Short story: A Flower for the Lady by Gowri N Kishore

My short story, published in Kitaab.

kitaab

Gowri Kishore

Karthi was in love.

Whether it was right for him to be in love, being only eight years old, was a different matter.

He thought Mari was the most beautiful thing he had ever set his eyes on. And though he was trying hard to do his maths homework (the terrifying prospect of facing Varadarajan sir with a blank notebook urged him on), he just couldn’t. He had been sitting in the corner of appa’s room with his back against the wall, his books spread out around him, chewing the end of his pencil and trying to focus on the problem at hand.

‘Joseph had three dozen roses. He gave half of them to Alice. How many roses did each of them have?’

Oh, lucky boy Joseph! He had three dozen roses to give away to whoever he liked. Whereas he, Karthi, could not find a way to get hold…

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Afternoon

Afternoon

I look at my dog sleeping

Sideways on the couch.

His golden belly gently rising.

His paws stretched, sticking out over the side.

His tail tucked under his legs,

His little ears folded back.

 

He whimpers, his paws tremble.

Puppy dreams, I think fondly,

Though he turned three many months ago.

I sit and watch him.

My laptop slack, forgotten.

And suddenly, I can smell bread baking.

A rich, warm, glorious smell

That wafts through the house.

 

Who’s baking on a Monday afternoon, I wonder.

 

I open the door and check outside,

but the other flats lie silent.

The corridor is cold and silent

And smells of cheap phenyl.

 

It is in my house, the smell of bread.

It cannot be otherwise.

Heady, rich, impossible to ignore.

My heart is filled with it.

 

I move from room to room, my dog at my heels.

I sniff the air, my head raised.

He cocks his head. He is puzzled.

What is the human looking for?

 

My windows are latched shut.

The balcony closed.

It is a cold, gloomy day with a nip in the air.

Defeated, I return to my seat.

My dog totters after and curls up at my feet.

 

A few minutes later, the clouds shift.

A stray sunbeam comes in.

His brown fur blazes golden.

And I sit, transfixed.

He yawns, his tongue lolls pink.

He scratches an ear. He licks a paw.

And turns melting brown eyes to me.

“Yes, human?” they seem to ask,

“Do you smell the mysterious smell again?”

 

I bend forward and bury my face in his back.

And it is there again.

That thick, golden, wholesome scent

Choking my heart.

Stinging my eyes.

Almost too rich to bear.

 

When life’s gone to the dogs…

When life’s gone to the dogs…

Living with dogs has many perks but it is not without its hairy moments. In this post, I’ve put together a bunch of observations about life with mutts that are only too familiar to pet parents. Non-pet parents, don’t be scared away – for all of these, dogs are the only creatures that will love you more than everybody else in your life put together; the only creatures who will be overjoyed to see you get back home after 10 minutes outside.

So, here goes.

#1 It’s called FURniture for a reason.

As new pet parents, all the literature we’d read online said dogs shed ‘seasonally’ and we naively interpreted that to mean once, perhaps twice, a year. But when you have multiple dogs whose shedding cycles are not in sync, it’s a different story. Every visible surface at home is permanently covered in a light dusting of fur. There’s always fur in the food -you just pick it out without batting an eyelid and continue to chomp down. You buy a gorgeous sofa, but keep it covered under an old bed sheet. Vacuuming becomes a hobby. You get the drift.

#2 Hair today. Still here tomorrow.

Anything you wear will be covered in dog hair. You can buy sticky rolls or rubber gloves or brushes or wet towels to try and get them off, but few things can be as stubborn as a strand of hair that means to stay.

A resourceful friend once suggested that we wear only clothes that match the colour of our dog’s fur so that the hair doesn’t show. Great suggestion – only, we have two dogs: one is black & white; the other is golden brown. Between the two of them, they cover the entire spectrum of fur colours and the fur always shows. Personally, I have given up the battle for a long time now. I wear fur as an accessory now.

#3 Squeamishness will be a thing of the past.

For starters, you will have to scoop poop twice a day. Though this is still a chore that SR and I keep bouncing off to each other, we’ve come a long way from the people who used to make disgusted faces. Now, we check the poop for consistency, colour, and to find out just what S has chomped down the previous day.  Normal dogs sniff things to explore them – S chews them. And if you try to take anything out of his mouth, he will swallow it at double speed. So far, we’ve found bits of a Nataraj pencil, pieces of a rubber toy, string, and cardboard in his poop, and S looks none the worse for the wear.

S also has motion sickness but we don’t want that to stop us from taking him out because once he’s back on level ground, he’s ridiculously happy to run around and explore. So the backseat of our car is covered with a plastic sheet on which we lay an old blanket to mop up the sick. We did try giving him vet-recommended sedatives to calm him down – during that drive, he vomited six times, four more than usual.

And this is not to mention when the poop gets stuck to their bottom and refuses to fall off and you have to run to find a tissue and get it out. Also times when they fall sick after eating too much of anything, excitement drooling, when they splash through pee and bring it in the house…let’s just say hand sanitizer, vinegar spritz, and disinfectant will become your best friends.

