The parrot

Madhav came back seven months later, but his voice had taken on a strange, foreign lilt and Jagan was reminded of Peechook, his little green parrot from when he was ten.

Peechook had fallen in love with the sound of the brass wind chimes and tried to squak along whenever the wind blew. He would exhaust himself in the boiling hours of the afternoon, trying to simmer down his cackle into fragile, metalic shivers. It was pathetic really, but he never seemed to give up. He’d gaze longingly at the gangly tangle of pipes and wooden stars until his cage was taken back into the living room at dusk. 
One night, there had been a terrible downpour: windows shuddered, and the thunder rolled overhead like a charcoal beast, hungry for its next prey. Jagan had sidled closer to his grandma and buried his head within the folds of her saree. Eventually, he fell asleep. 

The next morning, Jagan’s father found Peechook’s cage empty. They searched for him high and low, but their feathered friend was nowhere to be found. Sometimes, the wind blew the door of the cage open and Peechook would waddle out for a quick flight over the courtyard, but he would always be back before sunset. They dismissed the disappearance and the day crawled on.

Twenty four hours had swept by and Peechook still hadn’t returned. The scent of rain hung over the threshold like a newly knit blanket, clouding everything with cold drops of water. Jagan stepped outside to feed the squirrels with a handful of salted peanuts. 

On the threshold, scattered between twigs and storm blown leaves, was a mangled web of brass pipes, string, and wooden stars. And inextricably entangled within this web, was the limp, green body of Peechook. His eyes looked like little brown beads of glass, and his beak was open wide like an opera singer about to deliver the highest note. His feathers were soaked through. 

And now, Jagan watched carefully as Madhav pecked at his lentils and bread: the curry was gingerly scooped and was never allowed to touch his fingers. He wore starched shirts now and always carried a floral, silk kerchief. His voice shimmered and tinkled as he spoke of how there were at least five different flavours of popcorn at the movies and did you know the discos were open all night? All night, Jagan, can you imagine

When the bill arrived, the waiter placed a bowl of salted peanuts on the table and slipped the square of paper beneath it. All of a sudden, Jagan didn’t want to be at the restaurant anymore. He hastily crammed a wad of bills beneath the bowl and scurried away. Madhav called after him, but he dashed out of the door and in his hurry, collided against a branch of low hanging wind chimes. 

The brass pipes and wooden stars began to sing, but all Jagan could hear was the squaking of a hundred green parrots. 

– Picture sourced from Pinterest –

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Marigold

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On Sundays, we lie flat on our stomachs and watch Marigold trap sunlight inside her orange scales.

She swims placidly in Mobius strips of water, each fin throwing hundreds of glass shards across our walls. We count them all. They flit between our toes, hover over our cold blue noses, slip through unguarded, berry stained lips. We stretch our fingers out to catch this piscine illuminance, to close our palms around these eely needles of light and swallow them in one quick, winter gulp. The shards dart away; their edges soften and dapple our sweaters as Marigold pirouettes within her water globe.

Sundays smell of gooseberry shampoo, basted chicken and durva grass.

Still splayed on our stomachs across the old Kashmiri carpet, we turn thick, grey socks into muppets, weaving esoteric conversations about apple soda and Mini’s new collection of tin blades. We slither our arms back into our woolly sleeves and bat at each other silently with our deflated paws for a good ten minutes. The wool begins to smart.

Sundays feel like strawberry mint bubblegum being stretched between Time’s willowy fingers; pink, soft and endless. Like slow cotton candy cloudburst. Sugary, wispy, and fuzzy to the touch.

On Sundays, we lie flat on our stomachs and watch Marigold trap sunlight inside her orange scales.

For one breath of a moment, there is a ripple.

We blink,

and it melts away.
Image credits

The hare married the tortoise

Ears a-twitch, she invites us in to her burrow. The scent of fuming benzoin wafts over the strains of a harmonium placed reverently in a corner beside a camphor lamp. Fumes and strains tangle into each other and land pell-mell over our clothes. 
Paws all a-flutter, her fur glistens in joy as pure as clarified butter seeping into thumb-dug wells in slices of warm rice cake. Tears do not make an appearance. It has been seven years since we met, yes, but a hare has her sensitivity quotient to protect. 

