I

 

Anna Parkart

In order to be the one you love –
I have to remember another city
its empty streets – gnawing,
the impressions of a bra, etched across my back.
another route back home, a pack of Marlboros,
store-bought wine
our respective anxieties sitting in the sockets of our eyes.
I let your sadness rest inside me
I give it shape and roll it out into
palatable mounds of
pretty words and prettier glances.
You watch with a fire in your eyes and
I blink;
I’ll walk with my ass up, tits out,
and maybe you’ll learn to love me the way you love your mother.

Another land, another language,
pizza dough on your lips,
stench of raw meat on your breath – I tell you it doesn’t matter
When I think of you, I think of hugs wrapping themselves like
a grip around my wrist – impressions of hands that don’t quit.
I wrench it away;
I want to tell you that it isn’t enough.
Don’t make the same mistakes my parents did
My mother, with her herbal medicines and her spite
My father with his sullen silences and heavy machinery tools,

I can’t see too much, but I see
Enough.

We slip away quietly, no sound, not a whimper, not even a nod of acknowledgement.

Your eyes burn with fire but it isn’t enough.

I can’t be with you, you say –
I am not with me yet.

All image credit/copyright: Anna Parkart

On House Hunting In Bombay

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Sat pillion behind a man named Faiz

The name of my

First love.

“My girlfriend is Hindu,” he asserts

Narrow, hazel eyes and a kind disposition

I would say a kind heart but you never know

Around here.

I nod, my eyes fixed vacantly, my hands clutched aggressively

at the Angry sea – blurs of grey and mud, screaming at me to tell

him that my mother is Hindu too.

Us both, ignorant, unabashed

about wearing our bigotry on our sleeves.

“Look at me, my blood is mixed up of those who you hate – where do I fit in?”

Cut up the city in tiny boxes

Cut up its people, cram them into the boxes

Al Hilal, Al Qareem, Al Saba

Each house smells different – years of pain, age, wisdom, heartbreak, love, loss, death, bills, taxes, payments, cum spreading itself across is walls

“Where do I fit in?”

Close your eyes and imagine yourself within the four walls – talking to somebody you love,

Envisioning last night’s orgasm as you smoke a cigarette and watch the tea boil over.

“My boyfriend’s Brahmin,” does that help?

His blood looks the same as mine. He has strong arms and a lovely smile and he holds me when I keel over, my uterus exploding into a thousand prickly stars

and I imagine we can do this within the four walls of this house.

Hazel eyes replace the jade ones of the white colony cat who’ll take its pick of roti

irrespective of your name –

Sundar, Darshan, Ajanta, Kalpana

Look at the lot of us – waiting to be boxed in.

The angry sea, a moment’s respite, from the relentless holes I try and skip over

but fall flat, face down into;

Inhale the dust.

Brush it off, begin again.

Close your eyes – can you picture yourself within these four walls?

Image credit : Anurag Banerjee

That Special Brand Of Bombay Anxiety

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Sadness has clawed its way into your heart and taken you in its sweaty, clutch grasp. It follows you around like a dog you exiled only returning to leave dead birds at your doorstep. Wake up in the grab of dawn, alone in your bed and experience a flighty jolt – a made-up sense of repartee with time, the weight of the duvet vanquishing all existential dread. Put a kettle on to boil, watch the tea leaves swirl like flower petals as you smoke a cigarette and envision the funeral of a loved one, stretch your arms out, still ringing from the breathlessness of the last orgasm, peel oranges and pop them into the mixer – the steady whirring accompanying the dullness of your thoughts. Wash the fresh orange juice down with a sliver of aspirin; it’s a morning full of the feeling of letting go. It’s certainly not pleasant, you’ve tried being indifferent but you’ve always had that feeling in your gut – of skipping your meals again. There are days you try too hard and days you don’t try at all but none of this is important. The way your hands move makes me think of the sadness etched in their veins as you lovingly feed the colony cats with bits of old roti and milk. They watch you with piercing grey eyes and eyes like almonds dipped in honey. They circle around you surreptitiously and on good mornings, one lets you touch its soft, silken coat as the morning sun dapples through the few remaining trees on the block. You turn your face up to the sun, eyes scrunched and remember the time, you lay at the edge of the world, one eye shut against the sun, lips grazing a stray nipple, the dip of a shoulder eclipsing constellations.

