Sunday, February 27, 2005

State Of Confusion

While the term ABCD is typically meant for the born and raised in the US desi, the state of confusion is not confined only to desis of that vintage. In my experience, FOBs are often a lot more confused when really that have little reason to be. Upon arriving onF1 visa and the pocket full of dreams they appear to force feed themselves on the American experience like the famine would be upon them as soon as the stopped gorging.

In the few years that it takes to graduate and step into the real world, they manage to surpass ABCD levels of confusion and identity crisis. Instead of the twenty plus years that a real ABCD has to come to terms with the state of being desi in Videsh, these folks are already there in a less than five.

All of this has to do with getting there first. Often these young people have been high achievers all their lives - academic and otherwise. It is also likely that they come from affluent and influential social circles in India. To turn into an arriviste in the US is not acceptable and they will do what it takes to shake that label off.

The right to confusion among FOBs is an equal sex opportunity and unlike the ABCDs who are given to introspection on their state, these FOBs wear their confusion like a badge of honor.However, until they churn out angst ridden faux exotica in the lush prose style favored by true blue ABCDs, the FOBCDs would have only half way arrived.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Thoughts Of Old Love

Just wishing it away will not make the two decades of him disappear. He is getting married next month. I feel a peaceable numbness descend upon me. I know that I will be able to live with this. I have written reams about the our quasi-relationship from my point of view.

I wonder what his perspective might be or even better what S his wife-to-be may think. Will she be able to tell the tenuous strains of love that overlay the gentle glide of my pedestrian e-mails to him ?

Will she able to tell of that the glow on his face is in someway related to the sound of my laughter on the phone or of the many memories it stirs in both of us ? I would like to believe that he is utilitarian and unromantic and that I've read too much into the relationship (what relationship?) because that is what he truly wants me to believe. Maybe that is the only way he knows to save himself and me. I am curious about how the marriage will turn out. Of course I wish him and S the best.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Lean Review

At the end of a long shenanigan that my annual review was N, my manager asked "So would you like a Sandwich or a low-carb evaluation ?" Even past Atkins-mania that made perfect sense. N was asking if he could cut the crap and get straight to the point. I replied "Atkins".

He made me suffer though prolixity, obfuscation, business-ese and manager-ese for another hour before I was set free. Since N is more buddy, less boss I had to ask how the hell he called that hoopla "low-carb". He explained that was merely the "bed of greens to cushion the landing"

Moral of the story - Atkins does not equal lean. All ideas start simple and gather fluff along the way. Zen equals starkness.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Sound In My Head

Almost close to the din Shelley described in "Mont Blanc" about the River Arve: "A loud, lone sound no other sound can tame." I can't believe it's been so long since I heard his voice that I would not even recognize it now.

From Clinton's "My Life"

That brief sketch is about all I ever really knew about my father. All my life I have been hungry to fill in the blanks, clinging eagerly to every photo or story or scrap of paper that would tell me more of the man who gave me life.

Will J crave equally for shards of R(my Ex) that I have so thoughtfully locked out of her reach. Snuffed out his very existense lest she feel curious and learn only to be so terribly hurt...I can churn thoughts of R in my head until they froth but I would not whisper a word to J

Another perspective (closer home yet far away) from Antara Mali of Bollywood. I could be vindicated thus

As Antara Mali says, One loving person is the family norm today. Instead of warring parents or family members who demonstrate that life is a constant battle, just one person who can provide love, peace and support is far better for a growing child. My mother Pratibha brought me up single-handedly and I share a special bond with her.

Two very different people with thoughts on the same thing could strike a chord with me harmoniously.

Of Drying Hair And Such

Women once used incense smoke to dry hair. Wondered if this was a practice anywhere in the world any more. While looking around I found this about Frankincense and Myrhh - unrelated but interesting. Wandering some more I read about "Olfactive epiphanies" which is an interesting turn of phrase. Thinking of how new words are forged from old ones I think "latte factor" and smile at a memory it brings up.

I use the word decisioning a gazillion times a week - and MS Word refuses to believe it's a legit word. I look it up on Merriam Webster - same deal. I refuse to give up. Collective intelligence and common use have to count for something. It does. I'm surprised that Wikipedia does not have anything on it.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

How I Turned to Tea

I was never a tea of coffee drinker. Of late I drink as much as a gallon of green tea every day. Like to imagine that it is rich in anti-oxidants and will keep my heart healthy - my teeth and gums will benefit as well. I also like the ones that come with honey and ginseng added - but that's a little too "designer" for my quotidian keep-me-awake needs.

Even at the height of dot-com my work load was horribly erratic. More often than not I had only enough for a couple of hours each day. Of course there were days that seemed to never end but only rarely. To stay up and look busy after that point called for stimulants. Enter green tea - which I figured was the least evil of the choices that I had. The curve has gone only upward from what started out as a couple of cups to get through the day.

Talking of tea and dot com reminds me of the job I landed in a boutique e-commerce company that held out fresh baked Italian bread and a tall Starbucks latte as an inducement to join...But Ex told me that it was not a good deal. Back in those days I believed every thing he said like he were God. I figured later that God belonged in heaven and cohabitating with one who thought he was Him was no fun at all.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Some Other Tales

What I really meant to write about was love and loss and the state of being alone when every pore of me craves for the other - the other who was almost mine but not quite. Until, then some things else.

