This morning.


This morning, I woke up just before daybreak. I keep forgetting how sanguine early mornings can be. Mostly because I never get to experience them. Correction: I shamelessly sleep through them and wake up at noon half-dazed and fighting off the remnants of anxiety-ridden nightmares.

This morning, I woke up to the sound of peacocks squawking in the distance. They’ve been unusually boisterous for the past few weeks. Theirs is a pleasant cackle, one that makes me incredibly nostalgic. I’ve grown up listening to peacocks, I’ve spotted them around our compound, I’ve chased them in the park next to our house, I’ve collected their feathers and turned them into wall ornaments. I didn’t realise their sound is so unique to home until I moved out. You don’t get to hear them anywhere else. At least, not the places I’ve lived in.

This morning, I walked outside and felt the chill enwrap me. It’s such a pleasant March morning. It isn’t too hot, nor is it cold. I eavesdropped on the animated conversations of the koels, the mynahs, the parrots, the pigeons and the scores of birds that sound wondrously loud and exuberant when the rest of the world is still in the throes of their slumber.

This morning, I realised how much I love Shabana Azmi and discovered that she’s also been a singer. I fell in love with one of her songs. I stared at the trees outside and watched them turn a bright shade of green as sunlight swaddled them in a warm embrace. I watch the ripe old leaves fall off the branches languorously. I watched a tiny butterfly perch herself on an inconspicuous little leaf.

This morning, I finished writing a poem in Hindi. It made me feel a certain type of way. It was a good feeling. It was a tingly feeling. I also felt a renewed enthusiasm towards Urdu poetry – Kaifi Azmi, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Gulzar, Javed Akhtar, Sara Shagufta. Such rich, textured emotions, such wonderfully measured text. The words sound so crisp, so sophisticated, dripping with richness and history and feeling. I felt fresh and inspired.

This morning, I also felt a little lost. Maybe a little adrift. Like a leaf that’s been plucked off a branch by the wind and is now floating like a feather (in a beautiful world? Sorry, couldn’t resist.) I also told myself that it’s alright to feel that way. Life has this incredible ability to start making sense as it unfolds. And if it doesn’t begin to make sense, it’s always good to throw caution to the wind and just make a choice. Just decide to start moving in a certain direction. Sometimes that’s all it takes.




There is a bottle brush tree right outside our house here in Agra. It owes that peculiar name to its shape since it looks like a traditional brush used to clean bottles. Not very imaginative, I know. A quick search on Google revealed its true name: Callistemon.


I like how it feels inside my mouth. I like how the tip of my tongue hits my upper teeth, then the roof of my mouth, and then how my lips come together in its culmination. I prefer to emphasise the ‘mon’ instead of the ‘te’. The Indian inside me finds it more natural to do so.

Do you think about how magical springtime is? The entire world is sprouting and blooming. The streets are lined with flowers of all shapes and hues, bees and butterflies are buzzing about, there are fragrances mingling with the balmy summer sunlight in the evenings. The roads are flanked by the most gorgeous shades, and often covered in a thin layer of freshly-fallen leaves. Everything is a little more cheerful, a little more crispy, a little more alive.

When I was growing up, we had a Kachnar tree right next to the Callistemon tree. They both blossomed together, standing tall, self-assured, confident. Their leaves would merge with each other’s, and sometimes their flowers fell together in unison. Maybe in their world, they were great friends. I’d like to believe they were.

I’d never seen a flower more beautiful than the Kachnar. It had five petals, four of them light purple in colour, and then one bright pink, almost electric purple. There were five slender filaments in the centre, topped with bright yellow anthers. We often used them to play our own silly games. We’d pick a filament each, and then entangle the anthers together. The one that got decapitated first, lost. I sometimes plucked a few flowers for Dadi. She’d tie the stems with a white thread and display them in an old, brass vase. The vase was so worn out you couldn’t even make out the design on it anymore. Maybe old kings and queens? I never cared enough to ask.