#4 Doggy grub will be better than yours.

There have been many, many days when SR and I were too zoned out to move but we still dragged ourselves to the kitchen to fix a meal for the mutts. On truly lazy days, it’s just kibble, but on the best days, it is a biryani of rice cooked with eggs, chicken, carrots and peas and flavoured with pepper, turmeric, and coconut oil. My mom often asks us why we don’t just eat a portion of this because it sure as hell sounds more nutritious than the junk or takeout we eat. But as we are vegetarian, this involves cooking the chicken separately and that’s just too much work. 😛

#5 Losing the battle of responsible parenting.

Every month or so, we are overcome by fits of conscientiousness and remark on what poor pet parents we make. We are not regular with walks (also because the boys are pretty lazy too and prefer to run around inside the house), nor are we regular with their training (most of what the boys have learned were taught to them when they were puppies.) Wracked by guilt, we make resolutions to shake things up and stick to a proper routine, starting tomorrow, no today, no, right away.

And then S will trot over and snuggle up between us and B will drape himself over our feet and the whole setup will feel so cosy and aww-some that we’ll just switch to Comedy Central and vegetate for hours.

#6 The vicious cycle of shopping for dog toys.

No new beginning in life, be it a starting a journal or joining a gym or having a baby, is complete without going out to shop for some ‘essentials’ and coming back with bags full of quirky stationery or light and breathable (read, far too expensive) gym clothes or a pram that resembles a high-powered self-sustaining life mobile.

In the case of pet parents, I think we just never outgrow this phase. We keep buying dog toys and chews and treats in the hope that they will bring lasting and meaningful joy to our dogs. The fact remains that treats are crunched up in a matter of seconds and toys are abandoned in days. But that is not to say that B and S don’t have lasting and meaningful joy – they do. They get it from old socks, twigs, plastic bottles, and the ring of doorbells when we get back home.

I could go on and on about living with dogs but I will save the rest of it for another post. Right now, I have to switch back to office mail and pretend to be hard at work, even if it’s Friday afternoon.

Sigh.

 

How Life Changes…

  • At one point, I used to read only the travel blogs on my Reader. I used to be inspired by pictures of vineyards and blue beaches and fall colours, and start researching potential holiday locations on Tripadvisor. Now, I skip ahead when I come to these blogs, knowing that I won’t be off on any big holidays in the near future
  • I used to click on every Facebook ad or mobile notification advertising a sale of clothes or accessories or cosmetics, and spend a few hours browsing tempting pictures. Nowadays, I don’t bother to click, because even the temptation, the possibility of a purchase is something I cannot afford
  • Someone in the office-a young chap straight out of college, actually- looked at my phone the other day and asked (in the nicest possible way) why I have such a dabba phone. I own an Asus Zenphone that cost me under 5K. I didn’t really answer the question-there’s so much to say, and yet, so little
  • When I look back on the kind of money that SR and I had spent on luxury stays and spas in the first 2 years of our marriage, I marvel. Those sums that were spent so thoughtlessly in those days, seem huge now.
  • When a relative presses a Rs.1000 note into my hand for Onam or Diwali or a birthday or an anniversary, I no longer refuse. Secretly, I am pleased, although I make token protests
  • When a colleague told me about an austerity measure she was taking-dropping the idea of a Rs.15 lakh membership to a Club, I nearly laughed out loud. But I didn’t. I just nodded wisely, and told her that in another year, she would be able to do it without worrying about the sum
  • I don’t visit supermarkets anymore because I may end up overshopping- instead, I make a list and order online on Bigbasket.

When I read what I have written so far, I get the feeling that it sounds like I am hinting at financial difficulties. Frankly, there are none. The wolves aren’t at the door. We are not out on the street.

But like Pachalam Bhasi tells Rajappan in Udayananu Tharam, “Oru cinema kude pottiyal theernnu pokanulla kaashe ippol Rajappante kayilullu…” That roughly translates to: the money you have today will get over if one more of your movies flop.

That’s pretty much the situation right now, and some austerity measures seem advisable. I can live without holidays abroad and new clothes every 2 months. I can live without premium club memberships. However, I cannot stay away from eating out. Or stop buying food and chews for my dogs. Or live without internet and a library membership. So, I am choosing my battles.

I spend a lot more time indoors, watching TV, playing board games with SR, reading library books, reading online about the Middle ages, watching B & B play… it is true what they say-some of life’s greatest pleasures are free.

The Year of the Butterfly?

If I were not human, I would have been a butterfly.

No – I’m not saying that I want to be a butterfly – I’m saying that I am a butterfly.

