“I’ve been clay in each of their hands, every one of them giving their own twists and turns to the unfinished piece. “
I don’t write much about other people, I realise.
My writing, much like my internal discourse, is a constant stream of “Me, myself and I”—which I don’t think is unusual or alarming. As human beings, we find ourselves to be an endless source of interest.
Most of the time though, I fail to acknowledge that I am a product of my encounters with other people. That befriending them, engaging with them has changed me into the person I am today. I’ve been clay in each of their hands, every one of them giving their own twists and turns to the unfinished piece. For the good and the bad. I mean, sometimes you take a walk down the street and people put a dent in you. They elbow you and push you, and it’s infuriating not to have that kind of control over yourself. You could, though. Harden, toughen up in the scorching sun and let yourself become cold so that no one will be able to change who you are. So you can elbow back anyone who elbows you. But then, you also shatter that much more easily, and it’s much harder to build yourself back up.
And isn’t that why it’s so essential to be surrounded by well-meaning people? To let them, their kindness and willingness, shape the parts of you you can’t really reach? Let the gentle heat between their palms reach you, soothe and put back in shape the parts that were squashed and dented. That’s something else that happens when you toughen up, you don’t feel a lot of warmth anymore. It doesn’t reach you; it doesn’t stay because you don’t let it.
This is why I I choose to be an endless work in the making. Not simply because I am in perpetual discovery of myself, but because there are always other people out there, softening the edges, roughening them, turning me into some other version of me. I am changing but I am also always myself. I mean, it doesn’t change what I am made of, just how I present myself. People dull or accentuate parts of you. That’s their power.
Mine is…everything else. I can change what I am made of.
So if my friends bring out the laughter in my sadness, deep down it is only I who can decide to change that sadness into something else.
In conclusion, I am not all myself, not all mine despite how I wish to be. But perhaps that’s for the better. Sometimes you lose control or you are simply not wise enough to see more than one end. Friends and family help with that, endlessly.
Note: This is Day 7 of my NaNoWriMo writing challenge ! Slowly but surely catching up 🙂
” I would rather be here than be alone.” (and what a statement that is, what a thing to feel when you yourself are so usually enmeshed in solitude, wrapped around it like a wedding band around a ring finger).
Weeks of familial effusion, of knitting together days quietly (and not-so-quietly) spent occupying space together have passed. And with them the careless brushes, touches you do not need to think twice about, affection that needs no explanation. It has been weeks of others becoming extensions of myself, of feeling that : “I would rather be here than be alone.” (and what a statement that is, what a thing to feel when you yourself are so usually enmeshed in solitude, wrapped around it like a wedding band around a ring finger). Somewhere, the barriers of ‘you’ and ‘me’ and ‘them’ have melted a bit, like chocolate on a hot day and have left us with intersecting spaces called ‘us’.
This feeling, it is that of blood that is finally around its own, it is like an ocean that has found its own rhythm, like strangers that have found others like them. It is the reality of living in an inner circle only we know, of calendars marked by the days of our personal achievements and ridiculous little happenings in our lives (That time N. got engaged, and Aunt M. started her own business, that day when B., aged 3, demanded the softest of cakes, in french).
Family is warm, warm, warm, where the rest of life is sometimes cool and works in seasons. Family is just one person, sometimes. Or, in some cases, a whole fleet of people who don’t look like you or share the same gene pool. But family is not always easy. Family is also work. And a slew of other little or big issues.
But even this richness, this ambient, suffusing warmth can leave one feeling a bit hot, needing some air. Needing to be on one’s own.
And so now the 2 a.m. conversations in the semi-darkness of a living room have faded. The alternate reality of 3 a.m. teapots, pastries and chips have flown away in an aircraft, held in suspension in the skies waiting for a next time. Now that I have made my peace with the goodbyes that I have said, now that I can swallow the feeling of missing someone, can process the flashes of memories, I must tend to the gardens of thoughts inside my head. They have overflown and overgrown, have tumbled over the precipice, the mouth of the chalice. Now I must groom a garden angry at being left alone, at not being kept in shape and style.
Carefully, I must pluck thoughts and and go through each of them with the patience of one who has spent an eternity learning botany, and the quirks and ways of all flowers and plants. I must give them all attention and nourishment, sunlight and beautiful words. Feed them meaning and purpose and things worth living for.
I must find myself again, a little, in the seasons of life, in the way the leaf drifts, alone, from the (family) tree.
Note : Here, explained, the reason behind the sporadic posting lately. Thank you for your patience ❤
” Breakfast was going to be cold milk and chocolate cereals, and I felt I could pass. Besides, anytime someone has milk and sugary cereals for breakfast (at 11, of all times) a dietitian dies or feels extremely offended without knowing why. So why not have no breakfast at all? It’s probably not a good idea to go into a heated kitchen without eating breakfast, but I’ve woken up at nearly 11, who’s saying I know anything about good decision-making? “
I woke up at 10:45 today.
