Tag Archives: Scintilla Project

Lost in the City

Today’s Scintilla Project prompt that inspired my story is “Talk about where you were going the day you got lost. Were you alone? Did you ever get to where you meant to go?” 

 

My first poem came to me, as a series of words, when my father was driving my mother, my younger brother and me to the supermarket. I was 6 years old at the time. I tossed the poem around in my head for a while before I turned to mother as we walked toward our car with bags of groceries in hand.

Amma, I wrote a poem. Would you like to hear it?”

“Sure.”

“I was lost in the city, a policeman found me…”, and I continued to recite my masterpiece. I don’t remember it much, except it ended with the policeman returning me home safely to my relieved parents and sleeping brother.

When I was done, my mother asked in slight disbelief, “Where did you read that?”

“I wrote it, Amma.”

The next thing I remember is her sitting me down at a table to help me put to paper the words that had been marinating in my brain through our trip to the grocery store. We titled it “Lost in the City” and, in a couple of weeks, it was published in the Young Times, a popular children’s and young adults’ magazine in the Middle East. It was published alongside a picture of me, one of my favorites; my short hair neatly combed to one side gleams in studio lights. I wear gold hoops in my ears and a white and blue summer dress with seashell motifs. My eyes are bright, with a hint of an impish smile. As I look at the picture today, I see they are full of promise, full of hope.

Since then, I wrote several poems and pieces that always found themselves in some publication or the other, thanks to my very proud and supportive parents. I really felt like I could write for the rest of my days, but the life reared its numerous practical heads and clouded my judgment, already influenced by societal and familial expectations. I made a compromise. To society I said, I choose a noble profession, and to myself I said, I choose a creative one. I picked architecture.

But architecture school had other plans for me. And as if the pain and suffering of it the first time wasn’t enough, I decided to do it again, and the second time around, it was worse. Bricks of failure crumbled down upon me, and I worked long and hard to rebuild and salvage the walls of my identity. When that was done, I went on in my new life.

And then I found theater. It called to me, beckoned me shamelessly and I followed it to the edge of my world until I fell off the edge, into the unknown. However, very much like in a dream, I was on my feet again, dabbling in this and that to find meaning and money in life.

And then I made a trip across a few ponds to the United States. New partner and no job meant a different life, and as I scrambled and grasped at straws to put together a picture of a life that I felt I could lead, I turned around and saw that the past was like a lone house in the distance that would disappear with a few more steps. I held my husband’s hand and trundled along, for it was the complete picture that was more important at the time.

Today I’m trying to fit a piece in my hand that says WRITING into the jigsaw puzzle of my life. Somewhere there are pieces that read ARCHITECTURE, THEATER, MEANING, MONEY, Ph.D., TEACHING, URBAN DESIGN, and so many others that make my head spin. I look around me, but don’t recognize these surroundings. I am truly lost in the city of my constructs of image and identity.

Now would be a good time for that policeman to come by and take me home by the hand to family with open arms.

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Sunday Breakfast at the Mess

Today’s Scintilla Project prompt that inspired my story is “Many of our fondest memories are associated with food. Describe a memorable experience that took place while preparing or eating food.” 

Back in the day, when I was just another student at architecture school, I used to love Sunday mornings. Apart from the fact that they were filled with endless possibilities, the doom of a Monday deadline at least a whole evening of procrastination away, nothing could quite compare to waking up and enjoying the feeling of nowhere to go as you sank your body deeper into the pillow and mattress while birds chattered somewhere in the distance. And it was always made better by Sunday breakfast at the mess.

Now, I have to say, food at the mess was not always good. But I enjoyed Sunday mornings in particular because it was dosa day. Not just any dosa day, but dosa-with-creamy-potato-masala-and-peanut-chutney day. Sometimes, I would wait for all week for Sunday morning to arrive because of the lingering taste of these crispy pancakes made with wonderful rice and lentil batter that fermented so well it exploded with bubbles when poured on a hot stove. That, and Oh Lord, the potato masala… Creamy, yummy potatoes with undertones of onion, ginger and chilies, cooked until they turned to butter in your mouth. And the peanut chutney: gritty, rich old peanut chutney to balance the zing of the potato masala. There was something so homely in those meals, that as I washed it all down with piping hot filter coffee served in a stainless steel tumbler, I never felt I was far away from home or family. Oh, how I loved Sunday breakfast.

One such Sunday morning, my friend H woke me up and together we ambled along to grab the last of the dosas before the mess closed before lunch, but not before we stopped by K’s bed and asked if she was going to join us. She muttered something from under her pillow before we walked off; it wasn’t unusual for K to miss breakfast anyway.