My brother and I would climb up the Kachnar tree – all the way to the topmost branches – with polythene bags tied around our wrists. We were like adept monkeys, and over the years we perfected our way around it. We knew where to place our feet, we knew which nodes to use to haul ourselves up, we knew the branches that could support our weight. We’d collect the buds that were yet to sprout open, even the tiniest ones, and ran up to Dadi with bags full of them. She’d then use them to make a special curry for us, with sliced potatoes and onions. Kachnar ki sabzi. We’d be proud of ourselves. We’d contributed to the economy of the household!

A few years ago, some of its branches started enmeshing with some of our electric cables, and so we had to chop off some of the branches. They did a horrible job. They removed more than what was needed. It was like a haircut gone wrong, only much, much worse. The next spring, the Kachnar tree didn’t bloom. It was as if we had destroyed a part of its soul. “Maybe it’s just been a bad year”, I thought. “It’d be alright.” But it didn’t bloom the next year, or the next. It never bloomed again. All that remained was a bare stump. And later, that was demolished as well.

I can’t say I don’t miss it. Even now when I visit home, my eyes rove over its usual spot. I long to see those purple petals again, I miss the tantalising smell, I think about the heart-shaped leaves (that often doubled up as betel leaves when we set up a make-believe Paan Shop). I sigh. I think about how it formed such a major chunk of our childhood, and how I’d never see it standing there in all its glory, its feathery petals falling gently underneath.

I was in New Delhi last week, and I saw a Kachnar tree after many years. I felt a maudlin sense of joy enveloping my heart. “Hey you”, I thought. “It’s been a while.” It swayed and sashayed in response. I smiled. Seeing it in full bloom again restored my faith in the powers of spring all over again. My Kachnar tree doesn’t blossom anymore, but many Kachnar trees outside many little girls’ houses still do. And that was as reassuring a thought as any.

Now, as I stand outside and look at the Callistemon tree, it fills me with the same sense of awe. The red petals that look like paint brushes, the powdery yellow tips, the way the crimson looks so stark against the natural green of the tree. The bees are abuzz, the birds visit often – loud and cacophonous, and the sunlight ripples and dances through the branches. Maybe it realises that its friend isn’t around anymore. Maybe it misses the soft touch of its branches. Maybe they had their own conversations many moons ago. Maybe trees love being caressed. I walk up to the tree, run my fingers along the leaves and the length of the flowers.

Three simple words run through me. Words that have helped me cope. That have helped me stand. That have helped me bloom.

“I’ve got you,” I find myself whispering.



You ransack my soul

With a breathless swoosh

You colour me with your words

A shade I never knew I could be


You walk through my wreckage and pick up the shiniest parts of me

You salvage me

Like a sapling uprooted from a war-torn earth

You nurture me in a garden you built with your own hands


You look at me like I’m gold

You look up at me like I’m the sun

You look in me like I’m a mirror

You look through me like I’m glass


You’re my refuge on the stormiest nights

You’re my storm on death-like days

You don’t try to fill my cracks up

Instead, you let my light shine through


How do you know me?

How do you make me feel rediscovered?

How do you regard me

Regardless of who I used to be?

The Wolves and the Ravens

Everything feels still. Finally. I wrote here last on October 14th. A painfully long time ago. Almost three months later, my world seems to have hop-scotched into a newness I’m not sure I’m ready to handle.

I had decided to begin the year 2018 by shaking the very core of my status quo. And that’s what I did. I am – more or less – single, unemployed and homeless. I could romanticise my existence right now by calling myself a nomad, a dreamer, a drifter, but honestly, I don’t feel any of that. Yet. I decided to take a break because I felt that I was too complacent in the little world I’d created for myself back in Bangalore. I was working for a brand I liked, getting good money for it, and had the privilege to work from home whenever I wanted to. On paper, this seems like a dream. But I wasn’t at peace. My soul was restless. I would float from one room to another, wondering how to abate this agitation. I realised it won’t happen unless I throw myself into a different lifestyle altogether. I won’t know what’s out there until I’m out there. I also stopped thinking about right and wrong when it comes to making decisions. I went ahead and took the plunge. And I feel great, so far.