I am recovering from heart break. I realize after five years of love-lessness and single-motherhood later, I am still capable of being heart-broken. I had thought I was over all that. Not quite. I was caught off-guard and I suffered royally for it.

I sought succor in the most obvious place self-affirming chick lit and am not ashamed to admit that it worked somewhat - even temporal is good when you are feeling ultimately miserable. I promised myself that I would bounce back - be good as new. That is a work in progress. I will tell my story in it's entirety once I feel healed and whole.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Heady Heavenly Perfume

I have always loved perfumes. But it's been a challenge to find one that is "me" and will meld in perfectly with my natural smell - and do what a good perfume should - make it sweeter - piquant.

One that has worked is She by Emporio Armani. I chanced upon this story about heavenly origins of perfumes from Capri They may have just the thing for me...White Linen by Estee Lauder used to work great for me but that was when I was younger and more impressionable. I wonder if there is something like an olafactory aura that changes as the person does. Or if were indeed possible to track those changes..

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Shopping Cheap And Tired

We were out of groceries and went shopping. The place was crawling with melons of all persuasion and cheap as dirt. The honeydew was bland as can be. J kicked a royal fuss as usual. I deferred disciplining her for another day.

Failed to be the text book mom. She had a bar of Whatchamacallit - actually half and before we got home. I'm very very tired today. Some days like today, the memories of he who is now officially Ex hovers around me like a vulture over a dying body. I feel like I'm the carcass he's after - just that I have infinity of life...

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

About Two Loves and I

I, Ananya, am a suburban single mother minus the SUV that often comes with the territory. Ten years ago, I would have been awed by someone in my situation, my cultural sensibilities doubtless challenged. It was about "them" and "us" being different. Having crossed over to the other side now, I find it difficult to appreciate the "us" perspective that I once had.

I may have lost the comfort of familiar things like a husband and a home, but what I've gained is incomparable. I can look at marriage and love from an aesthetic distance -- my own as well as another's. My illusions are fewer, but I haven't lost my romanticism, my ability to dream a perfect world amid contrary evidence.

I have learnt that love and hate can co-exist in exuberant confusion and is not necessarily wrong - that, in fact, there are no rules to love at all. Sometimes one grand passion is what it takes to find happiness in an utterly ordinary life instead of being miserable in it. The contrariness of the heart is a fascinating study, more so if it is your own. My journey has been one of profound self-discovery. It is a journey I have taken with Aman and Tuhin - the two men who make me what I am, two relationships that are the systole and diastole of my existence.

With me, events most cataclysmic have come unheralded with latent significance that I have discovered many years later. When I met Aman the first time, the earth did not slip off its axis or a bolt of lightning strike. It was a quietly pedestrian moment. We were both sixteen something then, a time when even months counted - he was older by a couple. I remember Aman having a caffeinated intellectual air about him, tall for his age and infinitely poised. His voice was to die for.

Wildly popular with the girls including the mysterious Miss Hariharan, our Eng Lit teacher - lovely and single in her thirties -- Aman was notorious for introducing a personal slant into his interpretation of Yeats and Cummings. We suspected it was for her benefit because she found it so charming. Of course, he expressed outrage at such "preposterous" suggestions, blaming the "onslaught of pulp media on juvenile minds" that let no relationship remain "sacrosanct." Such bombast, typical of Aman, was inevitably met with much derision from the rest of us.

Back then, I had this small but tenacious bunch of admirers that refused to give up. Some of us went back to elementary school days, making it impossible for me to feel any romantic inclination. How they felt any was beyond my comprehension. Aman, with his curiosity about life's oddities, was intrigued by this "Brotherhood of Ananya Worshippers", as he had called them.

It was his little sociology project to work out the fallacy of their close bonding given such a glaring conflict of interest. Before long, he was included into the fold, which afforded him perspective from the trenches. I'm not sure what he found out being there, but some of them continue to be Aman's friends to this day. We are thirty something and months don't count anymore, we have all moved on.

Aman was my first encounter with powerful physical attraction, a thing that is easy to mistake for love. Hearing his voice could make my heart pound. Being within six feet of him would leave my stomach feeling hollow, my legs jellied. My body remained in a state of shock long after he was gone. A conversation with him was a mood-elevating drug, the high lasted several weeks.

I haven't tried Prozac, but I doubt if it would do for me what Aman could and still can. Sometimes when he came over, I shut the windows so the potent smell of him mixed with his cologne would linger on after him. When I first read about pheromones, I had no trouble recognizing the kind of smell they were talking about. I was disappointed that they were going to make a science of it.

With Aman, I could no longer feel in control of myself. I was rather vain about my "ice-maiden" reputation and Aman was reducing me to the level of the blathering idiots that wrote letters to agony aunt columns in kitschy women's magazines. I was not proud of who I was becoming and the chemistry from being around him seemed irreversible.

At seventeen, I assured myself, though a malignant strain of spring fever, "this too shall pass." I believed meeting Mr. Right would be just the pair of pincers it would take to tweeze Aman out of my system. It was tough to guess Aman's feelings for me - I could tell that he felt attracted, but that was all I could tell. He could not have felt haunted like I did.

