The Sun-Man

When the East Coast Blizzard unleashed its ferocity last year, several snowmen were made. And, my cousin, and his wife created a snowwoman. The statuette was gorgeous. She almost asked for a story to be written about her. The figurine became my cousin’s muse, and he wrote a moving story.

Because the snowwoman was adorable, I couldn’t resist the urge to spin a tiny tale too about her, and I shared stole his muse. 😉 When we exchanged our flash fiction, I was amazed at how similarly, yet differently we had looked at her.

This year, my cousin observed that we must write something about the sun-man.

While all other celestial objects are celebrated, our poor sun is always scolded. “He is either burning, or hiding. He never strikes a balance.” Someone should cut him some slack.

So, my cousin’s idea sounded like a tribute to the sun. A paean for the unsung hero. 🙂

And we wrote two stories on the theme The Sun-Man.

My cousin’s story warmed my heart instantly. It was adequately awww-inducing, thoughtful, and look out for a tiny twist that’s cleverly presented.

Here is the Sun-Man, written by Navin Radha — http://navinradha.blogspot.in/?zx=9d36978717ac582a

His website, which is a charming old soul, is a treasure chest of stories. ❤

Please allow me to share a little, yet important trivia. I began writing only after I read Navin Radha’s blogs, and flash fiction. He is quite an inspiration to me. (Arav, stop feeling embarrassed, and say, “Nandri hai!”

And, of course, we would love to hear about his story. 🙂

*****

Yours truly sat on Navin Radha’s idea for 234 years. Then, I wrestled with my head, and wrote this story on our Sun-Man. I hope you will enjoy our stories.

The Sun-Man

20170415_124641If I could sweat, I would. If I knew to knit, I would. If I knew to doodle, I would. I must do something to cope with my anxiety. But I am an enormous fireball that can’t adopt any of the human methods to alleviate my pain. All that I can do is burn.

It’s been five days since he paid me a visit; he hasn’t been this elusive. Disappearing is not his way. He is the one who shows up.

Tharangambadi. It was a lonely morning. The moon and the stars were exhausted. I was tired to rise too. But they needed a break. I dusted the stardust on my face, pushed a cloud to cover the moon, and rose to face another day.

He was sitting on a rock. He was more tired than all of us. As I lifted myself higher, he squinted, cocked his head, and whispered, “You are gorgeous!” I was shy. His face broke into a smile.

I saw his worn backpack, torn shoes, and sunburnt face. One of those clichéd bikers. Just when I was about to dismiss him, I saw him dropping his camera in his bag. He folded his knees, and hugged them, as he sat straight. I was used to people staring at me. But this man’s unwavering attention made me feel awkward.

I slowly rose with my gaze fixed on his enchanted face. The man continued to talk to me. “What is happening! I drove 723 kilometres. No. I didn’t intend to see you. I couldn’t sleep. Instead of tossing and turning in my bed, I rode a few more kilometres, and decided to rest here for a while. Then I see you.”

I did not know if he spoke to everybody like that. Did he know I was listening?

“I am sure you are listening,” he said. I was so surprised that I would have fallen into Bay of Bengal. But folks like me can’t succumb to such impulses. “In your presence, I am not lonely. You are all that I need. Your measured warmth. Your silent companionship. Your unassuming beauty,” he mumbled.

We were two lonely souls with few words, and more feelings.

He tore his heart open, and allowed me to illuminate his chamber of vulnerabilities, regrets, and pain. I touched his gentle soul with my morning rays.

In that short moment, I knew he would be my friend. My man. The Sun-Man.

Kanyakumari. I was all yellow, orange, and red. The blue was gone. 16 minutes before I could go down, he sat on a rock, holding a girl’s hand. She didn’t make me feel jealous.
From the way she looked at him, when he gushed about our soulful-connection, I knew she was going to love me.

With a heart that brimmed with joy and contentment, I drew the blanket of darkness over me. He stole a kiss from her. She held his hand, but kept smiling at me. Even if the darkness chose to stay for eternity, I wouldn’t have regretted. I wanted their moment to last forever.