By the time I started thinking about breakfast, my aunt called. She was going to make roti today, an indian sort of pancake. But not just any kind, no. Today, she was going to outdo herself. Today was going to be the Roti Olympics, the Tour de France, the Superbowl. Breakfast was going to be cold milk and chocolate cereals, and I felt I could pass. Besides, every time someone has milk and sugary cereals as breakfast (at 11, of all times) a dietitian dies or feels extremely offended without knowing why. So why not have no breakfast at all? It’s probably not a good idea to go into a heated kitchen without eating breakfast, but I’ve woken up at nearly 11, so who’s saying I know anything about good decision-making?
So I pull on some clothes, stuff that unruly hair in a semblance of a bun and glide down the streets, staring down anyone who dares look my way because I’m also not a morning person.
My aunt, or rather, one of my aunts, is well beyond 70, carefully reaching for that octogenarian status, the way a patient hand plucks a berry from a vine. You would never be able to tell though; she does not look a day over 50. Her eyes twinkle, as they always have and her face is smooth, lacking any deep wrinkles. But it is her energy for life that will leave you disbelieving. It’s something I don’t even have. More often than not, she is out of the house, going to some charity event or organising little gatherings with friends.
“Today,” she tells me “I’m doing it. I am making that layered roti.” She says with such glee, because she’s already started and it’s looking to be one of her best attempts yet.
Soon enough, my hands and shirt are covered in flour. We are rolling out dough balls so soft, so freaking soft that I cannot fathom what sort of witchcraft must have gone on to make that possible. Roll it out the thinnest you can, she says in that tone of the teacher she used to be, because we are going to do some magic. It turns out, after we are done sprinkling flour and glazing with purified butter, that we are fixing two of the stretched out dough pieces back-to-back and then folding them into layers, the way you fold an origami fan. Then when you have the folded dough, you roll it into a circle and watch as the layers form countless ridges that you can feel even when the dough is again rolled out.
It feels like you’re rolling time away, tucking seconds into seconds, stacking minute upon minute. It is work so detailed and delicate that even Time helps you out and slows down a little. As though it is also waiting with bated breath, pushing back the hand on the clock, hushing it, saying: “Oh hold on now! What’s the hurry—let me see what’s going on.”
Now that the dough has been rolled out again into its final form (In other words, frighteningly round), I run my finger over the ridges left between the layers. It’s calming and hypnotic, just running your finger around this soft mound, tracing the contour the way you would trace patterns in the sand. It’s effortless yet amazingly satisfying, the kind of simple thing that makes you appreciate being alive.
This time around, my aunt is making roti. But the time before, it was Baklava, before that it was Wonton soup, and before that it was Quatre-Quarts, which is, for all intents and purposes pound cake. But many of our cakes here tend to be French, even though we have a certain appreciation for all things British. But it’s mostly, I think, because we’ve picked up on the French way of being all : “Oh, après tout, pourquoi pas…” (Oh, after all, why not…) , that sense of indulgence that makes you reach for another piece of cake when you know you shouldn’t. La gourmandise, they call it, un petit péché mignon (literally, a cute sin). Yes, we are the kind of people who think that if you are eating a piece of cake and feel guilty, that you’re doing something wrong somewhere. How many times have we said: “Oh, après tout…”, giving up on diets just to enjoy a sweet, milky cup of tea with family and friends, colleagues even? How many times have we said : “Eat now, diet later”? And oh, all the times we get laughed at when we get back from the doctor’s with strict diet rules AND NO CHEATING THIS TIME. But we can’t help it mostly, we’re hobbits for crying out loud.
Although that’s something I love seeing. Rotund people. People who look like they just got married and have put on weight. You know, round, rosy cheeks, arms that turn soft and a little pudgy. On men, you see it especially well when they insist on wearing slim-fit shirts. You can see some of the buttons really struggling to keep it together, but the man wearing the shirt couldn’t care less because he’s well-fed and glowing, and still thinking about the dinner from yesterday. It’s never too much weight really, just enough that it spills over, like when you pour batter into a cupcake paper liner and it overflows just slightly, to everyone’s delight. I like calling this phenomenon The Weight of Happiness. Like you have too much happiness and some of it just had to go somewhere, you know? You are happy, so you eat. Or you eat and you become happy. University has made me all sallow-cheeked though and my hobbit family is constantly trying to feed me.
The rotis are still frying on the pan, so I let my eyes wander. The kitchen is a world of its own, a laboratory full of ongoing projects. There’s half a coconut lying on the marble counter, more cartons of fresh eggs than any one person strictly needs, a macaron recipe tacked to the fridge, fruits waiting to be pressed, bananas hanging out with oranges and a bag of semolina. A strange herbal tea concoction is steaming by the sink, as though that were normal. There are herbs drying by the open window, sunlight pouring over green glass bottles in which unidentified fruits and vegetables are slowly pickling. And the sunlight on the dark green glass is creating delightfully enigmatic patterns of light against the tiled kitchen wall.