*

You will do things, all sorts of things to give your life purpose – build birdcages with chicken wire but no bird would inhabit its insides, you would buy plants that can survive without too much care or sunlight, not listen to your local botanist and still water them every evening. Before you know it, the plants would bloom, held in place against a Velcro fence, growing and curving towards the slivers of sunlight that you similarly, curve towards as you wake up. You will look up recipes your mother didn’t teach you since she was too busy working and buying you books that kept you company bored, lonely teenage afternoons. You’d buy an apron, complete the sacred picture of domesticity, skin the chicken like you’ve only seen on DIY cooking videos, sprinkle it with parsley, thyme and basil, a lick of butter and lemon and pop it in the oven. You’d set the timer to 350°F for 30 minutes, smoke another cigarette, remember the time you slid on top in the cold, bare attic with mattresses that felt like blocks of ice as snowflakes floated up to your window. You clung on to each other in the Eastern European cold that had a way of crawling into the crevices in your blanket and settling in your bones, making your eyes heavy from the mulled wine and steady waft of wood smoke, you’d skinned a freshly caught silver carp as it floated right below your fingertips swallowing planktons, you were nervous about your skinny frame, bones jutting out at oblique angles, nervous about your music collection (how is ‘disco’ the defining genre of what you listen to?), nervous about your ability to fish; you considered yourself a city rat, a voyeur to the many similar stories of people encased behind glass walls, you had fingers like sausages capable only of rolling out wheat in round mounds of a roti and recently, snapping fingers as you mimic the people surrounding you at open mic events, your inherent skepticism, quietly envious and admirable of people putting themselves out there, you think of a time when everything was a bit easier, the hardest days were tinged a brighter shade of blue with an idea to look forward to. Now, love was a concept for rich people and sadness more tangible.

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*

Get off a bus at 7 am opposite the old colony with the taste of sleep and longing in your mouth, trudge home in an auto that refuses to go by metre but it’s too early to argue for 40 rupees, the wind whips your hair against your face and wakes you up and you wonder if you’d benefit from living in another neighbourhood – a less gentrified neighbourhood. “Places turn far less interesting once the rich move in,” you think to yourself as you look out at the fat SUVs spilling over public pavements turned to slopes to accommodate the imported tires. Rush on home, you’re out of groceries but the chai masala sits ominously on one end of the stove, call for milk, pour it in, watch the tea leaves swirl, let it boil, pour it out in a tumbler complete with a cap to keep the liquid in place, hail another auto, ring a doorbell to an unknown house and wait.

 

Wait, and question your decision to surprise your lover who’s just moved out.