Pulicat. The Sun-Man hurled a pebble into the quiet backwater. When the ripples settled, I saw his son’s face. Amaan. He was like his parents; I was not surprised. He looked at me like I was the most beautiful marvel.

“How many sunsets have you seen, Appa?” Amaan wondered. My man wore his signature smile. “Many, many! Maybe, more than 200.” The little child couldn’t count. “200. Is it greater than five?” The Sun-Man threw another stone. “Not really…” He held Amaan’s chin. “Sometimes, one sunset would make you feel like you saw hundreds of them,” he looked at me.

I remembered that look; I wanted to hug him. “You are resplendent today,” he observed. A thin ray of light kissed him. It was my way of ruffling his hair.

He lifted Amaan, and they both left on the Sun-Man’s vintage bike. They rode, and rode, as though they rode into the sunset itself.

Pondicherry. He lives here. His schedule is unpredictable, but he comes to meet me everyday. The Sun-Man’s gait has changed. His pace has become slow. His heart is light, and joyful all the same.

When he sits on the promenade, and looks at me going about my chores, our souls hold hands, and dance on the waves that rise and crash. He doesn’t talk at all these days. But I listen to his silence.

He waits till I go home. Then he looks at the moonbeam that falls on the ancient ocean. The sheet of silver on the water fills his heart with peace, and when he takes a deep breath then, I know how much he loves me, and the moon, the light, and the darkness.

Five days have gone. What is wrong with him? Why would he neglect me? That’s so unlike him.

I have spent 22 days without embracing the Sun-Man. I am livid. I want to burn and burn and burn, and set fire to the world, and the clouds, and the universe. But, I am going to wait. He will come back.

81 days. No signs of the Sun-Man yet. My friends in the cosmos are supposed to form a search party. But they can’t help me. They have to befriend one like the Sun-Man to know what friendship means.

Wadi Rum. I just spotted Amaan, 134 days after my friend went missing. Where was he all this while? Where is the Sun-Man? I thought Amaan’s like his parents. Maybe, I was wrong. This boy doesn’t recognise me. Dude! I am your father’s best friend. No! He is writing something on a journal. I am going to ask the desert winds to throw sand into his eyes. I miss my friend. What happens when I cry?

Amaan writes feverishly, and darts a quick glance at me. I could understand his father’s silence. But this boy seems mysterious. He pushes the notebook aside, lies on the sand, and closes his eyes. Boy! Where is the Sun-Man?

I linger over his head for a while. He must be lost in a dreamless slumber. I hold my anxious heart, and look at his journal. The shapes do not make sense to me. “The Jordanian desert accentuates the sun’s beauty. What makes the sun more beautiful here? My muddled head can’t grasp the soul of Jordan. Without him, nothing makes sense to me. Will this desert, and the sand, and the sun give Appa back?”

He wakes up with a start because I was too severe on him. Amaan doesn’t talk to me. From the way, he ignores me, I know that he needs me the most now. I should stop being harsh. The boy needs a hug.

I ask a stray cloud to cover me a bit; I wink at Amaan. He gives me a lopsided smile. Will you listen to me, boy? “When I met the Sun-Man in Tharangambadi, we shared our souls. I do not know where he is now. But a leaf of his soul lives with me. That is the lantern to my dark life. That is my universe. He is my universe. I will wait and wait and wait to see him again. I might die. The universe might collapse. But I will wait to give him a warm hug one more time. Till then, I carry his soul. Look at me when you want to talk to him. Look at me when you want to hear his voice. Look at me when you feel lonely. I am here. Because I am waiting for the Sun-Man.”

Amaan wakes up. Torrential tears streak down his cheeks. “Appa!” he whispers. The desert wind brings the word to me. “Boy! I am collecting your words, smiles, tears, and memories.We are in this together.”