We kept in touch through the college years though our careers were headed in very different directions, not to mention different countries, as were our long-term goals in life. There had been other guys since Aman in my life- some heart breaks included. He had had his flings- his face would light up when he talked about one of them in particular. I forget her name now. She definitely sounded his type and I hoped it lead somewhere in the end.

I don't remember when he mentioned her last. We were faithful about keeping each other posted on all things romantic in our lives and, of course, most ardently desired to meet Mr. and Ms. Right as the case might be. Our lack of success in that direction was definitely not from lack of serious intent. We wanted pretty badly to spend the rest of our lives with "the one" and could not wait to get started.

Over the years, the chemistry did not change or diminish, it bothered me less knowing I couldn't do anything about it. Aman made a conscious effort to establish and honor the boundaries of our relationship, and it was not easy for him to do so. He worked on controlling his impulses to the point where he could not let go emotionally even if he tried, choosing to trade his natural ebullience for a way to keep us together and safe.

We had grown attached to our friendship and were terrified of losing it to a moment's indiscretion that would change it irrevocably. At twenty-five, I was no longer sure if "infatuation" was the most appropriate description for my state of affairs. I had stopped agonizing over labeling it and found peace in status quo. I imagine, so had he.

Aman has always had the most interesting e-mail etiquette. If the tone and content of my mail is mundane, I expect to see a reply in a few hours. If it demands an honest expression of his feelings, emotions, or worse, an affirmation of the real nature of our relationship, it will provoke a month long silence followed by a phone call apologizing for the delay.

The conversation may last for hours thereafter, but it would not be a response to what I had said. I know I've touched a sensitive chord in him when I don't hear back from him at once. I know he is not sure enough of himself to not transgress the barriers that we have defined for ourselves. The longer his silence, the longer I'm on his mind -- a place I've always loved being.

Sometimes, I've had to follow it up with a one-liner like, "Can you find out if there is a better deal on this PDA? See specs below. I need to buy one ASAP," that would shake him out of his emotion-induced stupor and provide a safe passage out of the impasse.

Buried in his prompt response to the query would be a little nugget that would tell of his deepest feelings in three words like "only for you", removed far from their context but even more pregnant with meaning for that. Our hearts would have met and my day be made. It probably takes two die-hard romantics like us to go through such complex courtship rituals with no end in view. We seem to enjoy undertones of conversation, suggestions in the written word more than the simple carefree impulse to act on it.

For as long as we have known each other, we have enjoyed making these silent communions with each other in a language that suggested nothing to anyone else besides us. The fact that our relationship was based on such an elaborate system of cryptic messages that we could exchange around anyone and not reveal a thing made us feel very special.

My parents introduced me to Tuhin when I was twenty-six. In my family's parochial scheme of things, I was running extremely late as far as marriage was concerned, and it would not be a moment too soon for me to tie the knot. It was a combination of circumstances mostly out of my control that led to meeting Tuhin and deciding to marry him.

This must be the Mr. Right, I told myself - I did not feel electrified but simply depleted of all sensation. Deja vu overcame me at our first meeting - as though he and I had lived our lives together in a parallel universe and a familiar pattern would unfold once again.

There would be no upheavals, tectonic shifts as two strangers came together -- merely a matter of re-discovering what was forgotten. The sheer volume of serendipitous coincidences in our lives amazed us. Fait accompli was writ large over all of it- I let myself be guided by that feeling, not wanting to disturb the fine equilibrium of infinite strands of destiny in space and time to make this possible. There was an overwhelming sense of a larger purpose to us getting together and it came with a force I could not resist.

I made the biggest decision of my life in a state of trance, using fate as my anchor where reason and logic had failed. Anyone who knew me could tell that Tuhin just was not my type and yet I saw no contradiction in deciding solely with my heart that I would marry him.

Aman was the first person I told. Though a little confused about my choice, he was genuinely happy for me. I was excited about my new life and the amazing connection I seemed to have with Tuhin – how he could complete my thoughts and sentences so effortlessly. "So, how did you feel when you met him?" Aman asked me. I told him it was unspectacular - that seemed to disappoint him a bit. He still hoped to levitate a few feet when he met the woman meant for him. I hated to disabuse him of his grand illusions - who knows, he just might.

He pestered me for a wedding gift idea, giving up at last when I said, "Is it too much to ask that you use your imagination just for once?"

His caveat was prompt, "Don't be disappointed at my lack of it." We left it at that.

He flew in with my wedding gift a month before my marriage saying that he would not be able to take time off from work later. His face was a complex canvass of emotions - it was a bittersweet parting from a way of life where a relationship could be beautiful without definition, without the bondage of commitment or expectation. In different ways, we were both losing our freedom and we would miss it.

Aman tried hard to fight the nostalgia. There were two gifts and, knowing him like I did, they were meant to say different things. One was a mug personalized with the meaning of my name inscribed on it. The other was an elegantly understated set of Mikimoto pearls - I could tell they were obscenely expensive. The message was not lost on me - I knew Aman had come the closest to expressing himself at the risk of transgression.

He had made one giant leap in faith. It took my marriage to make this happen - I remember spending a quiet afternoon, many old memories floating around me like rainbow-hued gossamer, too delicate to touch or feel.

When Tuhin called later in the evening, I told him about the gifts. He said they were "beautiful and profound like your relationship with him." I knew then he was indeed the man I had been waiting for – the man who understood me so perfectly.

