept looking at him as if he hadn’t spoken at all. Then he gave a lopsided grin, “Calvin Elliot. Cal Ell. Very poetic of you, Superman.” Calvin was rendered speechless for a few long seconds. He opened his mouth a few times, then finally managed to form words. “I-I’m not sure I understand, Mr. Luthor…”. Lex interrupted him sharply, “You don’t remember, do you? How very fortunate for you, Kal-El!” His eyes flashed in anger, but then looking at Calvin’s bewildered expression, the wizened face softened dramatically. “Of course you don’t remember. You came here twenty-five years ago begging to forget. And I helped you, because I pitied you. I still do, but I’m selfish enough to go back on my word. After all, I never had the moral high ground.”

Elliot was beyond perplexed, and for a second he wondered if the old man had gone insane, being cooped up in his birdhouse. “Mr. Luthor, there seems to be some sort of misunderstanding. Did you just mention THE Superman, who disappeared several years ago?” He thought for a second, and decided to use this opportunity for a scoop. “I’ve read that you and Superman had a long-standing rivalry. Would you care to elaborate on that?”

Luthor’s piercing gaze didn’t waver. “Yes, he disappeared three decades ago. And yes, we were arch-enemies for most of our lives. And I’d appreciate if you dropped the act, Kal-El, if only out of respect for the substantial history between us. I know the effects of the device fade in a few years.” Elliot’s eyebrows shot up in surprise, “Are you saying that I am Superman, Mr. Luthor? I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint you on that.”

Luthor’s eyes flickered towards the digipad that was furiously filling itself with their strange conversation. He held Elliot’s gaze for a moment, as if trying to descry the thoughts behind his glasses. Sighing deeply, he turned away. “So, you really don’t remember. Very well.”

He suddenly whipped his head back towards his guest and laughed mirthlessly. “Well then Mr. Elliot, what secrets does the paparazzi want to pry from a dying man?” Calvin hesitated at the change in topic. Adjusting his glasses, he spoke slowly, “Well, you mentioned Superman. You said something happened twenty-five years ago.” Luthor’s eyes glazed up as he drew from his deep well of memories. “Yes, Superman came to me. His wife had just died. I later found out it was leukemia. By then I had already begun to retire from my adventurous life of trying to beat Superman, as my body couldn’t keep up with the strain of my battle suits. Imagine my surprise when I saw him in this room, sitting on the floor with his shoulders slumped like he’d been carrying the weight of the city. And I’d seen him do that, too. For a second I thought, ‘Here’s my chance to end this menace once and for all.’ I went for the Kryptonite gun in my coat—I was still a cautious man—and then he looked up at me. I dropped it.”

Luthor smiled sadly as he looked into Calvin’s eyes, “Not out of fear, you see; whatever else I was, I was never a coward. I dropped my gun in shock; because he was crying. In all my years of trying to humiliate and destroy the Man of Steel, not once had I seen tears on his face. But here he was, looking at me with utter despair, which in that moment seemed more powerful than his lasers. And for the first time in my life, I had nothing clever to say to him. Instead I just sat down on the bed, mutely. In a hoarse voice, he said, ‘What’s the point of it, Lex?’ Like we were old friends continuing a conversation we’d started years ago. I didn’t say anything, hoping he’d explain himself. But he seemed to take my silence for an answer to some unspoken question. ‘Yes, that’s true. Lois is dead. Bruce is dead. Everyone I knew is dead. I saved them so many times, but I couldn’t save them after all. Then why am I still here?’”