We pad into the burrow, softly, stepping over hurried ‘When did you arrive’s and ‘Would you like some buttermilk?’s.

The tortoise, limbs askew over the red velvet couch, shifts his gaze slowly away from the television screen where the Mumbai Indians are furiously chasing down a target of 155 runs to beat the Royal Challengers of Bangalore. A frantic flurry of beige Willow and crimson cork.  

Sinking into reed mats piled one over the other like the Tower of Hanoi, we settle down with mugs of buttermilk (spiced, tempered, salted, cooled) cradled in our hands and the hall comes alive with the chatter of old friends taking turns in petting the past that romps in – domesticated canine like – and sits squarely on everyone’s feet. Turn by turn. 

We throw treats at it. Point out how it’s teeth aren’t sharp anymore. How the coat has lost its shine but look how the eyes still sparkle like a pool of mango-shower mud! Occasionally, the rabit steps on it’s tail and a whelp! emerges from the mutt followed by a lot of cooing and ruffling of fur and ‘Oh well, it was nobody’s fault’

Meanwhile, the tortoise has managed to crane his neck towards us by a colossal 2 inches. He still cannot see our faces. 150 runs to go

The hare begins to fill us in and we learn that,

Aunt Ratna still has a tumor the size of a tropical bitter lemon lodged within her bladder but at least the recurring dreams of clowns on bicycles delivering soiled laundry have stopped so, thank the Lord Almighty, that’s a relief. 

(4 inches, 133 runs to go)

The magazine seller who wore a table around his shirt collar, fanning out the glossies three hundred and sixty degrees around his head, gyrating wildly like a cotton-clad spinning top to show us his collection, now has a store of his own. He has no use for his neck accessory anymore. His son wears it now. 360 degrees of cheap alcohol, bless his soul. 

(7 inches, 100 runs to go)

And did we know that old Subramaniam now has three children of his own? Twenty years of breaking pots against kitchen walls, barren womb, and the smell of burning chillies. Three little tykes dot his garden now. People have pointed out that their beaks possess the same slope as magazine seller’s son, but really, such talk only makes the tongue curl in ways it shouldn’t. 

(10 inches, the television has been muted)

And of course there’s the story of…

(12 inches, a tooth struggles over the upper lip)

But we never even heard of…

(14 inches, the eyes have seen us, the lips separate​)

And who would have thought..

(16 inches, a gleam of recognition lights up the irises)

Leaving already? Well, okay.. this was wonderful! Such a short visit, really. The next time..

The tortoise is now wide awake. 

He raises an arm,

Scaly lips break into a grin at the speed of molasses oozing down a perfectly horizontal plane,

He wheezes,

‘Welcome back home!’

And that was the happiest farwell we’d had all day. 

Toffee

Little pig-tailed Mila was all of eight years old (but surely that’s the right age to -)

when her aunt scooped her up from the playground (the same one Akifa was cartwheeling in, seven years ago, before -)

and tickled her chin promising her six fat caramel toffees if Mila would be a dear and take a stroll with her down to the market (where more was being forcefully sold than was being rightfully bought because -)

Five rutted roads deep into the baazaar, beshawled aunt took a forked detour into a pistachio green bile hued building (No no, Milu, my precious, we’ll look at the dolls later, we need to visit a dear friend of mine first – )

Toffee-sticky paws skirting across piss-painted walls, pig tails failing to keep curls in place, Mila bounced up the stairs behind aunt, feet finding themselves at a pause on landing number four (funny how they call it a landing when all it does is  give away and pig-tailed little girls find themselves falling falling and falling after -)

Three women – chin-tickler, sweat-stained armpit lady and buck-toothed blade weaver – sat on squat pillows on moth savoured rugs, inviting Mila in with ‘How was school today little one? Come tell aunty all about it’ and ‘My, what pretty eyes you’ve got’ (Those eyes would squeeze shut in a glass vase shriek in precisely -)

Squinting at dust motes drift down on to her piglet pink nose, Mila happily chattered away until  aunt asked her to lie down and pull her new mickey-mouse underpants down and before she knew it, chin-tickler locked Mila’s two daisy stem wrists within her own, armpit lady cooed in her ears that it will all be over soon as she spread Mila’s legs apart and (all of this as blade weaver let yellow flames kiss her trusty metal companion so that -)

A lice infested head ducked between Mila’s legs and in one quick swipe, beheaded the flesh of sin that nestled there.