*****

PS: My story is a loud tribute to the man who carries a pebble in his pocket. You know who you are. 🙂 ❤

Extra Decaf: Soulful Scribbling

In her prologue, Anchale A tells the readers, “Just write. Scribble your soul… Let it be four words or forty. Let it make sense or none at all. But write.” And that’s what she has done in her first book — Extra Decaf — a collection of poetry.

She has scribbled her soul. Courageously. Authentically. Intimately.

Tell me your deepest secrets;
Tell me your darkest dreams.

Talk to me about your tummy grumbling at night;
Talk to me about how you were softly snoring in your sleep.

Show me your ugly duck-face selfies;
Show me all your fears.

And, watch how I collect manure and seeds from your rots;
Watch how I feed them with my light.

Watch how I make wild flowers;
Watch how I love you.

The collection offers three chapters — Infection, Disease, and Recovery, and 45 poems which are a beautiful melange of joy, pain, and resurrection. As I read some poems, I smiled, and told myself, “Awww! That was cheesy!” But I am incurably romantic. So, that dash of mushiness agreed with me.

Anchale’s motifs are poets’s favourite children — stars, rainbows, darkness, light, oceans, feathers… What are poems without those elements? They would be words without rhythm.

For her poems are adequately sprinkled with all things cosmic, they sound familiar, yet fresh.

Let’s steal the stars and glue them on to our velvet blanket.

19399555_10213536246777503_5933821790783329141_nEvery poem is coupled with a fitting monochromatic, evocative photograph. I wish I could see them in glorious colours. But that is not a complaint really, for the pictures are poems themselves.

The author’s dedication warmed my heart. It simply reads, “To the mountains…” And her love for mountains takes form in this poem, which is my pick from the collection.

Muscles flexed, lungs gasped for oxygen.
She could finally climb the mountains;
The mountains,
Not built with tectonic plates smashing together.
But the mountains,
Built with collapsing minutes, hours, and days.
The mountains,
That threatened her to nestle in the past.

I am a sucker for the kind of poetry that Lang Leav, Nikita Gill, Amanda Lovelace, and Rupi Kaur write. The kind of poetry that you write on a tissue paper while relishing your comfort food. The kind of poetry that you carry in your bag like a lucky charm. The kind of poetry that you write on public toilets’s doors. The kind of poetry that you want to recite to a stranger. The kind of poetry that all of us can write. The kind of poetry that you mumble on sleepless nights. Anchale’s writing belongs there. It’s cold, and warm. All at the same time.

One Moment At A Time

“That my complicated life could be made so simple was astounding.” 

— Cheryl Strayed

My thoughts were dark, when I asked Mother, “I am going to turn 30 next week. What have I done with my life, amma?” Mother nodded, and looked pensive. She was turning my question in her head. “I don’t know too,” she offered. I sighed.

Words were too tangled, emotions too loud. So, we shared a moment of silence.

After that brief conversation with Mother, the Eeyore in me reminded me of everything that went wrong in my life. Relationships which were sabotaged. Jobs which I ruined. Bank balance that laughed at me. Harrowing memories which raided my dreams. And a soul that was battered.

I saw the shards of my life; I let out a muffled cry.

Then Eeyore plonked himself in a corner. His eyes, which carried years and years of sadness, were trained on me, and posed a question quietly.

“What have you done at all?”

I wanted my room to swallow me. I wanted to sleep forever. I wanted to slip into the oblivion.

The ancient darkness slithered into my room. And I surrendered again.

*****

Today, I turn 30. Before I blew the candle out at 12 AM, I made a wish.

The darkness might always seem to inch toward me. But I desire to float in a pool of light all my life.

After all that life has shared with me, I realise that darkness cannot be dispelled. But, I have begun to try befriending the melancholy. To create space in my head, I tell the demons, “Fine! You all can be here. But allow me to collect the shards, and hold them against the light.”

The demons smile at me. Quite benignly. They are not that bad after all.

When they grin, and move aside a bit, I bask in light — the light that takes many forms.

Anu Boo’s wordless dialogues.

Father’s thoughtful messages on Whatsapp.

My pregnant bookshelf.