"Are you jealous?" I asked him.

"No. He was there before me. Obviously, a very special man for making such a deep impression on you. I just feel bad that I could not get there first," he replied. "No worries. I'll make up for lost time," he added with a laugh. If there is such a thing as perfect peace, I had it at that moment.

Starting life with Tuhin was like living in a dream - often too perfect to feel real. Aman remained in the periphery of my thoughts mainly because I wished him as much happiness as I had found. I felt responsible for him though I could hardly alter the course of his life.

I worried how he was getting by - alone, though we had in practical terms never been together. After my marriage, except for the de rigueur New Year greeting that we exchanged in January, there was very little contact. We were becoming strangers to each other and there were new idiosyncrasies about us that the other no longer recognized or understood. A new marriage was doing what it was supposed to do - weakening ties of the oldest, strongest friendships. Had Aman found himself a wife, my conscience would have rested even as oblivion threatened to engulf all things that were not Tuhin, the center of my existence.

The thing that distinguished my relationship with Tuhin the most from that with Aman was the lack of self-annihilating chemistry. I had assumed, with the one that was meant for me, it would be a million times as powerful. His voice could be soothing and balmy but was not what it took to make my heart leap out of my body.

Tuhin grew on me with time until we felt like an organic whole together. I have never touched Aman so don’t know what it feels like - I imagine it to be fiery like his presence, maybe even more so. Tuhin was always ethereal - when at times I could resonate with him emotionally, the feeling was almost divine. Each time that happened, it reaffirmed my faith in our relationship.

The picture perfect quality of the early days was to become less so in time and I thought that was but natural. I was balancing my career with domesticity and dreaming of motherhood. I wished to be perfect at everything, refusing to see contradictions in the roles and the impossibility of striking an exact balance.

With Aman, I had never felt possessive -- he told me of his little escapades with his gorgeous office secretary, Sana, who would sometimes drink herself out of her mind when he took her out to dinner. It was a flagrant invitation for him to be a man and make the most of the situation. Despite his eloquent moral dilemma over "to be a man or a gentleman," he seemed to enjoy these dinner dates. I felt happy for her presence in his life and the spurt of warmth she brought in to its cold desolation.

Aman, for his part, was always coaching me on what men liked and disliked in women and what I needed to do to take the relationship in question "to the next level." My happiness meant a lot to him. He often despaired that I was "selective to the point of exclusion" when it came to men and very relieved at Tuhin's coming into my life.

I wanted Tuhin to share all of himself with me - sometimes the need was beyond reasonable, particularly so in a relationship that was still new. He could make me feel desperately lonely just by choosing to keep his thoughts to himself. I was not only possessive of him, but I lay claim to all that made him who he was. I realized he had a right to his privacy and space just as much as I had to mine. When I first read Khalil Gibran as a teenager, I had fallen in love with his philosophy on marriage, it was my "mantra" for true happiness:

"But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls."

I was failing to live up to the ideal I had always cherished in my own life. There was something hidden deep inside of Tuhin - a place I could never ever reach. What I would never know made him the person he was. The context of who he was would remain unknown and yet I would have to live with the perplexing manifestations of his life's most fundamental experiences.

With Tuhin, there would never be something like the "whole truth" - there would be gaps and inconsistencies that I could at best ascribe to as his right to privacy. I would have to make peace with myself knowing that I would not know, and with not knowing what I would not know.

But I had thought he and I were fated to be together. When you are one with the other, all barriers must necessarily come down. It was my right to know him, including what lay behind doors he had shut on me, all the shrapnel of experiences that so badly scarred him.

I failed to earn his trust to where he could let the floodgates open and allow catharsis to take over and heal. In effect, I failed as a wife. I knew and loved what he had chosen to reveal to me - did I know I would feel the same way when I knew the whole of him? Two years into my marriage and on the verge of motherhood, I was tremendously conflicted and lost.

I knew there were layers and layers that I would need to peel over my lifetime to reach the real Tuhin - it would take the patience of Job, and yet there would be no guarantees. In the end, the truth might not be something I could live with. I had fallen in love with a two-dimensional Tuhin where everything was airbrushed perfection, never once stopping to think this could not be for real. So desperate was my need to see "the one" in Tuhin, so portentous were the signs of destiny. We were like two planets attracted to each other by the very forces that will in the end destroy them.

Our marriage was falling apart rapidly - a house of cards may have fared a whole lot better. I had desired my child with every molecule in my being, being a mother was the biggest and the best achievement of my life - I never felt so proud and content ever. Tuhin keeled over at fatherhood -- he could no longer keep his two worlds from colliding.

I caught glimpses of the one that I had been so carefully excluded from and it frightened me. I was not sure I would be able to withstand the whole truth when in the end his resistance did break down. It would not been the Tuhin I had married, the man whom I had loved, the man that I had known to be the one God had chosen for me. Our time together seemed like a grand illusion - I wanted out before it was too late to even hold on to some wisps of the beautiful dream that it had started out as. I needed to escape before all was mired in unbearable, unforgettable pain and ugliness that was consuming it.