You’re in his arms, and he’s in yours but the chai’s gone cold despite the tumbler the shopkeeper promised would keep it warm. Your arms are entangled with each other’s’ even though the room feels alien with its retro-futuristic stone walls, the pale blue bed-cover that reminds you of a sky you crane your neck to catch an eyeful of every morning. The way you two kiss has always been slightly off – like two tongues confused about where they are, hesitant, questioning; it’s been two years but the way you kiss refuses to change so you turn to astrology for answers because literature provides you with none. The romantic turns sexual, perverse, you just wanted hugs and cuddles but he has therapy in ten minutes so you leave the tumbler, you put on your sunglasses, you can never catch up with the coastal sun and its persistent rays lighting up nooks and corners you try so hard to not look into, catch an auto and you return to your singular room with a rusty fan that you’ve never switched on but you like to look at, lying face up on your bed as the bedsheet sticks to your perspiring body, you consider the fan, almost a relic to the meagre life you’ve spent here, Instagram stories the only testament to your experience in this city. The din of the morning rush hour fades, the flutewallah, sharp at the strike of two, plays a Bollywood tune on his flute – impeccable from start to finish. Their pop culture symbols repulse you despite you practicing the expensive mindfulness techniques you’ve picked up at the nearest yoga studio, you don’t like the pungent smell of fish that seeps up your nostrils and sits like stones on top of your eyes and you don’t relate to the general lack of conflict, the desire to be unseen, barely even a face in a milieu of people, people clinging to their average day as they’ve stopped subscribing to newspapers, phones tuned to the newest OTT platform, streaming glossy videos about shiny people with problems that make yours fade away for the time being, meditating on other’s struggles as a way to ignore your own pain is a heady place to exist in, one that finds its place of equal delusion and envy plugged in by social media and yet – you cannot stop. You accrue all the minute details of your life, hoping that it paves the way to something more profound, you look at your friends returning from foreign universities, 1 crore down in student debt but with bylines in the Guardian (UK, not India), and you think of all the eyes and smells you pass by on the road every day – the one with the genital warts, their worries and fears deep in their eye sockets and in the folds of their skin, the ones at the Mountain Climbing Forums with the gashes across their calves, you look at the relic taped to the ceiling of the old-Parsi style house you live in (you pass it off a revival of the Rennaisance but in reality, writing paycheques don’t cash that hard), you think of your father and his kind eyes and how much you love him but he identifies as Muslim and won’t understand why you chose to fall in love with a Brahmin boy from Karnataka and soon, your eyes chase the sun’s last rays like sharks cruising waves as the sky turns pink and people trickle out of their glass homes and offices, onto the roads, a woman roasts corns and peanuts by the corner, locks on bars loosen and you think of how warm his eyes feel as they rest on you lovingly, how when you both watch something funny, you turn to each other to acknowledge the sudden mirth you feel, a lightness of mind and body that jars with the weight of everyday mundanity that sits on your limbs, you think of how you discard your own sadness and he does the same when you two can’t afford dinner at the nearest restaurant so you look up recipes on BBC ‘How To Cook’ because the British-Indians just have simpler recipes for the dishes your mother could cook with her eyes closed and on some days, you can’t discern between cumin and coriander powder but work calls while you’re on your way to collect some herbs and date night is cancelled but he comes home to you with his exhausted arms and tired eyes and you hold onto each other like a crucifix and nod off to a dreamless sleep, hugs suffice when words don’t and you look up at the relic on your ceiling and wonder how many such small miracles has it borne witness to, you wonder about how you used to believe sadness was infectious, certainly, but not half as much as your grudging acceptance of happiness.

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All Image credit to Akshay Singh

 

 

 

 

 

Obscure Ways I’ve Taken To, To Kill My Time

    1. Watching Boiler Room sets long enough to pretend that I don’t live in Bombay
    2. Downloading and using trial versions of paid apps
    3. Obsessively cleaning any surfaces that reflect light
    4. Logging onto Pornhub more out of technical interest than any sexual interest
    5. Taking walks around the neighbourhood to run imaginary errands
    6. Fruitlessly stalking my ex on social media while being aware that he’s blocked me on all platforms
    7. Carrying out a six-step skincare routine every morning that gives me the vague impression that I have my life in order
    8. Lying down very still and pretending that I’m not alive until the phone rings
    9. Staying up at night to listen to the tree rattling to the storm outside my window
    10. Avoiding said phone calls but immediately texting: sorry, missed your call. is everything okay?

 

Kinds Of People I’ve Met In Bombay (so far)