Outside, it seems Time also went all: “Oh, après tout, pourquoi pas?” today and is swaying on a hammock on the beach somewhere. Or at least, that’s what it feels like when you see the tall sun-stained plants with their red leaves turned pink in the light. The ferns and some other vine are hanging down from the slightly rusty shelf affixed on the stone wall. The wind is blowing, all sweet-tempered and reverent, rustling the leaves gently, entrancingly, almost lulling the garden to sleep, sprinkling sunlight on it, rocking it like an infant, singing it a lullaby so that it may finally dream.
The roti, it turns out, is everything you would want anything to be. The crust, a thin layer that cracks under your teeth, gives way to the most pillowy texture, something so dangerously soft I am now absolutely certain sorcery was involved in the making. Because the first bite melted in my mouth like sugar in warm milk, I have to take another and another until there is nothing left and I am eyeing another.
“Oh, après tout, pourquoi pas?”
Note: This is Day 26 (O.O) of my NaNoWriMo Writing Challenge. You can find the entry (which is quickly turning out to be my favourite one) for the previous day here. We also totally made flan today, and the entire day was busy and slow and too warm and amazing, but this is already the longest post I’ve made. If I were to write about the whole day, you’d easily be reading this until tomorrow.
There is a scent of vanilla floating in the cold, damp night.
And a warmth like a fireplace beckoning me over. One by one, everyone is pulled out of their rooms like moths to a flame.
If the kitchen was warm before, it is much warmer now with all these bodies so close together.
Without warning, the stove is on and the smells of tea and hot chocolate are suffusing the air. If it was almost uncomfortably warm before, the kitchen is now sweltering. Nevertheless, hot mugs are being passed around. Chatter is lighting the small kitchen up.
And the cake that brought everyone here in the first place is being sliced, the delicate fumes wafting in the air.
And as I take all this in: these content faces, the gentle laughs, the simple happiness of it, all I can think is how long until this all ends?
If the kitchen was sweltering before, it is much colder now.
“A place to drift off, to find yourself loosening up and catching quite the recreational nap, as sunlight would filter through the window and rest like a feather on one side of your face, all light and warm.”
I am so grateful for our little time-loop, our escape from the world. It’s not much, just a couple hours every Sunday, around 3 to 6, tea, cake and conversation or leafing through newspapers. A few hours of watching crap TV or of playing the same Mario Kart or Just Dance.
Sometimes, we all just lie down and ease into our own worlds, bodies still heavy and weary from the drudgery of the past week, and we don’t talk. We just shove each other around and gaze into our phones.
It seems a pity, doesn’t it?
You don’t see somebody for a whole week and when you do, you don’t even look at them. But we never needed that anyway. It was never about how much we talked or what we talked about. It was just about being there, all together. Like an agreed upon thing we never discussed, these Sundays at Nan’s place. Some place safe. Somewhere you always belonged even though you could freeze your bum off on the tiled floor if someone decided to sprawl all over the bed. A place to drift off, to find yourself loosening up and catching quite the recreational nap, as sunlight would filter through the window and rest like a feather on one side of your face, all light and warm. A time to suddenly notice the birdsong and the sounds of motorcycle engines roaring away. A place to reminisce or to tease (“I swear the mattress dipped half a metre down after you ate those 2 slices of banana bread.”) Or talk about the neighbours. Or complain about life and exams and expectations, or moaning about how there is nothing to do.
Just bring yourself, eat cake, drink tea, and be whatever the day wills you into.
“Guilty, childlike expressions on wrinkled faces hidden behind cards held up so high, the whirring fan no one hears anymore, and the rare, cool night air that is consumed in the concentration of human warmth”
Ice cubes melting in dark, bubbling soda, clinking as he twirls the tall glass dripping with condensation,
Humidity in the air, a stickiness that is here to stay and mosquitoes buzzing around, seasonal flies attracted to the light,
Laughter and shrieks, hands banged on the table, voices crying victory and monopoly bills flying in the air,
Guilty, childlike expressions on wrinkled faces hidden behind cards held up so high, the whirring fan no one hears anymore, and the rare, cool night air that is consumed in the concentration of human warmth,
Cold, red watermelon, juice dribbling down chins and hands, the rinds left lying in piles like beef ribs and T-bones after a barbecue,
Pimpled faces isolated, all tucked in an airless room, gazing into a phone, no longer whispering, but guffawing and teasing, cries of “Call her! Call her!”
Loud snoring and a body sprawled all over, TV commentators commenting to no one in particular, several clicks and giggles, “One more for the album”,
Good nights, thank yous and we’re goings, then 15 minutes chatting at the door, “Anyone want tea?”, a congregation in the kitchen, and a beautiful summer night that goes on forever.