I returned home to my parents, bruised and battered emotionally, infinitely tired, three years older with wisdom that I did not desire. It took me a while to acknowledge to myself I was a separated mother of an infant. The biggest loss that I felt was that of a very dear friend -- from being whole, I had been cleaved. Marriage was the definition of our relationship, and with that ending in such bitterness, there was no room for friendship anymore.

Tuhin had decided not to be a father to our child - I could not understand how he could sever ties from his own body and soul. But there was so much about him that I never did understand. I mourned my baby's loss even as she cooed, gurgled and dimpled into heart-stopping smiles, covering my face with kisses. Tuhin had chosen not to see and feel any of this magic, not to feel her sweet, angelic touch. I mourned the precious fragments of my life that would remain strangers to each other except in my heart.

The future veered at a dizzying pace between planning for the next moment and for a time twenty years later. Aman had sent me a congratulatory e-mail on my becoming a mother where he said, "You have everything it takes to make a wonderful mother. I wish your child every happiness."

How could I tell him that I had failed in my very first duty as a mother in being able to give my child the security of a real home and her fundamental right to two parents. He was deeply saddened when I did tell him many months later and came to meet me. There were gifts this time too, bearing a message of hope and affection, maybe more - some baby things for my daughter and a bottle of designer fragrance for me.

Of all the perfumes I have ever worn, nothing felt quite as perfect as this - like it was made just for me. I wondered how he could tell wearing it would snap me out of the blues, make me feel beautiful and desirable just like being around him always did. He had found me the essence of him - just what I needed at that time.

Before leaving, he gave me the strength I was missing. I knew he believed in me and in my ability to overcome. Without saying a word, he had assured me I could count on him and he would be there for me whenever I needed him, whatever way I needed him -- friend, lover or husband. I could choose what I wanted and when. That he could convey so much without needing to articulate a thing was in itself quite amazing. We had still restrained ourselves by the boundaries defined so many years ago. Maybe we were not so juvenile back then after all.

Aman's abortive attempts to get married were at one time an amusing thing to talk about - at the wrong side of thirty, I do not see anything funny about it anymore. He humored me through my efforts at matchmaking, mainly from curiosity to see who I thought suitable for him.

Even after a broken marriage, my world was not bare like his. I had my child. She has filled almost every aching void. It saddens me to think he has no home, no progeny - nothing to root him to a sense of purpose in life. I know he will make a very fine father. I have asked him sometimes if philandering is just too much fun to give up for marriage. To which he will just say, "I'm hardly the Casanova you make me out to be though I would love to meet if not exceed your expectations." I would have to laugh. So typical of Aman to trivialize what is most important in life, or at least pretend to do so.

My daughter will turn three in a few months. I have been able to make peace with my separation, which will probably never end in a divorce because Tuhin has no desire to move on, because marriage does not mean what it once did to me. He has grown comfortably numb and desires that over any real emotion - numbness has always been his safety blanket of choice. I have decided that a piece of paper is worth only as much as you let your heart believe it is worth, be it a marriage certificate or a divorce decree.

Aman has formally shelved the issue of his marriage for the time being. He insists he needs me to find someone I can spend the rest of my life with before he can settle down peacefully, he feels responsible for me. He believes I need to start over with the right man, home, family, husband and all, that my life will be fuller, happier if I do. However, he can't tell me why the same rules don't apply to him and why he does not need to make an effort to make it happen like he tells me I must. In what he does not say is his answer.

I have asked myself if it is fair to keep Aman waiting until I am ready or eternity, whichever is first, just because I know he will. Or let him drift out of my life just like he had when I was married to Tuhin because I know he will when he feels I have found someone who will be there for me.

I feel blessed to have Aman in my life, the one paradise that will never be lost, the one man who can make me feel like the most beautiful woman any day of my life, still make my heart race like only first love can. We understand and accept the contradiction of us both continuing to seek the significant other in others besides the other. It has been the theme of our relationship, or is it this thing they call love?

Life goes on, Sana enjoys her occasional Beaujolais, Aman has tranquility that comes from having a home forever in the heart of the beloved. Someday, I pray he will have a real home too.

My mobile beeps in the middle of an important meeting. Not his usual time to call, but for Aman, everything can wait. He is all excited. "Hey, Ananya! I just had to share this with you. I just found out that I got a big bonus - you are the only person I can share my happiness and feel so gloriously free." A well-meaning friend is match making for him - he wants to know what I think.

I say, "Meet her with an open mind. She might just be the one."

That leaves him in a familiar place between hopefulness and hopelessness -- he wants me to say something quiet different, just like I want him to tell me how he feels about me - each wants the other to dare our friendship, see if it will survive after and because of the passion.

Tuhin lives in a twilight zone where sharp boundaries between the past and the present are smeared for comfort. Unlike Aman, he is a drifter and can never make a home in a heart. Contrary to all reason, I feel I have everything I could desire, I believe more than ever in the power of true love to give hope, to heal and renew faith in love itself. Were time's arrow to move backwards, Aman would be my love and Tuhin my best friend -my universe in perfect harmony.

Published first in Sulekha as NM (my pen-name)

Monday, February 07, 2005

Love Letter

Rex,

It seems like infinity since I last called you that -- do you think of me sometimes? Has hate wiped it all out -- the thirty million e-mails, wanderlust, and all of that dream stuff? You haunt me with a furious energy that will devour my life -- if I do save myself and learn to love again -- I don't think it will be quite like what we once had.