Suddenly a spasm ran down Luthor’s body. Panting and groaning with his eyes shut in pain, he shifted in his sheets, and was breathless for a minute. Then he opened his eyes and calmly looked back at the reporter. “Do you want me to call someone?” Elliot offered. Waving a gnarled hand in dismissal, Luthor continued, “Sorry about that. As I was saying, Superman seemed to be rambling. I wondered if he’d finally cracked, if the pain of loss had done what the galaxy’s worst had failed to do. I still wondered if he was expecting me to say something. But he seemed to be musing to himself. ‘You too, Luthor. I know. I know why you don’t fight me anymore. You try to fight the inevitable, but I can see your cells dying too, a few thousand at a time.’ This angered me, the gall of this extra-terrestrial to comment on my futile attempts to prolong my youth. ‘We all die, Superman. Except you of course. You seem to be in the peak of health. Is that why you’re here, to remind me that you’ll live and I won’t?’ Something I said seemed to rouse him from his musings. ‘No, Luthor, I’m not here to gloat. I came here to tell you that you’ve won.’”

Luthor shook his head slowly, “I was absolutely dumbfounded. My arch-enemy tells me I’m dying and then says that I’ve won? Won what? The privilege of watching Superman’s mental breakdown? It must’ve showed on my face, because he finally elaborated. ‘Don’t you see? You get to die, Lex. You won’t have to see everyone around you wither away, feeling their lives slip out of their bodies. Me? I’m the only member of the Justice League that’s left. Even all our enemies are dead. The world has moved on. You and I are the only ones still here. Why, Lex? Why’ve you kept fighting me, knowing you could never win? You could’ve done anything, been anyone. But you spent all your time and money trying to destroy me. Why?’”

“I didn’t have an immediate answer. He had a point. Why had I wasted so many years in this one futile objective? I said, “Maybe because I knew everything else was possible. You were the one thing that everyone thought impossible to beat. I did it for the challenge.’ This was true, but saying it out loud made me feel hollow, like a child who’d spent years watering a dead plant. Superman seemed to guess my thoughts, and he chuckled, actually chuckled with his tear-stained face. ‘So we’re the same after all. We’ve both been duped by ourselves. Think about it, Lex, we’re the best friends either of us has ever had. We gave each other a purpose.’ I tried to think of something to counter this preposterous notion, but I was too tired. I ended up shaking my head wordlessly, like this was all a bad dream I could escape from. Suddenly he got up and grabbed my hands. I jerked back, but he looked straight at me with wide eyes. ‘I need a favour from you, Lex. As a friend.’”

Luthor coughed lightly again, his gaze wandering over the ceiling. “You should’ve seen his face. It was like watching a drowning man suck in lungfuls of water, unable to stop himself. ‘W-what do you want?’ I didn’t know what else to say. ‘Make me forget, Lex. Make it go away. I don’t want this burden anymore.’”

“At that point I knew exactly what he was talking about. Many years ago, I’d made a radiowave device that could wipe people’s memories. I’d planned on using it to reprogram Superman as my personal assassin. Of course, I’d never gotten a chance to use it. Now he was voluntarily asking me to use it on him. And I knew, right then, that I couldn’t deny him. ‘I don’t even know if it still works. And it wasn’t designed for permanent erasure, Kal. I’m not sure it would…’ But then Kal-El’s face grew fierce. ‘I don’t care! You and I both want to be rid of each other, Lex. So do it. Let me go.’”

Luthor’s eyes saddened a hint more. “And I did. I kept my word. I left him on the streets that day, twenty-five years ago, with no memory, a roll of cash and a ticket out of town. No one heard of Superman again. For all intents and purposes, I won. I had the whole world to myself.” Elliot was at a loss of words, and instead stared intently at the words flowing across the digipad.

The ninety-five-year-old clenched a fist that was outside the covers. “But you know what? I soon realised that I was the one who’d been played for a fool. Because contrary to Superman, I had never cared for anyone at all. I had no one to grieve over except myself. I’d been so blinded by my pursuit of this one superhuman goal, that I never took the time to live like a human being. And with that one goal lost to me, I was, and had, nothing. I had the whole world, and no one to share it with. And I think Kal-El knew this. It was his Pyrrhic victory over me, his best enemy.”

