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.
Sex and language can be inconsolable bed-mates. Best friends with benefits. They can go out for a coffee, talk unabashedly about life, and get drunk on each other. They can wake up in each other’s arms, with one pretending to have already freshened up. And the other playing along for the kisses and giggles.
But I used to feel odd whenever I have tried to write about sex. However uninhibited I may have thought I was, I found myself in a state of imbalance. And I ended up regurgitating bedtime fantasies. Like the rose petal scene from American Beauty. It is the most Indian-influenced piece of Hollywood. I expected Kevin Spacey’s leg to tip over a glass of milk, as nine months go whizzing by and then – a baby’s squeal is heard behind closed doors.
Perhaps, it is because of where I grew up. The land of the Kama Sutra and the home of the prude.
In Karate, one of the most important lessons you learn is to take an ass-kicking. You understand that you need to pick yourself up and move on.
Before every session, you socialize with your opponents. They are your friends. You like each other. You also take pleasure in roundhouse-kicking them during a sparring match. Because there are competitive elements to it.
Karate breaks down the art of fighting into algorithms. A series of rapid-fire decisions. And at times, someone figures it out quicker than you do. Then, you will fall down, palming the bridge of your nose in pain. When you get back up on your feet, you are stronger in the broken places.
Often I am in denial about how much I enjoy cartoons. They were once an important part of my life. Nowadays, I either pretend that I don’t have the time or that I uninterested. The truth is, I am not sure. At some point, I must have assumed it was a part of growing up.
Like finding a job, getting married or making babies – it is just something that most adults do.
When I turned 30, I felt insecure about my age whenever I accidentally caught my reflection in the mirror. I groaned as I sauntered past glass-encased pillars and tinted car windows. It wasn’t about the wrinkles, the graying beard or the receding hairline. But in my eyes – there shone, ungallantly, a reminder that things weren’t going according to a sustainable plan. I thought about how much time had gone by in my life and how little it had amounted to.
I wondered each time if it was the universe’s way of asking me to choose the path I truly wanted to tread upon. I couldn’t commit to any sort of significant change back then. So, I did little things to convince myself that there still was hope for a brighter future.
Every time I did so, I felt guilty about being one of those middle-aged people who deal with aging, like babies do with skin rashes on their butts. If you haven’t handled a baby before, here’s a clue – they aren’t very bright.