Mother’s dreams about my life.

Sister’s love-hate love.

The sea of sweat I shed after workouts.

My two-wheeled Calvin who loves the roads.

An insane, and ridiculously kind soul whom I call my home.

Friends who understand when I withdraw. Friends who bring me out of my burrow.

A non-judgemental journal, and an empty doodle-pad.

Butterflies, and feathers. Dead leaves, and fallen flowers.

Sun-tinged clouds, and starry skies.

Waves that rise and crash. Pebbles that sleep in my pocket.

And all the lucky charms that shield me.

Light. Light. Light

CaptureWhen they are tired of burning bright, the demons pirouette in my head. I watch their arrogant performance. They think that the darkness will stay young forever.

Just when their performance reaches its crescendo, a tiny spark flares up, driving away all the darkness with a humble ray of light. Then the demons rest, and tend to their tired feet.

Like a cat, I curl up in the light. I preen and purr.

That moment, I live for eternity.

That moment, I live for all the beings.

That moment, the scars smile.

That moment, the soul sings.

And that moment, the cosmos winks.

The Bicycle Diaries: Abandonment and Adoption

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I see this Laughing Buddha every weekend when I go cycling.

Do you see the crow, perched on the board he is holding? Do you see how small it looks? This Laughing Buddha is gigantic. He is at VGP Golden Beach, Chennai’s first theme park.

That part, where the Laughing Buddha was installed, of the theme park is now abandoned. The place is just there behind a gate that is weighed down by tiny locks. It is a haven for birds and feral cats. And the Laughing Buddha is forever joyous. He is laughing at his own abandonment. He seems to see the beauty of rundown places. He listens to the silence of his loneliness. No. Perhaps, he listens to the silence of his solitude. He is just there, showing his wide grin and pot belly. And he says hello to you!

Abandonment was the word of the day. On the very same road, I found a mongrel tied to a pole. I inquired and learned that he was abandoned by his humans a few hours ago. Somebody found him loitering in the beach and had the good heart to tie him to a lamppost for he would have been attacked by the strays. When I gathered the courage to look at him, he was whining and cooing. He seemed visibly lost and my heart sank. I couldn’t help him. I couldn’t bring him home, foster, and find a family for him. But I remember what Pema Chödrön taught us. We can share his pain. So I did tonglen for him. That was all I could do.

Maybe, I was too quick to judge the colour of the day. I exited Bharathi Avenue and saw a family — Father, Mother, a daughter, and a son — walking out from a nursery and there was a sapling in the boy’s hands. They kept her in their car. Slowly. Carefully. One whole family had come to take a plant home. There is so much goodness left in this world.

My eyes were fresh from the assault that the abandoned dog’s image unleashed. But the happy sapling asked me to make some space for her in my mind. I carried both of them as I rode into this sunset.

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From Tamil Nadu to Kerala, On Three Wheels

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Meghamalai

S l o w…

They are in no hurry. They stand and stare at me when I photograph a cloud. They slow down their two-wheelers to look at me, because in their town, girls do not sport short haircuts; their plaits touch their hips. My friend Muthu, who is a proud localite, tells me that a woman is judged based on how long her hair is. If it is long, then she is patient and efficient enough to run a household. If it is otherwise, we know what it means. (I sport a pixie cut. Ahem.)

The folks at Theni have all the time in the world. Their life is extraordinarily slow that they would walk with me to my destination if I ask for directions. But even if their lives were fast, they would still create time to help travellers. That’s the people of Theni for you.

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The greens in Meghamalai

They are arrogant hosts, they are monstrously kind, and they are the quintessential people of rural Tamil Nadu.

They love flaunting their Theni.

Their Theni that is filled with all shades of green.

Their Theni that is a haven for animals.

Their Theni where people sleep with their doors open.

Their Theni becomes my Theni as I collect their reluctant smiles, as I borrow their beliefs, as I lose myself in their mountains for three days.