Luthor suddenly broke into a fit of hacking cough that lasted several minutes. When it passed, his eyes were closed and his face was pale with exhaustion. Sensing that he would get no more from his host, Elliot got up and pressed a button beside the bed that would call for medical assistance. As he drew back his arm, it was grabbed by Luthor’s shrivelled hand. The man opened his eyes and stared with a burning intensity at the reporter. “If you ever meet him, tell him there’s more to life than loss. Tell him to take it as advice from a dying friend. Tell him to live again.” He let go of Elliot’s hand and sunk back into the bed. Moments later, a bustling squad of doctors arrived.

No one paid attention to Calvin Elliot as he slipped back into the elevator. No one saw him quietly erase the digipad’s contents. No one noticed the tears that crept down his face, as he stared unseeing at the horizon. No one heard him whisper, “Well played, my friend.”

Published in: on October 8, 2017 at 1:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Parrot-ing Away

Most, if not all pertinent events in my life revolve around food and idling, preferably in that order. Therefore it would come as no surprise that recently my thoughts have been occupied by the study of certain food-related incidents that have occurred since my move to Bangalore a year ago.

Like most Trump-generation humans, I ascribe to the notion that if you say something confidently enough, even the universe will start to doubt itself, and eventually incorporate this new truth into the fabric of reality (and the fabric of reality is akin to a heavily used floor mop, in case you were wondering). Thus believing, I go about my life mispronouncing regional words as I see fit, slaughtering pedants along the way. That is not to say that I do not make sincere efforts to learn new words, cadences and sneezes; I try and fail almost instantly.

I was recently at New Shanthi Sagar (dubbed ‘NSS’ by the hipster elite), a small fast-food joint about 50 metres from office. The thing about such Bangalore joints (including Uttam Sagar, Shiv Sagar, Srinidhi Upachar, Nandi Upahar and all other Sagars and Ups) is that they all have nearly identical menus. And by identical I mean right down to the spelling of khara ‘bath’ and ‘rice bath‘ (which translates to ‘rice rice’ but who cares about semantics on empty stomachs). At NSS, I was fairly sure that I had understood the intonation behind order placement. So I went ahead and ordered one ‘parota’ (which is basically a naan-type object that has no shared history with the parantha). The cashier just stared at me like I hadn’t spoken at all. So I tried again, as though I were trying to unlock my PC using Windows voice-recognition.

“Porooota?”
No response.

“Parrrota?”
Blink, blink.

“Beretta?”
*sniffles*

“Prada?”
“Aah, Parattaaa?”

I was somewhat enraged and relieved at the same time. However, as I nodded, he promptly followed it up with an ‘illa’ (no). Drained of my will to live, I went with a plain dosa instead.

Another instance of my weakness for the niche getting me into trouble was at one of our office’s usual dinner haunts. I was feeling more adventurous than usual so I decided I would have the dosa equivalent of a Maharaja Mac. I went up to the lady at the counter (with about a hundred people behind me) and said ‘one ghee podi masala dosa‘. Although in my defense it was on the menu, I don’t think anyone had ever bothered torturing their senses in that way. At first she didn’t get what I said and ended up printing a token for an onion uthappam. I repeated my order, and she looked at me incredulously and said, “Eh, ghee podi masala onion dosa?” like it was a game we were playing. Instead of adding more nouns and adjectives, I pointed at the button that would dispense the correct token, and with raised eyebrows she obliged.

I’m not sure how many serial-breakfasters have noticed this, but most breakfast menus have an item called ‘Idli’ and another called ‘2 – Idli’ or ‘Idli – 2’ depending on which side of the stove you used that day. When you ask for ‘Idli’ you get one idli as the almighty intended you to have, with some chutney should you deserve it. However, ordering one ‘Idli -2’ will give you two pieces of idli in one plate, which is a sudden deep-dive into quantum maths. It so happened that I was ordering for myself and a few others. While I wanted one humble piece of idli, someone else decided to roll a hard six and have two in one, and I did not fully realise the implications at the time. So I walked up to the Oracle of NSS and confidently declared, “1 idli, 1 2-idli, 2 parota.” I immediately realised my error, and my heart sank as I looked into those cold, defiantly uncomprehending eyes.