Ten minutes later, chin-tickler picked a limp Mila up by a wilted daisy stem wrist, and took her home. They did not buy any terracotta dolls on their way back. (Milu, my precious, look how pretty her little beady eyes are. Look how adorable her little buttoned green dress is. Milu? Say something, my precious. Milu?)

.

It’s been thirty years. Mila still hates the stench of caramel.

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Today, I watched a video (by Scroll.in) on female genital mutilation in the Bohra community in Mumbai, India. My head reeled. My stomach twisted itself into knots, and untwisted itself, and then twisted again – like a sick cream churner. I went on to read about it here. And then I wrote about it.

I have nothing more to say.  My stomach still churns.

Image credits

Things to do on a warm summer’s day: A heliophile’s guide from A-Z (Pt. 3)

7. Gallop wildly through a clump of bamboo, feet squelching in soft caramel mud, face plastered with electric blue robins and butterflies. 

8. Hose down the tricycle in the garage, stick peonies into the basket, thread candy satin ribbons in and out of its handlebars, tie bulbous red balloons to each of your ears, and pedal furiously down the slope. End in a splash – peonies and all – in the lake.

Of tiny tots and tigers

“I think that’s how life works. None of us sees the world exactly the same way, and I just draw that literally in the strip.”

~Bill Watterson

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For thirty long years now, the porcupine haired six year old and his stuffed tiger have been regaling their readers with their chuckle inducing antics. Bill Watterson, the mastermind behind it all, has let each individual strip absorb every ounce of his artistic and comic genius, never failing to make us sit back, squeeze our eyes shut and thank the year of 1985 for having introduced to us the best newspaper comic we have ever had the honour to read.

What is it that sets this little duo apart? To begin with, Calvin is a brat. I am sorry, but there isn’t a nicer way of putting it. He is the quintessential prototype for all incorrigible, restless, disobedient little hyperactive kids who enjoy nothing more than getting on their parents’ nerves and driving their teachers and babysitters up the wall with their shenanigans. And that, dear reader, is exactly why he enjoys a soft spot in all our hearts.

We’ve all been there haven’t we? Trembled at the thought of diving into the pool’s icy cold water for swimming lessons, spaced out in classes, pictured ourselves as superheroes or fantastic prehistoric beasts, spent hours outside in the yard playing, or just gorged on sugar packed and frosted cereal with our eyes glued to the TV screen. Why, then, is Calvin any different? The answer to that lies in the paws of his furry best friend, Hobbes.

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Calvin without Hobbes is like summer without sunshine. Although it causes me a certain degree of pain in admitting it, Hobbes isn’t real. The big, huggable energy-bomb of a cat is just a figment of Calvin’s imagination; a limp, stuffed and striped toy he slings over his shoulder and lugs along to adventures in jaw-dropping parallel universes where just about anything can happen.

It takes an occasional illustration of Hobbes as a toy to remind us every now and then that this fiery-orange feline resides only in the tot’s mind. Calvin is highly frustrated with the monotony of everyday life and eyes all of the world’s pretentious and programmed behaviour with an astonishingly cynical eye. Seeing a mere child vent so eloquently his qualms regarding the education system, artistic mediocrity, and the purpose of life makes you realise that Watterson refused to stop at just tickling your ribs. Almost every Calvin and Hobbes strip offers more. Much more.

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Calvin reminds us of the inner child within all of us. In some cases dormant, and in some other cases, tearing at our self woven leashes just waiting to drag the sled out of the tool shed and race down snowy slopes with our best pals. As was rightly pointed out once, Calvin’s world is a small one. We see his parents (who remain unnamed throughout the series), his babysitter Rosalyn, his friend Susie – a special case, that one- and his teacher Ms. Wormwood. Moe, the school bully, is occasionally granted a panel or two.

In the end, all he truly has for himself is Hobbes. The chubby little devil shows us repeatedly that imagination is our best friend. Our little escape from reality. Our one-way ticket to a better world.

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What better way to end this than with the last and final Calvin and Hobbes strip Watterson ever weaved?

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