*****

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Meghamalai

Meghamalai means mountain made of clouds. There are no roads to the pinnacle and we have missed the only bus that goes to the top despite the roads which are not really roads. But we are determined to conquer the hills. We ask an old fruit-seller if there is any other way. He can’t hear much. He plucks a couple of grapes from his own cart and flings one into his mouth. He scratches his beard. Muthu loses patience. He forces his face to break into a smile and asks the old man again if there is any other way to go to Meghamalai. The old man says the same thing five times. “If you take a jeep, you can enjoy the view more.” No. He can’t listen to what we are saying. All that he understands is that we want to go to Meghamalai.

The sun is harsh on us. We slurp from a carton of chocolate milkshake and I press Muthu to ask the fruit-seller again. A stroke of luck. The man hears us. He loosens up the towel around his waist and shows us his cell phone. He talks to his friend. How the old man can hear his friend will remain a mystery forever! But an auto arrives in five minutes and we are off to Meghamalai.

The mountains look like a jewel box filled with emeralds. Green. Green. Green. The road which is not really a road is vicious enough to break our bones if we travel on three wheels. But we couldn’t complain much because we are enchanted by the greens.

We reach the peak. More greens. More rivers. More animals. Less humans.

We sit on a stone bench, listening to the twittering of birds, the therapeutic sound of a flowing river, and the laughter of children who chase butterflies.

Time slows down. We are there. Up above the urban madness. Up above the dry lands. Up above our miseries and tears.

*****

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Raja and his auto

Raja knows Bodi Mettu so well that he can walk around the town and reach his house without stumbling on a rock even if he is blindfolded. He is our auto driver for the day.

The staunch believer takes us to a couple of temples before we start our road trip from Bodi Mettu to Munnar. In our minds, we are the first ones from Tamil Nadu to cross the border and reach Kerala on a three-wheeler. An unassuming auto. Despite being an expert at negotiating the hairpin bends, Raja is determined to ask the Gods to join us on this adventurous journey. If Raja thinks so, we will not object.

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Ayyanar

Raja takes us to an Ayyanar temple. Ayyanar, the guardian deity, is the hero of Korangini. With his handlebar mustache and impassive countenance, he can breathe fear into the worshipers. We bow our heads in front of him and step out only to be armtwisted by an aggressively kind family to dine with them. They have just dedicated the life of a lamb to Karuppannasaamy, another guardian deity.

They don’t know us. But they know we are travellers and that we must be hungry. So they want to share the meat with us.

I offer a handful of excuses. I am not hungry. I am shy. I am a vegetarian. No. Our leaves are laid and we have to lunch with them. I succumb to their hospitality.

There is no time to exchange pleasantries. My leaf is refilled over and over again, and my mouth is full. After I vehemently wave hands and shake my head to prove that my stomach has no place, they let me wash my hands.

Strangers. Their kindness. They make me cry.

Before I leave, the youngest girl in the family reminds me. “Do not forget the southern part of Tamil Nadu. Travel a lot here.” I say we belong here too.

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Bodi Mettu

Our nine-hour journey begins. We cross mountains after mountains, tea estates after tea estates. There is no agenda. We are on three wheels, saying hello to the mountains and trees, smiling at the localites, drinking tea at the roadside stalls, finding shapes in clouds, and crossing borders. Is that how one should travel?

As we pocket more milestones, I chant the word vastness. I see the fog-capped mountains against the azure sky and mutter under my breath. Vast. Vast. Vast.

I think of the enormity of Nature and the smallness of human life.

I think of the formidability of Nature and the insignificance of mankind.

I think of the unassuming beauty of Nature and the smugness of people.

Vast. Vast. Vast.

In that vastness, I lose my ground.

In that vastness, I lose my history.

In that vastness, I lose my hope.

I allow the vastness to envelop me. I allow the vastness to have a quiet conversation with my soul. I allow the vastness to crush my identity.

The vastness creates a lump in my throat; I stifle my tears.