I spent the rest of morning working on some drawings to the happy feeling of doa-potato-peanut-filter coffee in my belly. And then lunchtime arrived, and H came by to get me again. This time we went straight to K, still sound asleep in her bed, and shook her until we got a satisfactory answer from her.

“I’ll join you in fifteen minutes.”

Fifteen minutes later, at the mess, H and I sat in front of our plates as the stray grains of rice and dal on our fingers and empty plates dried up. Still no sign of K. They literally had to kick us out of the mess to close the doors in preparation of dinner, and we went straight back to K, still no farther from her bed than she was when we left her. It was 2.30pm now. H was furious.

“Well, if that’s where you like to stay, that’s where you’ll stay!” she announced. K remained silent. H grabbed a piece of rope to be used in an architectural model, and playfully began to bind K’s hands and feet to the bed. K’s protests, though feeble for her well-rested state, fell on deaf ears. And I had turned into the mob, laughing along with H as I pinned K’s hands and feet to the frame. After the work was done, H stepped back and took a picture for posterity.

“Guys, let me go.”

“You aren’t going to achieve anything by starving yourself”, said H.

“What are you going to achieve by tying me to my bed?!”

“It’s a punishment.”

“Guys”, K was so soft spoken, her sternness came as a surprise.

“Alright, but you have to promise not to skip your meals like this.”

“Ok, I promise”, she said, rather quarter-heartedly as we began to untie her.

After she had brushed her teeth, she went straight to her shelf and picked up a bag of spicy crisps and chomped away as H and I looked on in slight disgust.

“Is that your ‘breakfast’?” H asked with air quotes. K flashed a mouthful smile at us in response.

“I give up! I can’t make this girl eat her meals properly anymore. K, your mother will hear of this soon”, threatened H.

K switched on her computer as she turned to us “They gave up on me long ago!”

On hindsight, I suppose K was never attached to food emotionally the way H and I were.

Me, the Performer

Today’s Scintilla Project prompt that inspired my story is “What have been the event horizons of your life – the moments from which there is no turning back?” 

Even when the costumes arrived, it hadn’t quite sunk in. We spent the evening like idiots, posing for silly photographs (it was, after all, a comedy). A stressful month had been spent on rehearsals that were only just beginning to turn into fun; we’d finally reached that sweet spot where our heads were so saturated with lines that they’d begun to colonize our jokes, our dreams… our lives.

It was only on opening night that the reality of all this struck me, as I listened to a shuffling and mumbling audience from behind the green room door. So this is what it feels like, I thought, as all of us backstage made our rounds mouthing BREAK A LEG!, to the cast and crew.

And then, the lights came on. The audience went silent in anticipation, and this energy of their silence percolated the room and made my head want to explode with adrenalin. This was it. I was hooked. From the moment I stepped on that stage, I felt like I owned that room, that this was my space in the world, that I was born to perform! And though there was some unhappiness after curtain call on the last show day, for all good things must come to an end, I knew that this was only the beginning… My beginning.

Thus began my sojourn into the magical world of theatre.

Thank you, Captain

Today’s Scintilla Project prompt that inspired my story is “Write about a chance meeting that has stayed with you ever since.” 

 

Our parents had set us up. They’d given us the same old spiel; “Meet them first, how else will you know if you like them or not?” I guess I relented because I was tired of not having found love in all the places I’d looked until then.

We were seated on the diwan bed in the spare room, side by side. I was wearing my best salwar khameez that morning, a deep purple and blue number tailored in a style that I’d handpicked from a catalogue. I don’t remember what he wearing, but whatever it was, it was neat. He exuded casual in a military sort of way: hair slicked to one side, clean shaven, rimless glasses, shirt tucked into the slender waist of his jeans. He was neither slight nor well built, but muscular all the same. Although, what I remember most was that he had the darnedest, cutest smile that got my knees knocking together like ice cubes in our tall glasses of mango juice.

“Why do want to marry someone in the army?” he asked me.

They have great pensions and live in the lap of luxury; said my mother in my head.

“Um, I dunno, my great-uncle was in the army. It seemed kinda cool”, my 22-year old tongue blurted out. And then he smiled his wonderful smile that made me want to continue to say stupid things all day.

We had been chatting for the good part of an hour when he said, “I think I may be 60-40 about this”, he said of the set-up.

“60 for, or against?” I asked.

“For”, he smiled and fifteen minutes of conversation later he smiled again. “Maybe 70.”