I wish I had known you more, tried to understand the heart that remained hidden in dark, mysterious shadows -- maybe I had what it took to save you from yourself. I don't know where you are, how life has been since we met last -- would I know you if I saw you someday? How would that feel? I have no memories left of your touch -- I do try to remember, it used to be beautiful and the only I've ever known -- maybe you wouldn't be able to believe that anymore.


This year on your birthday, I thought I had finally banished you from memory, the hardest and the most final exile of all. It was an ordinary day. Snow had covered the ground. That day in fact I did talk about my "situation" (as people would call it) to someone who I think will be able to help me overcome. As I heard myself speak, I realized how difficult it had been to fathom you, and how impossible it was for this person who was listening to me to comprehend our relationship. The sheer magnitude of unknown that has crept in since the time we were truly in love amazed me.

I was talking to a stranger about someone who was once the center of my universe at a time when I knew nothing about him anymore. A few days later, while checking my calendar, I realized that you were a year older and probably still alone in the spirit. I felt redeemed in more ways than one. When I was most anguished I prayed to God to deliver me from the self destructive dementia of loving you, from my happiness being hostage to you. Prayers are most often answered. Are you thinking of me? Why do I think I want to write this letter to you?

Maybe, this after all is reality. I never did know you, did I ? I did want to but maybe for the wrong reasons. I believe this more and more each day that you are indeed unlike anyone else I've ever known, a special someone that one meets only once in a lifetime. One is fated and then there is a relationship that redefines your life and who you are. I am transformed and now know who I really am. Both you and who I used to be are strangers to me -- equally.

In a perfect world, where every wish would come true, I would wish for a magic wand to wipe away those scars that ruined you, I would wish the clock to turn back two decades and more. You would be what you most loved to be most -- an innocent little boy without a care in the world. I see your face turned skyward, your eyes following the kite you fly -- freedom is all this.

When I saw you first, I was touched by the expression of your beautiful eyes. I would in time forget a lot of the agony and ecstasy that was our brief time together. But that look would be the hardest thing to forget, the most enduring memory of all. In a perfect world, the ruins would gather themselves up miraculously giving us back everything we once had and all that we did not. Those dark secrets would gather wings and fly away into the sun -- you would be set free.

Someday, when you are old and gray and are done fighting your demons, your ambitions, your anger and pain, maybe you would sit back on a winter morning like this. Maybe you would watch the snow decorate the pines and drip gently down making ice chandeliers everywhere. Maybe you would remember us holding hands and those long ago feelings of complete tranquility and fulfillment -- the days that had once truly been.

No, I don't want to return to your world -- I'm gone forever. We were like stars in infinite orbits that suddenly did intersect. Our destinies are parsecs apart -- we were for here and now and not forever. She has your smile sometimes and there is this thing about her chin when she's made up her mind -- that makes me laugh and I can't help but remember you. I have almost forgotten your face -- she brings it back sometimes in a lightning flash and then just as suddenly it's already gone. Why won't you let me forget you?

Warm lavender foam runs down the
nape of my neck and down all the
places that I've been kissed and
forgotten, wounded and
forgotten, abandoned and forgotten, forgotten and
forgotten. Tenuous tracks of
dying memory, dying froth.

Nayantara.

Published first in Sulekha as NM (my pen-name)

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Second Coming to America

Thirty years ago, on a night such as tonight I was conceived in Mumbai. Back then, my parents lived a postage stamp sized home. The kitchen was in the living room which was in the bedroom and so forth.

At nineteen my mother was too starry-eyed to notice much except the hopelessly lovely spell of new marriage and living independently. She was the mistress of this brand new household for whatever it was worth. There were carefree evenings at Chowpatty and Juhu - the raw tangy taste of new found freedom. She always speaks of Bombay with acute nostalgia - the time of impossible dreams, fierce optimism and impending motherhood.

I have clear memories of all the places that I've ever lived but not of where I first came to be.I was in Bombay for a year after I was born - and like the umbilical chord, those early memories have just dropped off. From the window of an airplane, many cities shine like a rich jewel, holding promise of something as intangible as that of intelligent life in planets around a distant, flickering star.

Maybe because it is Mumbai and because I'm back after thirty years, I read too much into the patterns made by street lamps, moving vehicles and that the sea has been humbled into a silent pool of water. I see an India I haven't seen before - Mumbai feels refreshingly vibrant, delightfully different - I feel a slow a stab of pain in my heart as one must feel near roots and origins.

As we come closer, the city's under belly begins to show - the bamboo scaffolding that someone neglected to remove after its work was done, the ubiquitous general stores - selling a little bit of everything the a householder may need, without a sense of larger purpose.

There is no future, no king size dream or daring. Just like the country herself, this shopkeeper is the victim of acute existentialism, reducing life's basics needs little by little until there is merely "shunya" and "shunyanta" everywhere.

Chatrapati Shivaji is all I get to see of Mumbai and it's well past midnight. Something tells me that this journey is going to be very different from my first time to America - even beyond the very obvious reasons.

I see real Parisian women - they're so completely different and chique - the allure of Paris grows a hundred fold just from seeing a random slice of life at the Charles De Gaulle. It's a different matter that French immigration almost cost me my connection to Atlanta. The skies were overcast and I did not catch a sight of the mythic Eiffel Tower. Maybe there would be a better time for that, maybe one bright sunshiny day J and I would walk down Champs de Elysses. There is so much I want her to see - so much I want to see through her eyes.