*****

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Munnar

When we return from Munnar, it’s dark. Just one long stretch of darkness to cross, with only the reflectors on the road and our guardian deity to guide us home. I find a comfortable spot between Muthu and Arun, wrap a stole around my head, and begin to read Assassin’s Apprentice to cope with the fear of darkness. The fear is fuelled by a random warning from another auto driver; we might meet an elephant on our way down.

The legendary Raja is intimidated too. He keeps talking to drive the fear away. Muthu fills the silence and understands that I am trembling as well. The boy, who is too wise for his age, makes an observation. “Deepika, this very nature that you admired a few hours ago is now intimidating, isn’t it?”

The remark shakes my core. He doesn’t expect a response. Maybe, he wants me to reflect. And I do.

How many souls do I neglect because the slant of light changes?

How many hearts do I break when the darkness supplants the light?

As I turn the questions in my mind, Raja says, “There. We enter my territory now. We are safe.”

*****

20170416_173527From the hills of Bodi, I can see the fairy lights blinking in the Paramasivan Temple. The annual festival has just begun. Our final stop is that.

It is 11:30 PM. But that fact doesn’t deter the spirit of the Bodi people as they throng the temple. Women are clad in silk sarees of all colours. The golden threads in their sarees wink at me. Their hair is adorned with fresh flowers. The boys take selfies; the men discuss politics. The children are not sleepy. Surprise!

If I hadn’t seen my watch, I could have easily mistaken that it is just 6 PM.

Bubbles. Peanuts. Cotton Candy. Mangoes spiced with salt and chilly powder. Watermelons. Toy cars. Yellow bulbs. Smiles. Laughter. Good vibes. I put them all in the Chamber of Warm Memories.

We cover the last leg of our journey — the road that takes us to our room. The left side of the road is dotted with humble houses. The right side is a blanket of singular darkness. These are agricultural fields, Muthu tells me, as my gaze is fixed on the nothingness.

Beyond that long stretch of great darkness, a streak of green light soars up in the night sky.

A silent explosion.

A rain of fireworks.

The starless black sky is now embellished with brilliant, green gems.

The fleeting luminosity is our grand send-off.

*****

The Bicycle Diaries: Of Collecting Smiles

The Bicycle Diaries — I have never done a series here. With this post, I start to capture the extraordinary moments I experience while cycling.

When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.

— Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I whined a bit on Instagram last week about how I am ridiculed when I ride a bicycle just because I am a huge person. In retrospect, I realised that I was not being fair to the Universe if I chose to complain when my rides are always, always, sprinkled with moments which make me smile and warm my heart. And then The Bicycle Diaries was born.

*****

17426183_10212659179651373_6330810827263697118_n“Will it bear my weight?” I ask the bicycle mechanic as he checks the tyres. I bite my lips; why did I talk about my weight again? My self-condemnation ceases. A trans woman stands next to me. The trans women usually clap and coerce the shopkeepers into giving them money. This trans woman who smiles at me now is not that kind of a person. She simply stands there grinning.

She runs her fingers into her curly brown hair, adjusts her salwar kameez, and keeps smiling at me. After he pumps air into the tyres, the bicycle mechanic rushes into his shop to get some money for her. I am not sure if I should participate too. I shuffle my feet, scratch my head, with my gaze locked with hers all the time. She collects the money from the mechanic and leaves.

I love her smile. I do not know what amused her. It doesn’t matter for I am glad to have made her smile even if I can’t fathom the reason, for the trans women are robbed off their smiles here often.

*****

My earphones don’t work and I am living on a shoe-string budget, so I am postponing purchasing a new pair. When I ride today, I am not locking up myself in my playlist. I am listening to the unassuming sounds of Chennai. A rooster crows. I look around to spot it; my efforts end in vain. I laugh because I am talking to the rooster, in my head. “Are you suffering from some sort of chemical imbalance? It is 4 PM and you are crowing now.” I am sorry the next moment because I judged the rooster. Rude.

I spot a beautiful raven. But that one doesn’t caw. The irony.

I listen to the cacophony of all the sounds the vehicles make. To my own surprise, I am not annoyed. I do not know why. And I don’t want to know.