I blushed. We’d decided to give it another meeting to figure out where we stood on the matter. I went through the day as if floating on a cloud.

“Did he hold your hand?” my brother peeped out of his blankets to ask.

“Shut up”, I murmured under the buzz of his smile in my head before I turned the lights out.

The next morning when I woke up, I sat up with a feeling that the day ahead was important for some reason, and when it dawned on me why, I smiled and brought back the memory of his smile to my head. But the magic had disappeared. I wracked my head in an attempt to remember the charming curl of his lips, but it was no longer there. Huh, I said to myself, that’s odd. I wonder if this is some sort of sign. But then I quickly brushed away the thought.

We did meet later that day, but as we walked past all the little shops at Spencer’s Plaza, I didn’t have a good feeling. And then he finally spelt it out while we had lunch at Noodle House.

“Hey, don’t take your anger out on the ice cream”, he joked after he’d shared his decision with me.

“I’m not”, I mumbled. What did you expect, I thought, I had had hopes about this. Now I have to go about being my own person until the next sucker comes along.

“You’re young… and bright and intelligent. Go out there and live your life. Please don’t waste it on a fauji (army man)”, he begged.

I went home, dejected. I had never taken rejection well, even though people thought I did. Over the years I continued to struggle with love, life and meaning, and I think back to his words from time to time. He’d really done me a favor by being brutally honest. We were never destined to be together, but my fate had meant for me to meet him only so I could chart my life ahead of me.

Thank you, Captain.

My Pindiyath Nose

Today’s Scintilla Project prompt that inspired my story is “What talent do you have that your usual blog readers don’t know about? Talk about a time when you showed it to its best advantage.” 

To try and choose a particular talent of mine to blog about is not easy, although it would be pretentious of me to say that I have too many to choose from. In a way it is true, and I consider myself versatile: the Jack-of-all-trades sort. But to pick any one and describe it in details seems all the more pretentious to me, so I’ve decided to discuss my most unusual talent, something I’ve inherited from my father’s maternal family, the Pindiyaths.

I can touch my tongue to the tip of my nose.

Indeed, it is an unusual talent, and I have my ancestors to thank for bestowing upon my face the majesty of the Pindiyath nose, curved ever so slightly like a question mark punctuated by my cleft chin.

But I did not always think so highly of this nose. I disliked it immensely as it grew differently from the rest of my face, earning me names like: White Crow, Parrot, etc. Except of course, when it came to showing off my rather strange skill, because that was when I owned it completely. Facilitated by the smallish upper lip inherited from the same source, I would show off at dance class when still a middle school student, and watch in absolute amusement as the other girls tried their best to get their tongues to touch the tips of their noses, some even trying to push their chins upwards with their palms. As I grew older, my face filled out, but the distance between my nose and tongue has stayed about the same. The gross awesomeness of my little quirk, to me, beats ear wriggling, and cannot be mastered easily, like say, how I taught my eyebrows to be independent of each other. It is what makes me, me.

I’ll bet those of you reading this have tried it too.

And I just did it again.

Mwahahahahaha.

The Day My Body Stopped Being Mine

Today’s Scintilla Project prompt that inspired my story is “Being trapped in a confined environment can turn an ordinary experience into a powder keg. Write about a thing that happened to you while you were using transportation: from your first school bus ride, to a train or plane, to being in the backseat of a car on a family road trip.” 

 

47D was always the last route you wanted to take to get back to the university. It was notorious for pickpockets, lechers, molesters, and smelly people in general. But I was hard-pressed for choices at 8pm in the night, especially since curfew was in 40 minutes. When the bus in question stalled in front of me, I deliberated for a moment before the whirr of the engine forced me to clamber in without a second thought.

I glimpsed his face, this boy of not more than 16, and a gnawing intuition of destiny dawned on me. I shrugged it off. What part in my destiny could this scrawny youngster play?

I handed the money for my ticket to a fellow passenger to pass it on to the conductor and waited for my ticket and change to be passed back, a ritual common in crowded buses in Chennai. There was a tap on my shoulder and I turned to face this youngster again who handed me my ticket and change. “Thanks”, I said, and smiled politely. He regarded me with the black pupils that swam in the yellows of his eyes; chin tilted inwards as he nodded in response.

It wasn’t a long ride back to the university. But in the next three minutes, I found him inching closer to me, hand slightly raised away from his hip in the hope that the next bump the bus drove over would send it flying toward my crotch. I had a package in my hand, thankfully, that I instantly shoved in front of my zipper to discourage the young man from thinking I was just another naïve bus rider. I don’t know if he got the message or not, but the bus was nearing my stop, and I moved closer to the exit, glad that I didn’t have to deal anymore with this sort of behavior.