I’m home, staying with my parents for a few days. What’s surprising is the familiarity and the alienation I feel in my current situation. I’m home, but I’m not home home. Given that our house recently got a facelift, I almost feel like a guest staying in for a bit, before I’m on my way again. My former room isn’t mine anymore, but the bed is the same. Most of the furniture is new, but the bookshelf still holds my old novels. Mum and dad are the same, but older, wiser, warmer. I’m Chinky all over again, but I’m also a woman in the throes of a soul-searching sabbatical.

I’ve met some of my closest friends recently, coloured my hair brown, attended two weddings, had the most gratifying food, caught up with all my relatives, huddled with my family around leftover barbeque coals, visited some elephants in therapy, and slept deeply after ages. I feel full. I feel rested. Now, I know it sounds like something all millennials seem to be doing today, but I’m soon going to travel. Partly with friends, partly alone. I have no grand plans, no summits I’ve vowed to mount, no to-do lists, no goals. I just want to exist in different worlds. I want to be elsewhere. I want to have more inward conversations. I want to know what it’s like to be alone with my thoughts. I know I may get bored, or melancholic, or start drowning into whirlpools of self-loathing, but I still want to experience it all. I want to give myself a chance. That’s all there is to it.

For now, I shall take your leave. I’ll leave this song right here, as it seems to be the defining song of the new year. It just fits.

I hope 2018 treats you well, dear reader, and gives you everything you were looking for.

P.S. I absolutely adore the feeling of woollen socks slowly warming my perennially frozen feet. I love winters with a dreaminess I can never seem to shake off. I’m so happy!



I remember long, dull summer afternoons spent sitting at the dining table with Baba and Dadi. I would stare at my plate and then at my grandfather.

“What happened now?” he would ask, eyes twinkling with mild amusement as they always did when I was being troublesome.

“I can’t eat anymore. I’m too full.”

“Oh, alright then.”

He would take my plate and carefully divide the food into small, bite-sized portions. He’d point to one and say, “You know who this is?”

I would shake my head.

“Well, it’s a peacock. And it’s sad. So sad, that it’s crying.”


“Because you’re not eating it.”

To the mind of a six-year-old, this was an extremely sad thought. Even today as an adult, I can’t bear to leave a single grain of rice on my plate because I don’t want it to cry.

For the longest time Baba was just Baba to me. Not a college professor, not a scholar, not an academician, not an author. Even though he was all of these things and more. He grew up in poverty, walked barefoot to school with nothing but a handful of boiled chickpeas tied to a corner of the only dhoti he owned. He taught himself how to read and built a career for himself. He achieved much in his life and in our dusty little town of Agra, he was, and still, is one of the most respected souls. He was a teacher admired and appreciated by all.

But to me, he is simply the man who turned my food into little animals waiting to be eaten. He is the man who gave me an ‘inaam’ when I finished reading a hundred books. The one who read the childish stories I wrote with glee and corrected my spelling and punctuation mistakes with the reddest ink pen I had ever seen. He had done the same with Dadi many years ago, when she wrote letters to him in English. He’d read each letter, correct all her errors, and then send it back. Who does that? Being a lover and a teacher at the same time with such dedication?

As a little girl, I would tail him for hours and watch him in fascination as he melted lac sticks onto envelopes to seal his letters. I watched him enter names alphabetically in his formidable telephone directory. He had his own stamp as well. ‘Dr. SP Sahai’, it read. Shiv Pujan Sahai. Named so, because he was born only after his parents prayed to Lord Shiva in a nearby temple.

Many afternoons were spent watching him shave his coarse, white beard with a metal razor sitting under the sun. I watched him open his big book of ‘hisaab’ where he recorded each and every expense he had made in the last several years. Everything had to be accounted for. Everything needed proof. Even if it was a couple of lemons bought for five rupees. He taught me about eclipses and planets, and drew a diagram of the summer solstice to show me what he meant when he said “the days are getting longer.”

He often told me about the day of the storm. I loved listening to his retellings because of all the drama he added to it.