This time I am on an aisle seat and alone - all around are immobile clouds, Switzerland is uneven marzipan icing under an ashen sky - a metaphor for who I have come to be. My mind drifts back to that momentous flight from Delhi to Amsterdam - Stoh’s beer, a blanket for two - many wisps of faded memories - and with it the pangs of failed mother-hood. I have not heard my little angel say "Mamma" for a good twenty -four hours and that time would only spread.

I remember that lost look on her face at the airport as she said goodbye to me, she would not let go of me - we both cried a little. It was a goodbye from a big chunk of her life, from the little daily miracles that she makes possible. There is so much to accomplish before we can be together again.

I feel a sudden rush of sadness sweep over me - how long will it be till I see her again - her hair would have grown longer and have big curls, she may say new words that I would not at first understand. After nine months of being in my womb could she become a stranger ?

Am I coming back to America ? The touchdown offers the comfort and tranquility I have missed in several years. It seems like a lifetime ago that I had come to the United States for the first time, what dreams they were and what burning passion to forge the impossibly beautiful out of nothing.

I think I carry all my mother's home-making genes -maybe some of the mothering ones too. I had a window seat all the way back then - he had thought of it - like so many other little details that he was so infallibly thoughtful about - he knew to kindle my romance and wanderlust just like he knew to bring out the darkest and the ugliest in me.

Published First at Sulekha as NM (my pen-name)

Saturday, February 05, 2005

A Month In A Motel

[07/02/2003 12:56:49]

I've been here three weeks now. My home away from home - I invariably feel miserable on Saturday mornings and I wonder why. We had lasagna and beer at Hendrik's last night. That was the high point of this week - besides feeling sick from watching "Hannibal". All the gooey saccharine of "A Message in a Bottle" would not take the bad taste off my mouth.


Besides, the TV and the Internet there is precious little to do. The weather has been lousy ever since I got here - morose and bleak and that helps my mood plummet further south. I was watching Larry King Live - amazing show, amazing man. By when you are my age he would be dead and gone as also the many bad memories in my life. Time is powerful isn't it ?

[08/02/2003 18:33:07]

AV loaned me "The Fugitive". Little does he know that I am one too - in more ways than one. Escaping from memories - the bad overpowering the good. I can't believe that this is the fifth straight year in hell - movies come to an end in hours. Someday, this would all be over - in the meanwhile J will have grown up - I would have managed to grasp only fragments of her infinitely beautiful childhood, so much would have been lost by then.

She would have forgot much - hopefully, there would be no scars. But as she goes to sleep at night I would always want her to remember my touch as I rocked her to her sleep singing her favorite rhyme. I can't construct her smile in my memory - I think my heart is made of steel - I can't feel any more pain. Maybe I am not human anymore. I probably don't love her enough - but I would give up everything for her- maybe that is love after all. After a million lost battles, motherhood was the one I still hoped to win - despite all odds. Someday, J will tell me how I fared.


[12/02/2003 21:27:04]

I adore the way you laugh when someone tickles you. I think of you a lot - in fact there isn't a lot of time when you're not on my mind. What do I think though? I have no idea - but you are like first love - they prey on every waking moment, sleep and dream. I remember because I felt that way when I was thirteen and thought I was in love. But you are mine, body of my body, soul of my soul - I feel divided in two and then thrown ten thousand miles apart.


I had a solitary dinner tonight - I remembered how you would nod your head in approval if I asked if you liked the food I cooked for you. There is no happiness bigger than being your mother. It was like my life's purpose revealed when you first called me "Mamma". The soft touch of your tiny hands on my face - I miss everything - I'm glad l don't see little babies your size around where I stay. I would miss you only so much more.

J, I miss you incessantly like
the torrents of monsoon. Nimbus
clouds gather upon my soul - heart
armored in steel that no thunderbolt
of pain can touch or bend ever again.
I know of no happiness quite as
complete as when tiny hands touch
my face and a dearly beloved voice
whispers softly in question "Mamma ?"

[13/02/2003 19:49:53]

I just got off the phone with N. I can't think more than one a day at a time - life is moving at crawl pace. How would anyone understand the desperation that drives me ? I look normal, my lipstick matches the color of my blouse - and on the days that I feel truly low, I wear "She" because someone gave it me with so much love - it makes me feel like a very special and beloved woman.

Does he know how I feel when I wear that perfume ? Does he know how much that gesture has meant to me ? There is a lingering sadness in my eyes that mascara and liner cannot hide, it takes perception to see that - maybe someday someone will.

J must be awake by now - she must be drinking from her bottle of milk and if she's a really good girl she'd eat a cracker as well. Sometimes she must wonder where I've been gone for so many days - does she have a sense of time ? Does she know that I'm growing older by the minute and that life is finite ?

Does she know of death as well ? If I were to think of the most beautiful gift for her - what would it be ? The one thing that would make her lovely face light up with the biggest, brightest smile. Sometimes a big hug and a lot of kisses is all that it takes - sometimes just holding her close to my heart and telling her impromptu stories about her imaginary friends.