But the universe had other things planned for me. The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu happened to be passing by, and the police were in the process of closing all intersections to clear traffic for the grand entourage to pass through. Sadly enough, the bus couldn’t make it to the other side of the intersection before my stop, and we were stuck there, waiting in traffic for the good part of twenty minutes, a golden window of opportunity for my molester to push through the crowd and position himself right behind me, where he proceeded to push his stiffened masculinity against my backside.

I froze. I was frightened. This was the first time I was being attacked so blatantly and I stood there, waiting to see if somebody would come to my rescue and pull this creep off my back. I had, until then, only dealt with lechers and oglers, this was something entirely new to me. I looked around outside the bus. I couldn’t jump off just yet, some traffic was still finding its way to the intersection. I wanted to yell the words, “GET AWAY!”, but my tongue was stuck at the back of my throat, and I don’t know how long I stood there while he pushed and dug, but it seemed like hours.

And then, finally, I decided enough was enough. I jumped off the bus and began to walk back to the university, but not before I shot a dirty look in the direction of the bus as the yellows receded into an indifferent crowd. I hurried along, half-walking, half-running, still worried about the curfew. I was inside the university when I bumped into my good friend CB. She looked at my face and asked me if I was alright, and I stopped in my tracks and burst into tears. She put her arm around me while I choked and sobbed the story of my first molester as the hostel gates closed behind us.

Cobra Down

Today’s Scintilla Project prompt that inspired my story is “Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. Write about a time when you taught someone a lesson you didn’t want to teach.”. 

 

Cobra was one of those guys you really couldn’t avoid. He was big, burly and – oh God – loud. He was also student-in-charge of the computer lab. I think he took that title very seriously, too. At any given time you could walk in and find him either hunched over a keyboard completing a drawing or sprawled across two chairs, snoring with his mouth wide open.

We soon came to realize that he was the kind of guy who acted like he didn’t care you were a lady. Not in the good way, but more in the “I-know-you’re-a-chick-but-I’ll-pretend-you’re-not-but-I-really-know-you-are-and-it-gives-me-perverse-sense-of-power” kind of way. Also, I can’t say this enough – he was a big man. He thought he was coming off as playful at times, but he was capable of leaving strangle marks on your neck, even if it was for fun. You only cracked a joke at his expense if you could run like the wind after. I, unfortunately, discovered that fact after I found myself dangling upside-down by the feet while I struggled to keep the ends of my blouse modestly in place with one hand.

Now I’m the sort of person who never thinks to reprimand people invading my space until, say, it becomes really unbearable. I’m tolerant and appropriate, which unfortunately works against me in moments such as these. Cobra was dating my roommate, and after she moved in with him, I rarely got to see him, which worked fine for me.

One wintry day, our HOD brought an assignment for a couple of us to work on, and Cobra happened to be on the team. The deadline was in two days, so my three friends and I spent the night at the studio. The next morning, groggy-eyed, we stepped into the computer lab to resume our work. Cobra was at the far end of the lab, working alone.

Bear in mind, at this point, none of us had had our morning tea or a good night’s rest, so we were the bitchiest, smelliest, most unpleasant students you just didn’t want to know.

Cobra stretched and yawned for what seemed like a minute and a half, and I must have said something rather snide, because the next thing I knew, he’d grabbed onto my scarf with one hand and wound it tightly around my neck and started to pull.

I began to panic. “Cobra, no, no… You’re hurting me, Cobra, stop!” But as usual, he wasn’t listening. This was all a perverse game to him.

It was in that moment, that I saw everything so clearly. He had used the fingers of his left hand to prop himself against the table while his right hand was knotted in my scarf. It took me less than a second to raise my left fist up high and swiftly punch his fingernails on the table.

“OUCH! YOU STUPID BITCH! YOU FUCKING BITCH! WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU THAT FOR?”

“You have NO idea how rough you can be, Cobra, I had to let you know that you were hurting me!” I yelled back.

“You fucking bitch, don’t you mess with me ever again!”

“No, YOU listen to me, Cobra, don’t YOU ever mess with ME again. I hope you’ve learnt your lesson.”

He muttered obscenities at me while exiting the computer lab. There was silence for about a minute, before my friends began to congratulate me for what I had done. I sat there, shaking, still trying to process what I had done before I could start to laugh it off. I had just reminded myself that I wasn’t a doormat anymore.

As for Cobra, he never bothered me again.