*****

I cross a lot of nurseries. The evening sun is ruthless to the little flowers there. I pity them. How am I sure that they find the sun ruthless? Who am I say that they find the sun ruthless? The flowers are there. The sun is there. Let them be.

*****

IMG_20170401_171517_089“Till the tollgate? Maybe five more kilometres after that?” I ask myself. What is the distance I want to cover today? As I turn the question in my mind, I take the first left. The road leads to the sea. Till that moment, I was aimless. Now I take this road as though I had always wanted to ride here. Who got into my head? Who possessed my bicycle? Perhaps an adventurous spirit who is tired of my sobriety. I am thankful all the same.

The road is bordered by flowers. I don’t know their names and it doesn’t matter so long I think they are beautiful. I am reminded of my conversation I had with Soul Muser once. When I told her I had been to the UK, she asked me what I saw on my way to work every morning. I said I saw dogs, clouds, the sun, and smiling strangers. She asked me if I saw flowers. I said I didn’t remember seeing any beautiful flowers. “Aren’t all flowers beautiful, Deepika?” she asked.

I see more flowers now. I take my time photographing them. Their zest for life is contagious.

*****

20170401_161930I ride further toward the sea. A man and a woman, both clad in pink, are standing in front of a car, holding and looking at each other. They are oblivious to this cyclist. Ah! I see a lens-man. He is capturing their PDA. Cute! Cliched. But cute!

A family gets down from a car. They are all sweating profusely. None of them are smiling. I know why. They are not sure who is going to change the baby’s diaper. What a conundrum!

I park my bicycle close to the shore, drink some water and stand there listening to the soul-nourishing sound of the waves. There is an icecream cart beside me. It’s looked after by a young girl who is wearing the brand’s uniform. She is listening to an old man; he is complaining about his wife. “She wants me to do the dishes. She wants me to wash my own clothes. I am working. And I am a man. Why should I do her work?” he asks rhetorically.

IMG_20170401_172855_601The girl hands an icecream to a couple who seem to have been affected by some sort of profound sadness. They look as though they are here look at the ocean and have an icecream for one last time. The sky is azure but a dark cloud hangs around them. They walk toward the ocean as slowly as they can.

“I don’t have time to wash my clothes,” continues the old man. The young girl smiles. I am sure she is sorry for the old man’s wife. But diplomacy and silence seem to be her response. She nods and listens intently. “I will not do her work,” the man declares and realises that I am listening to his monologue. He is now shy. But why!

I want to ask him what makes him think that his wife must wash his clothes. I want to ask him why he thinks a man shouldn’t wash his own clothes. I swallow the urge because I find it thrilling to not utter a word but simply be there. And I told Chimamanda Ngozhi Adichie that I couldn’t talk to the man about We Should All Be Feminists.

“It is April Fools’s Day and I haven’t fooled anybody,” confesses a young boy. His friends offer sympathy as they all play top. I stop riding and listen to their conversation. Bad manners. Of course. But I can’t resist. I listen. “Before I go to bed, I somehow want to pull a prank…” the boy’s glance falls on me. “All the best!” I wish him and pedal faster.

A dog is lying in mud. He is sleepy. I want to park my cycle and lie beside him. I gather myself. Phew!

The couple are still holding each other. It’s way too sweaty. But come on. Nothing can deter their spirits. However the photographer needs some rest.

“Hoof! Hoof!” a man exhales. He tries to walk fast. The walking is testing his endurance. I see that he can do with a smile. I offer one with a good-evening. He is confused. I like causing that sort of confusion in people. Whey they are so lost in their thoughts and when they encounter a surprise, they just don’t know how to respond. This man is not different. He is not sure if he must return the smile or continue to hoof. He gives back a lopsided smile. I am not complaining.

*****

CaptureCyclone Vardah uprooted thousands and thousands of trees in December 2016. Chennai misses its canopies. What amazes me is that how this colossal destruction has created space for another beginning.