[16/02/2003 20:06:44]

A good two years ago, this was the most beautiful time of my life. I was going to be a mother - my fondest dream was coming true. I called her J even back then - she was soothed by classical music - loved Mozart and Bach the most. Sometimes she enjoyed a fast tango beat but for the most part it was the soft nostalgia that made her truly happy. In a few months she responded to touch - the little games she would play with me - turning round and round in furious circles for her head to be where I placed my hand.

Did you know back then that we would be forced apart for long periods of time - three weeks is infinity but I cannot get back just yet - I want for you to have the most wonderful future - a clean bright place under the sun - I want you to be the happiest, sunniest child in the whole world just like I want to be the best mother. How far way are those days and yet the snow on the trees remind me of that time like it were yesterday - the hopes that I had then - I had truly wanted to forge a beautiful world together until indeed death did us part. Is atrophy of love worse than death ? Who was that stranger ?

How little I knew, how little I know - those years are intensely mysterious - they answer no questions. I sometimes feel like time is running out like a slow trickle of prosperity through spendthrift fingers..

See, as the carver carves a rose,
A wing, a toad, a serpent's eye,
In cruel granite, to disclose
The soft things that in hardness lie. . . .

Conrad Aiken

Published first in Sulekha as NM (my pen-name) without the Aiken quote.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Short Journey, Big Change

I take the last bus out of C heading to Philadelphia. The cabbie is an African American. He dropped me at the hotel from work on my last day at there. Very chatty and tells me that my husband must be very lucky man to have such a beautiful wife. I smile inwardly say nothing thinking to myself if only he knew how lucky.

However, as I came out of my cube the very last day, I make it a point to say "I'm outta here" to a certain bloke by name S. And he almost prophetically responds "Famous last words , huh?" He is the kind of Desi dude that gives their ilk their bad name - did his Masters in US from some no-name mid-western university, went through the H1-B trial by fire attained "Moksha" in six years through the Green Card.

He now feels like he is a twice born American more regular than the regular WASP if you will. He's been there, done that, owns two cars a 1990 Eclipse that has over a 150,000 miles on it and a Lexus with fewer miles but not much newer if you get my drift.

S makes it a point to give the business visa bearing FOBs a ride in both cars just so they know and carry the stories of his magnificent power and pelf back home. This guy was peskier than most of his kind and would ask me on a daily basis "So when do you return to India ?" or better still completely flouting norms of decency "What ! You still around ? When will you go back ?"

There is all this talk about one global virtual team but in reality the "Bhais" from back home are treated pretty shabby - in the pecking order they come way below the lowly H1-B contractors that work "on-site" side by side with Green Card endowed S and share a turkey sub for lunch sometimes. It was not an edifying feeling to be down there with the hoi polloi but it was some memorable experience on it's own right.

He took me home one day to introduce me to his wife - and she starts the conversation on a patronizing note "So how do you like it in America ?" - even Mrs. Bush could benefit from learning from her. Surely she has to make such small talk with the obscure foreign delegates from vague third world countries. Things would have gone further south with her beginning to educate me on the American way of life so I did not make a fool of myself during my short stay. I figured I could give her a break. I told her casually "I've lived here before, I used to work in P"

Now, she does not know what to say next having exhausted the possibilities of the FOB special pep-talk. She proceeds to get us some tea. We talk about rising real estate prices in Indian metros, job prospects and they give me the whole sham routine about how they hate being in America and long to "return to India". For the life of me, I can't understand why below-average blokes like S will not show any gratitude towards the country that has given them a home and living well beyond their capacity to have achieved in India. I have long since tuned out.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

On having missed by more than a whisker..

My friend, Pritha may well have been the first to conceive of a concierge service in India for NRIs but her time to market left her well behind the competition. As a technical architect she is almost visionary and truly understands usability. Yet the combination does not make up what she lacks - the ability to create and sell a viable business plan. She enlisted my help on this venture which did not bring to the table what it took to turn pipedreams to reality.

We were excited about the potential of the idea. As we talked about it, we got all caught up in the architectural /technical fine print to the point that we lost sight of how to market it. Truth be told we didn't have a clue. This was early 2002, a time when pullulating dot com ventures cloned off each other were going bust at an alarming rate. Being a nerd was becoming an uncool and potentially dangerous thing.

We dared not take our idea to a buyer. We smothered it quiet under design patterns, application frameworks and reusable components. Of course we had the wire frames of the product which were to die for. Every last detail was thought through. Both of us have the eye for detail and can think and feel like the much maligned "end user". We still have the presentation we created for that imaginary angel investor VC type. Maybe if we had summoned up the nerve we may have even got some attention.

The dot-com boom was fuelled by irrational exuberance where nerds like Pritha took their show on the road without an iota of business smarts. When the party was over, bright people like her lost the courage and resolve to act on their dreams. They turned painfully aware of the skills they lacked and did not give themselves enough credit for what they possessed in such amazing abundance.

Pritha moved on with her life as I did with mine. We had this fired up rookie programmer who wanted a piece of the action and voluntereed to help us. He was the kind that lives and breathes application servers, middleware and the like. At the time of parting ways he gave me his collection of 3000 mp3 songs. No specific genre - simple to profound noise. There were a few gems to be quarried thereof. In hindsight, there are no regrets at not having made a couple of million under thirty but weltscherz ..yes.