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  1. Basic ass bitch in Adidas with a latent STD and a gym membership.
  2. Magnetic Fields attending bro-dude who’s actually in audit but DJ’s on Fridays at the local bar because he still stays at home and saved enough money to buy a turntable. Also dates women who still wear white sneakers (like it’s 2013). His idea of excitement is a meticulously sliced hari mirchi in his weekend G&Ts.
  3. The guy who made a word up for his Instagram handle and believes that that makes him unique. Also got into Cryptocurrency two years back but considers himself an expert on the same.
  4. The dude dressed in all-black (forgetting that we live in Bandra, not Berlin) who’s in his late-thirties but still works at Viacom and vehemently claims to anybody who’d listen that Nh7 is still relevant.
  5. The screenwriter with a cross-body leather satchel. Often dabbles in LSD for “creative inspo.” Often searches for deeper meaning in Colaba.
  6. The guy with the black and white Instagram feed who painfully insists on referring to the aesthetic as “chiaroscuro.” He is also still learning how to spell said word.
  7. The “wild Bandra chick” (who’s actually from Agra) with orgies in Parel and threesomes in Bandra who claims that rampant, unprotected sex with strangers is a great way to burn calories and “work that bod.” Her dad still pays her rent.
  8. The rich SoBo guy who bought a Hasselblad for the sole purpose of clicking shots of skinny, dusky women with daddy issues and low alcohol capacities against the Goan sunset.
  9. The over-achieving assistant director who claims to have been “doing it for a decade” like it’s something to be proud of. Like, I dunno, read a book or something instead.
  10. The tired assistant director who wants his big foray into directing but spends more time on shooting schedules than treatment notes. Is also often found siphoning off footage and making his own edits that he later uploads on Vimeo with descriptions that often involve emoticons.
  11. The actress turned producer (because that’s her only shot at actually starring in something).
  12. The struggling actor who thinks gym time is equivalent to acting props.
  13. The coder who accidentally discovered sex while he was chasing money. Also pumps iron similar to gym-dude and considers himself an artist because he once read a quote by Borges – by mistake.
  14. The girl in fashion who routinely doesn’t shave and insists on wearing a septum ring and shirts unbuttoned down to the navel – until you realise she’s actually a boy.
  15. The capitalist white dude who would be a “Ramu” back in white-land but now has a hot, dusky Indian girlfriend with an ass & gets invited to a lot of parties to balance out the brown:white ratio. Owns a sherwani but still carries tissue paper wherever he goes.
  16. The buzzfeed/scoopwhopp/social media champion who can’t sleep at night because of what he has created (or so I hope).
  17. That one feminist woman director with less talent, more grudges.
  18. People who routinely think it’s still acceptable to read Murakami and worse still, search for meaning within its glib-Jap pop culture nonsense with cherry blossom fields and dream sequences.
  19. The chef who went to an obscure town in Europe to study gastronomical food engineering and now only drinks locally brewed IPAs and proceeds to write an essay about it on Instagram. Or, a kala khatta chuski. Or, a bread and butter sandwich. You get the drift.
  20. A plethora of people who grew up in Chembur/Andheri/Powai eating missal paav but are now gluten-lactose-dairy-carbs free & wear a shirt with a pattern of fruits on it at some point during the week. Said pattern is also often turned into themed parties (for reasons I will never understand). Something about being from the suburbs gives unprecedented power to start cults. Think about it
  21. That upright bassist who used to have taste before he started playing in Bombay.
  22. Freelancing ad lady who hates on capitalism(irony lost) just cos she spent a year in Eastern Europe. Considers herself a writer with a blog called “a maverick’s monologue” updated every 10-12 months (aka me) (courtesy Aman, my forever NemesisxMuse)

(whoever gets that Nicholas Cage meme, hmu. I wanna be friends)

 

What I Learnt Today – III

  1. the degree to which you want something is inversely proportional to your chances of wanting it once you have it.
  2. “true love is an ordeal. the lesser loves, a respite from it,” is the kind of romantic notion that feeds heartbreaks.
  3. true love is a sense of peace you can’t put your finger on, when you can’t say why you love somebody.
  4. growing up is realising and accepting that being self-published isn’t just okay, but sometimes necessary.
  5. return policies are sexy.
  6. if it makes you hate yourself, it’s probably not worth it.
  7. eye-contact is underrated.
  8. living somewhere with actual seasons makes you feel like you’re actually living.
  9. allowing yourself bad moods keeps you sane.
  10. seeing anything – love, life, work, art – to the end is its own reward.

Art For Art’s Sake

Artistic integrity is a tricky terrain. Nowhere has art served a bigger function than in the minds of its creators. And, it’s this knowledge that helps anybody who fashions themselves to be an artist tide through mundane jobs, creative blocks and the belief that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. As time’s progressed and left its indelible mark on people around me, especially noticeable in the way they speak of themselves and the world, self-awareness and self-indulgence have been two sides of the same coin. Growing up, there was an incessant itch under my skin that reminded me, nagged at me about how the world owed me something. Life has a way of chipping at that illusion bit by bit as you grow older. Self-awareness is more often than not a losing game but one that I’d rather always place my bets on either way.

