writing

A house that built me

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.

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When life gives you hospital beds, find your inner balconies

Today, I saw a Black Kite skirting past the opaque moon against a teal-blue evening sky. It was a refreshing change of scenery. Considering I had been bed-ridden since February. About two weeks ago, my spinal chord was operated upon. The disc bulge in my lower vertebrae had become worse. There was a growing risk of suffering permanent nerve damage on my left leg.

So, I had decided to opt for surgery. Now, I have a giant scar to show for it. If things don’t go according to plan, I may have a T-Shirt idea. Buy one for yourself and get two for your friends. But, strictly no refunds. I have a mouth, below my nostrils, to feed.

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The pen is mightier than the person

Do writers have to be intelligent and well-adjusted to be good at what they do? Are we, by default, more knowledgeable or insightful? Are we more self-aware because we can better articulate our emotions?

I don’t think so.

Some of the most self-destructive people I know are writers. Vain, isolated and insensitive. Yet they are also some of the most interesting human beings I interact with. Prone to kindness, observant poignancy and witticism. A writer’s appetite to learn is often large, as is his/her capacity to love. But intelligent, emotionally-stable or even rational?

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Winter is unbecoming

Over the past two weeks, Lady Luck has been on my side. I saw nearly 50 Ashy Woodswallows. Over fifteen Spotted Owlets. Three spiffy Sparrowhawks. A flock of hyperactive Eurasian Spoonbills foraging for food; they looked like giant headless chickens, clad in priestly gowns, playing ice hockey. A White-Throated Kingfisher at war with a pond crab. And a Glossy Ibis finally decided to let me close enough to photograph it.

If my semi-charmed life was a movie, these sightings could be indicative of some grand design. But the truth is that birding season is a month away. The first fleet of winter visitors has already descended upon burnt soil of ours. Even the local bird sanctuary has opened its gates earlier than usual; its lake brimming, despite the scarce rainfall.

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How to overcome writer’s block: Brush your teeth

A writer’s block can be infuriating. It isn’t a melody to go out of tune. Neither a slip of the painter’s brushstroke nor an itch on the sculptor’s wrist. It is akin to a difficult conversation with someone you love about where the relationship is going. If things are messed up, you must find a way to work things out. There’s just too much to lose.

But it isn’t easy. It can be paralyzing. A sharp blow to the eardrums. A lone whistle reverberates inside your head and seduces a series of dull aches. You have stared long and deep into the abyss. Now the abyss is staring at you and mouthing, “What are you looking at?”

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Sweet painkiller of mine: Siruthavur Forest

Weekends are usually when I go bird-watching. I drive to different parts of my city’s outskirts to photograph residential and migratory birds. I love writing about the experience too. It has become a favorite routine of mine.

But, I couldn’t go out during the weekend that just passed. Because I had recently sprained the lower part of my spine. And I was told that for about a month, my body would ache whenever I had to sit upright. Whether inside a car or in front of the laptop.

So, this morning, I drove about 60 kilometers away to spend time with the birds of the Siruthavur reserve forest. I had a great time despite the discomfort. It wasn’t as though I overcame adversity in the pursuit of passion. No doubt that such theatrical nobility would have been amiss. It was one of those things that could have happened to anyone.

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The right hand doesn’t know what the left brain wants

Bad handwriting has been a source of embarrassment and anxiety in my life. Whenever I write in cursive form, the alphabets resemble ouroboroses in heat. Unglamorously entwined yet madly unhinged. I am saddened by it. Perhaps, as a writer – I feel obliged to be better at this.

I remember the first time when someone had asked me to sign on a piece of paper. I wrote down my initials as precariously as I could. It was as though someone had finger-walked me through it. My signature remained unchanged for about 8 years. Then, I had to come up with a new one at the behest of a lawyer.

As for my handwriting, it remained awful over the decades.

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The blogger who doesn’t have a Ferrari to sell

I remember a conversation I had with a friend about blogging a few years ago. I was making light of my attempts during the mid-2000s. In hindsight, I realized that I had made a few assumptions. One was that my older blogs were failures and the second – that the current one is a success.  The third involved my friend’s nasal hair. I doubt if that is either a matter of interest or a point of concern for anyone else but him.

I jumped on the bandwagon sometime in 2004. For a decade, only a handful of people knew of it. I rotted away in digital elephant graveyards. I kept pretending that the lack of readership didn’t matter. I convinced myself that blogging was just a playground for writers.

A quiet place where we showcased our love for language. Shared our eccentric opinions on life. As if readers were predisposed to give a crap about it.

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Speak now and forever hold your peace

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.

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To read or not to bleed: Palani mountain blues

I traveled to the Palani mountain range over the weekend. I went birding in its moist deciduous forests. From Flycatchers and Flowerpeckers to Sunbirds and Bulbuls, they came to me, brimming with love. Raptors of different sizes graced the skies. A large blue butterfly dropped by to enchant me. Also, I saw an Indian Rock Python scampering across the road at dusk.

But I was preoccupied all the while. Given the company, I was unexpectedly distracted.

I blame it all on Jean-Paul Sartre. I was reading Intimacy during the overnight bus ride. I stumbled upon something so beautiful that I had to put the book down. It sent shivers down my spine; the way a winter morning blows cool air into a bird’s nest and bristles its twigs. But then, it poured gasoline all over me and burnt to crisp any half-baked clarity I had about the universe.

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