And no again – it’s not because I consider myself lithe or pretty or even particularly joyful. It’s because I flit. I move from one thing to another to yet another. You would not catch my mind staying still in one spot.

butterfly-flying-01
Source: fumozar.com

That sounds poetic – but here are the side effects –

  1. My to-do list is a few miles long
  2. I have 3 editorial assignments with looming deadlines that are not yet touched
  3. I have committed to many projects at work that have taken the backseat – of a bus, no less!
  4. Everywhere I look, I can only see half-finished projects: the photo wall I wanted to create; the half-finished story; the incomplete painting, the clothes that need to be sorted and kept back in the cupboards, the dust that lines the top of my fridge, the call that I am yet to return; the swimming classes that were abandoned; the Kannada and Theater classes that were never even started

It gets frustrating sometimes – this feeling of being a hamster on a wheel – this feeling that I need to keep pedaling until I drop, and still, there would be things left undone.

SR advises me to drop it. To relax. He says I must be thankful that I have so much to do – that means there’s a lot of purpose to life. But I don’t find it easy. I am someone who badly needs a feeling of closure. The satisfactory thud of the closing a thick book or file and putting it aside. Done and dusted.

So, this Vijayadasami, I want to make a promise to myself:

To NOT be a butterfly. To sit and savor the task at hand and not move on until I am finished.

And if that doesn’t work, then to enjoy the flitting and not write a “crib” post like this one. 🙂

Buttons

Today, for the first time in life, I know what it is like to be a mom.

I decided to give my baby away… feeling my heart break into a thousand pieces… knowing that life will never be the same again… knowing that I will never be able to walk around my house without lingering at all his favorite spots… without hearing the echoes of his bark and the patter of his feet…

I know that he is going into a better home – to people who will love him as much as we did, if not more. He will not be left alone for any period of time – there will be a little boy, 2 other dogs, a cat and a parrot to keep him company. He will have more space to run around and no one will shout, “No, Buttons, No!”

Perhaps this is what being a parent means. This letting go of your selfish instincts and making a painful decision because even though it kills you, you know that it is in his best interests.

Like all wise, prudent, healthy decisions, this one feels shitty too.

One thing big. One thing good.

The biggest habit of our generation is that we can’t do just one thing.

When was the last time you had just one tab open on your laptop? Or when you were just watching TV and not fiddling with your phone at the same time? Or just eating without watching TV? Really, multitasking is not a cool thing – we think we are getting more stuff done, but we aren’t. We would have accomplished much more by focusing on one thing at a time. By trying to multitask, we end up doing average jobs on everything. And not enjoying anything fully. Our obsession with mobile phones plays a major role in this.

This video is making its rounds on FB currently, accompanied by status messages such as “I’m guilty of this!” and “OMG! How true!”  Take 2 minutes to watch it:

 

I didn’t have a smartphone until less than a year ago. And I chose L3 E400, a very basic smartphone.

“I like this one – it seems very dummy-friendly. And I don’t feel intimidated by it.”

The salesman looked incredulous, and exchanged sympathetic shrugs with SR, but I got the phone I wanted, and I am happy. I do only 5 things with my phone, and in this order:

  • Check and send messages
  • Play Bubble Shooter or Bejewelled
  • Read books on Aldiko
  • Make and take calls
  • Listen to music

For the first couple of months after I bought the phone, I had internet on it. My phone became the second thing I would reach for as soon as I woke up (the first being my spectacle case!) I spent hours browsing, and checking Facebook and email. It started becoming an obsession, where my ears were trained to hear the beeps and rings even in the middle of a nap or over the din of a crowded restaurant. That’s when I decided to go internet-free on my mobile.

Today, I don’t have GPRS or WhatsApp. I don’t check email on the go. I have a 1.3Mp camera, so I don’t take pictures on my phone either. I prefer my hands and pockets to be free when I go out – so I rarely carry a bag or purse when I go out. Mostly, my phone lies in my car or deep inside my satchel, and I often miss calls. A good friend – exasperated with my behavior – once bemoaned, “Mobile phone ka meaning pata hai tuje? ‘Mobile’ means you can take calls wherever you are!”

“But I don’t want to take calls wherever I am!”

“To phir why did you buy a mobile phone?”

“The phone is for me to make and take calls when I want to. Not for people to reach me whenever they want to.”

We think we are carrying our world with us – but really, we are taking attention away from life. When we visit a new place or hang out with friends, we try to “save” the moment instead of “savoring” it – our entire attention is on posing and clicking – but we forget to be in the moment. We view glorious green vistas through our lens – but forget that nothing can recapture the five-dimensional experience that our senses can give. On a vacation to Sakleshpur, we did nothing one day but walk over rolling hills, marveling at the whistle of the wind in our ears and the smell of wet grass. Yes, we did take pictures – but we did “go offline” too. Now when we look at pictures from that holiday, we can also remember the sensual experience – and it makes the memories even sweeter!

In the latest season of MasterChef Australia, George Calombaris told one of the participants who was trying to put too many items on the platter, “Focus. Focus on just one thing – one thing big. One thing good.”

I believe this is a mantra we need to follow. Let’s focus on one thing – the here and now. When we commute, let’s watch people. When we travel, let’s take in the sights, and explore more. When we watch TV, let’s just watch TV. Let’s turn off our phones for at least a few hours each day and savor one thing at a time.

One thing big. One thing good.