When I was young, I had a primitive sense of humour and an eager smile. I wore black and partied a little too hard, and spoke about myself a little too loudly and truly believed that my word was for the taking. Now, older and bit less self-congratulatory and a bit more self-deprecating, a creative crisis has found in me its sweaty, desperate clutch. If adulthood’s only measure was giving people a heads up before doing the asshole thing you were going to do anyway, I was checking all the boxes. When younger, I believed that true art came out of fearing nothing and fearing everything, to an extent. The fear that it doesn’t matter if you put a piece of yourself out for public scrutiny because there’s a lot more where that came from followed immediately. A friend once, very rightly, said that it doesn’t matter if you’re the king as long you can wear the cloak. It’s this fine line between authenticity and posturing that often gets blurred in today’s creative discourse in the country. I’m not sure what it is that I was expecting after a year studying and making films in Central Europe; I came back with a calmness and a sense of self-assuredness that’s been subject to mythic, icy judgment and indifference in the heaving, panting streets and corners of Bombay.

Which brings me to my question: what does the current creative climate stand for? We’ve been on the cusp of a creative revolution, especially when it comes to cinema, the last two decades and what do we have to show for it today? The answer eludes me more today than it ever did before. With an ever growing number of digital platforms emulating themselves after what was relevant in the Western world five years back, or are we falling in the convenient pit of social realism? Art, historically, can’t be detached from the socio-political context it’s conceived in. We live in a cautious era of kale and retracted tweets. Does art eventually become less about the preservation of the self to the proliferation of selflessness? I know friends who fashion themselves as artists, at the helm of bringing Indian design to the forefront, influenced less by the kitschy, feminist art associated with Instagrammers to roping in print artists from a small town nobody’s heard of and try and fashion him as somebody relevant, and they too have reached a point where they’ve resigned themselves to their reality – that they may have to look out for themselves because nobody else will. Looking out for one’s artistic interests and finding a way to pay the bills is the place that exists between a hard place and a rock. Another friend whose debut feature found itself in a comfortably, lucrative space with an online digital platform talks of liking artists who have their own views and imagination, as he so succinctly puts it. But, what good is any imagination when it’s carved and sculpted by the steady diet of mediocre content? Is having an uninformed opinion better than having no opinion? Did we ever, as a people, experience the days of fashionable nihilism? Hanging out at the nearest, shiniest watering hole and being introduced as a ‘writer’ brings with it a sense of hefty responsibility – one that I’m keenly aware of, and one I don’t do justice to often enough. November 2014, I was at a film festival in Beirut, Lebanon where I met contemporary film-makers from Iran and learnt first-hand their legacy of making films within the constraints they exist in. Their perspective doesn’t come across as an outsider’s perspective, because largely irrespective of socio-economic disparities, their problems as a society remain the same. Art, in their case, becomes more reciprocal and less transactional.

Growing up, I despised my art, I was hard on myself and that’s carried on over to an age of self-posturing, the flimsy world of Instagram filters and four-line verses that capture the brevity of a heartbreak through the space in between the words that string these sentences together in the grasping, needy clutch of a child who grabs because he doesn’t know any better. Nietzsche said we have art in order to not die of the truth, and nowhere is this truer in the proudly pulsating, red-blooded heart of commercial India. A personal realisation in the recent past, that’s bound to change as I do, has been that work amounts to nothing but just that – actually doing it. A friend cites Van Gogh as an example and the idea of a state of flow, the state in which you’re so focussed on your creation that the end result is of little consequence, which is similar to how Van Gogh earned his reputation. This negates the very idea of self-promotion – where art, by its definition, depends more on the process and less on the outcome. Being an adult, there’s been a recent realisation that it’s completely acceptable to find your heart in two places. As a generation spoilt by choice and inspite of it, what’s the price of the trade-off between sticking to your convictions and selling your soul out? Marketability has reached the level of finesse where now even selling your soul off has the veneer of artistic integrity. Post-modern writing that’s percolated from the more sheltered medium of literature to the more commodified medium of cinema and video content has been characterised by holding a mirror up to society and a sense of irony in showcasing what plagues it. From pop-culture American TV shows to the more indie, internet space, post-modern writing has been about despair and the lack of redemption. The writing that came next was more about fostering a sense of community and goodwill between its idiosyncratic characters than cement a sense of hope and the bravado that comes with overcoming personal limitations. That’s the writing I find myself connecting to the most.

Art, I’ve realised with time, is more about becoming than being. True artistic integrity still evades me as much as calculating the exact change on my bills does, but I suppose it just comes down to finding what you can connect with the most, without pretensions, without the fear that you’re not being original as long as you’re being authentic – to your experience, to your story or the lack of it.