Many of the houses I grew up in never felt like home to me. No matter how sturdy their foundations were. How well-cemented the bricks. All the fine craftsmanship that had gone behind them. They lacked the comfort and warmth I wanted under a roof. Or they belonged to an ecosystem that seemed alien to me. Their walls were sturdy but they held grudges. The ceiling fan was too loud. Beyond the front door, privacy was in absentia. And the view outside the window often a peek into the lives of my neighbors; how unhappy they can be when they don’t realize that somebody is watching them.
But in the winter of 1988, I found myself in a four-storied residential building in Chennai called Joy Apartments. My parents had rented a flat on the third floor. No matter the weather, its ambiance was stuck halfway between a siesta on a rainy day and a funeral procession of woodland creatures. It was tranquilizing and charming. On Sunday afternoons, one could hear the rustling of leaves, in the streets, under a broom. Or the sing-song squawking of the fish vendor as he crooned his way into our bellies.
I wish the dead could speak. I don’t want to listen to family members talk about how much it hurts that they are gone. Or whatever their friends have to say about all they have left behind. Instead, I seek to find what went through their minds during the last few minutes of their lives. And I want to hear about it from them.
I dearly hope there was some pleasantness in the process. Perhaps, a well-produced vignette, capturing some of the best moments of their lives. A beautiful and haunting cello composition that picked up its pace for the second half. Faces of children, lovers, and pets. Sound-bites of promises kept. Pencil sketches of childhood vacations.
I am glad that birds don’t remind me of people. I wouldn’t enjoy the catharsis. There are two exceptions though. One is the Small Blue Kingfisher, which stirs up the love I have for my niece. The other – Spotted Owlets – that remind me of my maternal grandfather – Mr Clarence Motha. Unknowingly, he has been the most influential person in my life. At one point, we had not exchanged a word for nearly 10 years. We even barely even saw other.
Like Leo Tolstoy once said, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. What is happiness anyway? Normalcy? No thanks.
It’s as though someone turned my life’s volume knob way down. The bedroom walls are starting to whisper back. Last night, we watched each other peel in strange places. It was unsettling in a sexy way. Or vice-versa. I am unsure. Either way, we didn’t make eye-contact in the morning.
There are several Rufous Treepies in Chennai. During winter, many of them visit the guava tree in my neighbor’s backyard. They sound like singers with speech impediments. But people just don’t seem to notice them.
I struggled with a severe stammering problem for about two decades. I could barely speak a few words without a prolonged stutter. Unlike the treepie, I drew attention to the muffled staccato notes. It was the first and last impression that I left people with. Nobody could see past the stuttering, including me.
I have an enormous appetite for professional wrestling. I have been watching it since I was 10 years old. Even as I grew older, the obsession remained. People ridicule it because perhaps they haven’t connected with it. I am alright with that, as a fan, because professional wrestling is an art form. And art is subjective; something that one can relate to, find therapy in, get inspired by, cherish time with or simply choose to ignore.