“It was very windy,” he’d say. “I was walking back to our old house in Soami Nagar. You were barely a year old. Just a tiny bundle of flesh wrapped up in a blanket. The wind had started picking up, and I could hear tree branches cracking and blowing towards us with full force.

I was so scared for you that day. You were so helpless, your eyes squeezed shut. There was no place to take shelter, so I just held you tightly to my chest and ran towards the house as fast as I could. I didn’t stop. I didn’t look anywhere but the road. I ran and ran until we were both safe inside the house.”

I sometimes held my breath when he spoke. I sometimes forgot to chew. I asked him to repeat that story over and over again because it made my heart grow ten times its original size. A big ball of emotion always rose in the pit of my stomach. A sudden wave of love for this old man who had lost so many “soft” teeth he had to mash his food with his fingers before he could take a bite. This lovable, harmless soul who barely had a handful of hair at the back of his head but still went to the barber regularly to get a haircut like it was the most important task in the world.

He’d remove his white dhoti and vest, and wear a crisp shirt and pants that reached up to his chest for the occasion. He never forgot to protect his head with one of his innumerable woolen caps during the winter. There were so many to choose from. The black Nehru cap with the soft fur, the grey rounded one that fit on his head snugly, the brown one that almost looked like a hat. I loved running my fingers over them and feeling their softness against my cheek. They smelled faintly of sandalwood, neem leaves and naphthalene balls.

There was a time when food wouldn’t pass down my gullet without listening to his stories during lunch. Of course, I knew all of them – even the pauses and the dialogues – by heart. But there was something so gratifying about listening to them again and again. And he never refused to narrate them a hundred, a thousand, a million times.

I loved accompanying him to buy groceries. He always chose to walk all the way to the market. “You should always keep the body moving. A still body is a refuge for disease.” I would observe as he picked up the freshest fruit while keeping a stern eye on the weighing balance before his lentils were handed over to him. On our way back, he always stopped outside the sweetshop. The smell wafting through the window was too tantalizing to be ignored. “You want barfi, is it? Come then, I’ll get you some.”

A few years later I realized that it was he who had wanted all that barfi all those times. The milky white rectangular sweet with a delicious pink layer of sugar and coconut shavings. It was our favourite. A few minutes of conversation with the shop uncle and a plastic bag full of sweets later, we’d walk back home. Baba always grabbed my hand while crossing the street, advising me to look both sides before crossing the street.

Mummy Papa were both at work during the day, so after school Baba Dadi were our babysitters, our parents and our playmates. I’d run home to them, undo my pinafore, my laminated ID badge, and run around the entire house with my red ribbon still hanging from my ponytail.

After lunch, I could do whatever caught my fancy. Run up to the forbidden ‘sloping’ part of the terrace, climb all the trees in the park next to our house, collect the prettiest Amaltas and Kachnar flowers and bring them back to Dadi so she could arrange them in her vase. Sometimes when she couldn’t handle my effervescence, she lured me with another story and I fell straight into the trap of an afternoon nap. Oh, I hated being tricked into those, but could never resist a shiny new story. My last thought before falling asleep was always this: Dadi’s eyelids looked exactly like aam papad. Mmm, I wish I could have some aam papad right now…

Every alternate day or so, Baba invited his closest friends for a game of Bridge. It was an unspoken rule to make it to each game without fail, unless there was a family emergency. Dadi would call me to serve them hot cups of tea and special homemade snacks. The pattern was always the same. Something crispy, something savoury, something sweet. I wondered how she always managed to think of something new and exciting to cook every single time.

“Chinky betaaa!” Baba would call out to me. “Come and say Namaste to the guests.”

Dadi always made me wear a nice frock, did my hair in two neat little braids and then sent me off to the ‘game room’ with a tray full of trembling tea cups. I loved greeting them, delicately placing the cups on their respective saucers, answering their questions politely.

“Gupta ji, my poti writes stories,” Baba would say. “She’s going to grow up to be a writer.”

I liked these men. I loved their calm, steady chatter emanating from the room and filling the entire house. Sometimes I would peep in, eyebrows scrunched up. I never really understood what was happening even though Baba tried explaining it to me once. It was way too quiet, even during the most interesting parts of the game. The silence was broken only occasionally by nods, quiet chuckles and monosyllabic terms. I’d get bored eventually and bury my nose into another book or laze outside in the verandah.

Many, many seasons have passed since. The Kachnar tree doesn’t bloom anymore. Baba uses a hearing aid now, and even that doesn’t seem to work most days. His skin is mostly always too dry, and has snake-like patterns all over. His eyes have sunk so deep into his skin they look like tiny, grey beads staring out of dark holes. He doesn’t stand tall anymore but walks with quiet, calculative caution. He doesn’t play bridge any longer, because a few years ago the players started disappearing, one by one, until eventually there weren’t enough left to play.

Baba is too weak to visit the market now, and he needs assistance to get simple tasks done. There’s something so incredibly vulnerable about him when he removes his dentures and presses his lips together. He often has a faraway look on his face, and his afternoon naps keep getting longer and longer. He sometimes writes the simplest of facts in his diary to keep track of the world around him. The last time I went home, he asked me where I was working.

“Bangalore, Baba” I said.

“And your sister?”


He nodded, and then silently opened his telephone directory and scribbled this on the first page:

Cheena – Singapore, Chinky – Bangalore

Baba turned ninety last month. Nine times ten. Nine decades of learning, teaching, writing, record keeping, loving, losing, breathing. Ninety years of that sturdy heart beating and beating and beating away. Ninety years of routine, relationships, and countless, countless games of Bridge. On occasion, Baba boasts of the enriching journey he has had. “We have led a great, fulfilling life. No complaints. No complaints at all,” he says and smiles faintly. I look at him, and my heart swells up to see the familiar twinkle in his eyes return.

Happy 90th, Baba. You are and always will be, the angel who saved me on the day of the storm.

Haunted: A Poem

It’s not the meaninglessness that haunts me.

It’s the emptiness.


It’s the hours and hours of mindless, seamless, boundless

searching, worrying, scratching, weeping, struggling.


It’s watching the sun go down every day,

It’s watching the seasons change the trees,

Watching buildings rise and then wither away,

Watching people I love slowly decay,

Knowing the planet is turning and spinning,

And I’m here. I’m here. I’m here.


It’s all the weight.

All the weight I lug around every day.

Sometimes forgetting it’s there,

Sometimes floating away

Other times perched on a cloud,


But the anchor.

The anchor always pulls me back to the docks.

The diving bell always sinks me back to the sea bed.

The storm always knocks me windless.


And then like a dried leaf, I’m swept away by the wind again.

Adrift, and lost and directionless.


It’s not the lack of emotion that haunts me.

It’s the abundance of it.

The “too muchness” of it.

Too much love, too much pain, too much anger.

Too much hate, too much greed, too much apathy.


Too much, too little, too soon, too late.


You tell me I should look around and not let it

Wear me down.

But do you feel right about walking through life

With a blindfold and your imaginary crown?


Does it not hurt you when we turn our backs against others,

And ourselves.

When we drown all the misery of the world with the noise

Of our own happy, colourful, distracted lives?


I can’t do it.

I want the world to hit me right in the face,

If it means that maybe I can help. Maybe,

letting it wear me down would be less hurtful.


Maybe it will rile me up enough to change me.

Change us.

Shake something in us. Maybe just…. Wake us up.


It’s not our mortality that haunts me,

It’s the absence of life.

It’s days melting into days and not forming

A cohesive shape.

It’s the everyday battle.

The stigma, the sorrow, the guilt, the shame.

While others like us are butchered outside,

I smile through it all,

I live. I live. I live.


Telling myself and believing it too,

That even though we’re all made of the

Same stardust, we’re still living separate lives

In separate worlds,

Divided by invisible walls and unseen spells.


Telling myself that I can steer my rudderless boat into

Another direction, once I plug in all the holes.

Once I grab the oars again.

Once I am whole again.

Until then,

I breathe. I breathe. I breathe.


Meteor Shower

How strange is this time. Days pile up against days, float over the little joys and hurt of everyday life like flower petals in the wind. You find yourself grappling through it, immersed in the bittersweet deliciousness of it, and then suddenly, another year has come and gone.

The weather in Bangalore makes everything seem so woefully wonderful. The skies are overcast, the breeze is chilly, our fluffiest blankets are out, the roads are rain-kissed and the trees are greener. (Of course, there are madening traffic jams, flooded streets and power cuts, but I’m choosing to focus on the good stuff).

I just peeled a pomegranate and now I’m reaping the benefits of all the hard work and the stains on my T-shirt. Sometimes talking about the banalities of life is fun, isn’t it? In other good news, I finally visited the planetarium since its renovation. I felt like a kid again, sitting up and staring at the dome, looking at the millions of stars we don’t actually get to see anymore. And when the show started and I saw the Milky Way and the smallness of us – I just sat there and cried. Felt the goosebumps form all over my arms and legs, felt our seats moving as the screen zoomed in and out of galaxies and constellations. More people need to visit planetariums, because we don’t look up at the sky anymore, and when we do, we don’t see the stars like our forefathers used to. We need to remind ourselves again and again that none of our lives really matter, and why that is a brilliant and a liberating thought. Why that is a gift, a privilege, and not a right. Why we need to salvage all the love and all the humanity we can in our lifetimes, because really, the universe is far too big to care about you or me. And why realizing that is the biggest gift of all.

This weekend I also attended Dot’s concert, after listening to her serenading me on particularly dull work days. She’s an 18-year-old artist called Aditi, and she’s so beautiful – inside and out. Her voice is like milk and honey, and before each song, she had a sweet little story about its origin. I lost my heart to her that night. Her innocence and niceness is what makes her music so good. People really underestimate the power of being kind. Of talking in soft, low tones, of not needing to prove their dominance, of not having the upper hand in every situation, of treating everybody with the same respect and compassion they expect in return. As Margaritas flowed freely and candles flickered in that tiny dark pub, I felt happier than I have in a long, long time. I closed my eyes and locked that moment and promised myself I’ll try to be a better, simpler, more genuine, more forgiving person.

A few days back I was feeling a certain type of feeling that seemed indescribable. So I started writing. And what I produced on paper seemed like a poem. And so I recorded it. Sharing it here with all of you. I hope you like it 🙂

We always seek each other out like two whales calling
From thousands of miles away.
I reach out to you not because you’re different,
But because you know none of us really are that different,
And to you, that’s okay.

We collide like a bolt of lightning and the cloud.
Like the spray of a waterfall and the rock.
Like the mighty mountain and the glacier.

My heart beats and beats with the rhythm of us.
Of the dazzle of colour and madness and wonder.
Dubdub, dubdub, dubdub.

And then,

Like a supernova –
The end.
The glow and the explosion of the fleeting magic that was us.

The wrecking ball to our mansion.
The wildfire to our forest.
The tsunami to our island.

Unlike the others, our story ends in unrequited love.

So tell me, dear friend,
How do you expect me to be whole
As chunks of me are chipped away
Bit by bit
With each ending.

When this world takes away more than it can give?
When the nights are longer than the days could ever be?

And then a voice takes over.
It’s alright.
There’ll be more unions,
More explosions,
More magic.

We’re not that different, you and I.
We try to make sense of a world
That has seemed to lose its senses.
We look for love, and beauty, and
Acceptance, and depth and warmth.

So come, let’s bask in the glory of a world
That wasn’t meant for us.
Let’s look at the skies full of stars
That don’t twinkle for us.
Let’s look at clouds and comets,
At snowfall and mountains
At roaring oceans and fireflies

Because what else is life, if not for a series of
Tears and laughter,
Dreams and madness
Stories and potions
Hellos and goodbyes?

Life is.. life is a sunset.
Life is impermanence.
Life is nothingness.
Life is a blink.
Life is the space between darkness and light.
Flimsy and fickle, and always, always lurking in the shadows.