Published in: on July 13, 2017 at 11:59 pm  Comments (2)  
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A Series of Unfortunate Haiku (About Unremarkable Things)

PAWPRINT
A small dog’s pawprint
Set in the concrete sidewalk
Nameless walk of fame.

TANGLED
Power lines lie tangled
In the tree’s thin, frazzled hair
Crisscrossed wantonly.

MIRROR
I open my eyes
See myself every morning
Scrolling through their thoughts.

TICK
My watch walks away
Stealing breath and time, it ticks-
Leaving me behind.

CALENDAR
I draw a finger
Down the matrix of time-
Days, weeks, memories.

KEYBOARD
The ‘W’ doesn’t work
Keys click in disapproval-
Stop asking questions.

Published in: on June 1, 2017 at 11:47 am  Leave a Comment  
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Curtains

Half-drawn, half-blind
Peeks into your neighbour’s mind
What do you hide, privacy?
Who’s the voyeur, you or me?

Opaque gossamer
Easy to glamour
They flutter coyly
What was that, a doily?

I have hesitant windows
They open, close, don’t know
They’ve been broken before
The hinges are still sore.

But the curtains flutter
Though the room within stutters
Not sure how to present itself
I saw broken glass on the shelf.

Published in: on June 1, 2017 at 9:38 am  Leave a Comment  
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Somnambulance

Somnambulism(n.) – Sleepwalking. From Latin ‘Somnus’ (sleep) and ‘Ambulare’ (to walk).

I was barely sleeping
I couldn’t stay awake
Alarms kept bleeping
Oh, for heaven’s sake!

I’d finally had enough
It was getting intense
So I rolled my cuffs
Called a somnambulance.

I watched the clock
After a minute more
Came a drowsy knock
At the front door.

A man stood, dressed
In a plain white coat
As I should’ve guessed
His body could float.

He looked right at me
(or so I thought, his
face was hard to see)
And opened a pop quiz.

“Are you the patient?”
The man’s voice droned
Uncaring and efficient
I nodded that I’d phoned.

“How long since you slept
For eight hours or more?”
“Records I haven’t kept,
But I know I don’t snore.”

“Have you had dreams?”
“I have a dream that…”
“Not that kind of dream.”
“Yesterday I saw a cat.”

“Any dreams not of cats?”
“Not particularly, no.”
“Not lions, bears, bats?”
“Other mammals didn’t show.”

“Are you under stress?”
I sighed dramatically,
Prepared to sadly confess
But was stopped prematurely.

“I should remind you, sir
To state facts, not whine;
Any whining that occurs
Will incur a heavy fine.”

I acquiesced grumpily
That stress was low
While the man quietly
Made notes for show.

I prattled on, eager
To be taken in ease
To Neverland (sans Peter)
For mid-20s retirees.

The levitating man
Eventually decided
That a complete scan
Would be provided.

He fixed a device
On top of my head
It felt quite nice
But I wanted a bed.

As it buzzed with a glow
The faceless man frowned
Don’t ask me how I know
Too sleepy to expound.

“It’s quite severe,”
He said ominously
Giving me a scare
As I gaped thusly.

“Something in my brain?!”
I wailed, alarmed.
“Sir, you’re insane,”
Then oddly, I calmed.

“So what’s wrong?”
I asked with unease
Then something strong
around me squeezed.

I cried out in dismay
And thrashed in vain
They planned how they
Would fix my brain.

As they strapped me
Into the somnambulance
I tried to break free
Nothing made sense.

Suddenly in the gloom
I was jerked upright
Found myself in my room
Walking about at night.

Published in: on February 19, 2017 at 3:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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