I ride on the East Coast Road and I see many tiny plants which grow from the spots where the trees once were. The little warriors inspire me. Regardless of the enormity of what could drag me down, there is always space to grow, to start afresh.

*****

20170401_164418I am on the last leg of my ride. I cross a tiny, quaint bicycle. Blinding neon colours. A nonchalant rider. The traffic signal is now red. I turn to the guy, “I love your cycle.” He is visibly embarrassed. I want to know more about that adorable thing. But I don’t want to put him in a tight spot. I move.

He follows me, manages to catch up and asks, “Are you a racer?” I want to close my mouth and guffaw. That would be an insult to the boy. I make my face impassive and say that I am not a racer. “I have seen you many times. I wondered if you are a racer,” he says. Now I am embarrassed. How the table has turned in no time!

I want to say something now, to fill this awkward silence. “Your bicycle is beautiful. May I click a picture?” I approach with caution. I don’t want to scare him. To my surprise, he immediately readies himself. He holds his cycle and looks into my camera. Click! Click!

20170401_164404“I made this cycle,” he declares without a tinge of pride in his tone. My surprise cannot be camouflaged. “Using the spare parts in the showroom where I work…” he explains. This boy is an inventor. “How old are you?” I succumb to my curiosity. He is 18.

I see a name-board under the seat. He turns the cycle for me. The board reads, “Deepak — 07!” I ask the obvious question. “Are you Deepak?” He nods. I am not sure if I can release the thought that is now jumping like an excited Labrador in my head. I allow it to take shape. “Deepak, I am Deepika.” He smiles. For the first time.

Light. Our names mean light.

*****

To Cure Me of Myself: A Catharsis

“It seemed to me the way it must feel to people who cut themselves on purpose. Not pretty, but clean. Not good, but void of regret. I was trying to heal. Trying to get the bad out of my system so I could be good again. To cure me of myself.”

— Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

I am often told that I am not a good friend, not a good partner, not a good boss, not a good daughter. I am often told that I abuse the words always and forever. I am often told that I should connect with myself to stop hurting those who love me. I am often told that I talk myself into depression and anxiety. I am often told that I am not resilient. And I am often told that I am arrogant. I listen to those voices and I nod. They are right.

I am also told that I am kind and that I exude warmth. I am told that I am effusive, I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I bask in tiny, warm moments. I listen to those voices and I nod. I wish they were right.

Capture5I walk on this road called life. My shoulders are laden with regrets, guilt, bitter memories, and haunting shadows. My heart is filled with hope, love that can be expressed, love that struggles to marry words, and comforting light. I keep walking. Sometimes, I drop to my knees, as though genuflecting in front of an unknown superpower, and plead for my baggage to be unloaded. Sometimes, I massage my own shoulders and feet, and keep walking and walking and walking, without complaining about the cross I bear.

Capture3Many a time, I want this journey to end because the path becomes dark. I want to turn into a feather and just fly. Gently. Lightly. But when I see a streak of light, I gather my belongings and begin my walk again. On my way to nowhere, I commit myriad murders, I sprinkle seeds of love. When it is dark, the dead ones assault me. When it is not, they make me smile. I am forever haunted by them all the same.

My life, in all its glory, boils down to this — stopping and starting, hating and loving, hurting and recovering, dying and resurrecting.

Capture2In this journey toward redemption, I am a wearied wayfarer. Despite the exhaustion and self-loathing, I try to keep my head above water. I spot butterflies. I talk to animals. I stargaze. I sit in front of the sinking sun and rising moon. I seek solace in the moonbeam that falls on the oceans. I read. I doodle. I travel. I write. I cycle. I crash and rise in emotions. I laugh. I love. I live.

And these are my becoming.

“One hot afternoon during the era in which you’ve gotten yourself ridiculously tangled up with heroin, you will be riding the bus and thinking what a worthless piece of crap you are when a little girl will get on the bus holding the strings of two purple balloons. She’ll offer you one of the balloons, but you won’t take it because you believe you no longer have a right to such tiny beautiful things. You’re wrong. You do.”

— Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed