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I want to fall in love inside a bookshop and never leave. Hold my sambharam while I acknowledge the hopeless unoriginality and the likely impossibility of the whole situation. I have, in the recent and otherwise past, come very close to going down on my knees (not to look at an unloved pile of newsprint in the corner) and recovered as someone leaned too close to the usual suspects. Countless tomes* have filled bookshelves and spilled over (looking at you, Blossoms) trying to mix the carnal with the dustjacketed. I have fallen in love with books before. And I know people come to bookshops still. How hard can it be to put the two together?

*Miss K is definitely not one.

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If things were to go to plan, the eenth wouldn't have offered us this view of things. Not this easily, anyway. Things went way off plan and when it rained, the rain forgot the pauses in between when the couples and the not-couples and the retail-cigarettes-seller and the two kids who got their bicycles out just as the first drops came down, could move on to the next unloved roadside busstop. During the night, the adequately bass-ey crash betrayed something bigger than a wannabe coconut falling on something that we didn't want coconuts of significant sizes to fall. We hoped ourselves back to sleep; maybe it was another overripe jackfruit left for the squirrels to finish off and in their haste they started to gnaw off from the stalk down.

The twin cycads share their elevated cuboid of yellow-red earth off to a side of the courtyard. Unwilling to stand each other, parting ways centimeters off the ground, one leaned on the kitchen terrace as it bore fruit, the other missed the stay-wire and the odd areca palm leaf hanging on to the thrill of being airborne, till the time it gave up and met the ground again like an awkward ex-lover.

In the morning the courtyard had an isosceles triangle stealing a kiss from the newly transferred passion-fruit pot, leaving the pot in one piece and putting the hungry young shoots in their place. We figured the tree (shy of a couple of hundred of years, at least, going by the marks old leaves left) must have soaked through as the wind finished it off, bending it where an enterprising hornbill had many party congresses ago claimed shelter. We call the tree-feller for advice after we cut the leaves out and sort them for a possible stint at decoration and nod to each other as he says the geometry is best left untouched for a while and the chainsaw is too delicate for wood like this.

The palms are good places for a cat to find some purchase. Miss K runs up the leaning one after a few scratches to its base and runs off into the overgrown kitchen terrace garden. She then sneaks off the roof down the palm as I climb up to see if the naughty, silent tom isn't waiting for a chance at showing off. Today, she looks up at the fallen one, is not happy as I lift her up to the wreck and spends a moment examining her dominion as the slope leads nowhere.

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The new leaves take us by surprise. The neighbours, passing, ask for a sapling for after the rains. It rained overnight and the sprouting leaves hold onto the memory of what came down as if the sky isn't going to break all day. It is a pauseworthy sight as the morning sunlight erupts into a million (definitely fewer) little pieces through the new leaves and leaves tiny copies of an upside-down sun all over the passion-fruit. Then the rain comes back looking for places it left dry and washes off the beauty along with the dust.

H and G enter a clearing in the woods. They see the daal-chaaval house at the far edge. The children are hungry and the house a promise of a full belly. They approach the door, chained and padlocked. The doorkeeper wouldn't let them in until they tell him their most sacred secrets, most treasured stories. Tthey are baffled by the request. Hungry and out of their depth, they bare their hearts and think nothing of it. The doorkeeper collects their stories in two glass jars, ties a piece of cloth around H's, corks G's.

H and G enter the first room and see other children leave breadcrumbs everywhere as they walk around. The doorkeeper and his friends tread on them, now and then. The children's stories ooze out from the crumbs and fill the room with their scent and wetness. The children look starved, holding on to the perfect golden loaves of bread in their hands. An invisible hand gives H and G two whole loaves soaked in the tales they parted with at the door. As they tear into the perfect golden crust, the invisible hand guides the pieces away from their mouths and onto the ground. Being children, they think nothing of this. Their hunger is now unbearable.

H and G enter the second room. It is wider and the walls are painted a blinding white. The ceiling, set too high to be inside the house they thought they had gotten into, is set high, at-least a hundred leaps into the metric system. They are asked to prove their H-ness and G-ness. Their loaves of bread are now almost all gone, crumbs outlining the paths they walked, leaving only the faintest aroma of the secrets they once held. The children have already forgotten half their stories. An hour or so of fiddling with the leftover pieces later, they are nodded at and declared worthy of staying in the second room. Along the high walls, they now see windows; some open, some not. Squinting, G manages to catch a glimpse of a pair of eyes behind one of the open, veiled windows. A falling loaf of bread distracts her. She may have imagined the eyes. (Nobody would build a daal-chaval house only to spy on the children, would they?)

The children think nothing of it all. Their hunger is now complete.


A particularly entertaining sense of ennui and a general one of ungiven fucks metastasise into the entire week, creeping up from the Friday afternoons with a hint of breeze and plenty of leftover sleeplessness in the air. Legs propped up against a stolen quote off Bukowski on the windowpane (taped among other neatly aligned bits of paper and rescued remains of stickers and knick-knacks catching, and then releasing shards of the fading light into the otherwise unmoving insides of the studio) and sponsor-logoed cups in various stages of growing moulds over leftover tea, one leaning adventurously over the sill onto the stack of ungodly coffee-shop-issue-sachets of sugar and dairy powder, as if to say "any day now," one silently thinks up variations of "HOW I WON OVER THE FADING LIGHT OF THE DAY AND FOUND JOY IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS" and several impossible ways of syndicating it to the three or four websites still not strong on their title games. I mentally edit out the JOY and look for a catchier word to take its place.

HAPPINESS would do. Or maybe, DUST.

On the Railway Line, Rats

The train is empty on the inside, bustling with life at the doors. I find a soon-to-be-window seat at the far end of the compartment, opposite a visibly annoyed specimen (who had to relieve my seat of his own propped legs) and someone who looks like a very responsible father to college-going children. I see he is worried. I feel like starting a conversation then remember I don't really feel like it. I bury my head in the Kindle and instantly regret looking at the letters too closely. I had cheaped out and bought the one that made them look like they ran out of curves. After four (five-ish) stations, the window-seat is mine and the specimen is happy again, I lean my face onto the muddied pane and look at healthy rats run around the tracks at Sion. It makes me think of the last time I went to a barber shop, eleven or so years into the past. I had always picked the one on the slope up, right before the Co-operative Bank on the left and assorted Ayurvedic medicine shops on the right, tucked right behind the unofficial parking for buses ferrying the few who still wanted to head to Sivapuram. The inside half of the shop always had heaps of cut hair in neat, undulating piles. One could tell each person's hair apart, as if it retained a memory of who it came from and clung together in a final act of beauty.

I look up at a train unload its burden onto the platform on the other side, moving on before stolen glances allow themselves to turn into something beyond punctuations around bending over pieces of light in their hands. All the love stories that could have been theirs, depress people leaning out of the compartments. Some find love on the tracks, never meeting because a geometry lesson tells them so. Most glance up from their lives backlit on endless loops and miss the tracks.


It is between cringing at the type-size in the Jonathan Franzen Purity paperback and fruitlessly hunting for an unwrapped copy of Jerry Pinto's Em and the Big Hoom, that the flannel-clad girl moves out from beyond the Indian Literary Fiction shelves. Given my truckloads of inexperience with the ladies and the double barrelled confusion that had presented itself in the last sentence, I fail to react to her presence at first, take two steps back onto the Jeffrey Archer-JRR Tolkien stack. I look up from the barren colophon page and into her eyes, for the briefest of moments. They are black, everyday eyes, but something about the spectacles framing them makes one think of old magazine ads for detergent powder. I follow the tips of her fingers as she reaches out for a white paperback edition of In Custody. I wonder if she properly punctuated her text messages. I wonder if I should find out. I put the Franzen back where it came from and nod to the person calling out THE SHOP WILL CLOSE NOW. It is far too early. It is always far too early. I get out into the footpath and break through a stream of people heading for the station. I find the chaiwallah two pillars from the shop, and take in the cool wind. It is raining somewhere else.

I reach the end of the cup, squinting at the dregs, and it smells of detergent. It occurs to me I should look up.

I like longwinded reserved-in-advance-because-not-hardcore-enough train journeys for the environmental bragging rights as much as the flooded toilets and miniaturised trashcans. I was told IRCTC has started mentioning these in the second page (or third, I don't want to remember) of the totally multipage PrintEticket.pdf, right under the multicolour ad for a hotel cheaper than a half-decent print-out of the PrintEticket.pdf. I have this thing of printing out colour PDFs in colour and the black and white ones at half the size. Don't ask. Then I started looking for the "agree to terms and policy while we remove your left kidney and replace it with a life-size nendran banana ripened with Sulfur and whatnot" and failed after the third try. I wish they did the same thing to SMS confirmations and sent a minor Murakami novel sized text along after each booking, and employed unemployed graphic/interaction designers to slyly infiltrate them with links to paid porn sites and whatnot.

The four old ladies, Gujarati and clad in overflowing headdresses and unapologetic laughter and keeping the lights on till midnight lent an unmistakable AnjaliMenon vibe to the whole journey. I climbed up to my sideupper and waited for the coach to go up in purple Dakshin-Railway smoke and a bubbly vatful of stuff of questionable pedigree to appear any minute while the last of the MealsOnWheels guys peddled leftover dinners and overpriced tapwater in classy plastic bottles. I couldn't tell when my disappointment segued into much undeserved sleep and it was morning already and the toilets were appropriately flooded and the miniaturised trashcannots.

The old ladies retained their highvolume laughter and what appeared to be inside jokes from the outside and mercilessly ignored yourstruly all the way till Panvel where two of them get down and the third go wait at the door for an illicit stop at Diva. Then the last of them tell me they are old schoolmates and Kalupur has a shrine where they go once in a while and I should get married and they do these trips often and have been to places I have not been to and why am I not settled yet and they had gone to Munnar and the weather was nice and sorry for laughing so loud all the way and especially inside tunnels and I should probably go wait at the door for the stop at Thane because the crowd is insane and one should not jump off moving trains on account of old ladies apologising for laughter and having a good time.

I tell her it is hard to imagine myself doing the things they are doing at their age and she smiles that comment away and laughs and looks out the window into the sunset behind tall buildings and flyovers and hoardings for jet black phones and unlimited storage space for all your memories at very low EMIs.

One could say the bus driver had a weird taste in music. One could say that about almost everybody else also. He loved old numbers with hard-to-follow lyrics and peppy beats. The kind one always recalls hearing the day before and spends the rest of the day humming to its imaginary beat, putting ill-fitting words onto its sick jigsaw puzzling joke of a words’ nest until it is too late to even give up.

His favourite in the mornings was Raat Baaki. As the bus exited Gita Mandir bus-adda and entered Sardar Bridge, he would start thumping the horn to the song’s beat, and as he passed the flower market abuzz with predawn sales, he would reach the second stanza. On low-traffic days, he would just skip to it anyway. Tea-and-biscuit-wallahs join him on the bridge, their cycle bells and chains on freewheels texturing the not-yet-morning into the tempest off the insides of a young one in love—not disillusioned enough, not cynical enough, not yet.

Then the wind carries the song over to Ellisbridge, onto Jamalpur and beyond, waking everything up into its embrace. The city wakes up in love, longing for the night to fall again.

It is by accident the first bittersweet glass of Sulaimani finds someone new to a city.

The ten-past-midnight cafe has a boarded up half-counter and a furlong-long menu up front, yellow ketchup bottles allover tabletopia and a dog or two writhing scripts on the floor, taking well punctuated turns. It is the kind of place where you find a stray grain off someone’s chicken-fried-rice on your plate of very honest chicken, or aloo paranthas wrapped around more aloo, and keep not looking at it with such exhausting deliberation you end up ordering another premature dish and drown it in nimboo paani. Then one goes up to the half-counter to ‘askforyourmenu’ and lets the shopkeeper concoct an acceptable version of the lemony beverage. One finds out the ‘tea’ part is the kind of affair wrapped in paper-bags, and continues to hold on to the glass until it gets awkward.