Tuesday, March 05, 2019

The Long Silence

"No. 100"
At some point in my blogging journey, I decided that to become a better writer, I should open up my work to scrutiny. I started submitting my work to online magazines and poetry sites to elicit criticism, feedback, rejection and acceptance from editors.
I am proud to share that today I published my 100th publication in a formal forum. It has been a long journey and a cherishable milestone. For those who have followed this journey as faithful readers, thank you.
Here's a short story about a man who embraced silence in the Spark magazine.

http://www.sparkthemagazine.com/the-long-silence/

The Long Silence


It was said that Jayant Ramlal Vasavada had not spoken in over twenty years. No one knew why. It had been so long now that no one could remember how he sounded.
Since no one seemed to particularly know the last pronouncements that came out from the lips of Jayant bhai, it became the stuff of legend in the bylanes of Bhuleshwar. There wasn’t a single authentic version of the story. So naturally, there were many “authentic” versions. Each version reflected a new level of ingenuity from the narrator.
There was one about the astringent sherbet that he drank once that messed his palate such that his tongue forgot all its function. Another was about the jealous neighbour – whose own clothes shop was nowhere as successful as Jayant – who had blunted him on the head with a mannequin when Jayant was trying to close the shutters of his shop after a successful Diwali sale.
The purported last words on both these stories were, ‘Arre yaar’. You couldn’t blame Jayant bhai. After all, what can a man do when he has been jumped and given very little time to react?
The stories started outdoing each other as the silence amplified to annex the suburb they were living in. One went that Jayant bhai went to watch the first cricket match of his life at the Wankhede stadium and a strongly hit sixer inadvertently caught him on the head as he tried to eat vada pav in the North Stand. Even the politicians were not spared. One gentleman who believed that government was the root of all evil suggested that Jayant had been caught up unfairly when the police rounded off protesters at a rally and snipped off their vocal cords lest they protest again.
The doctors who saw him didn’t seem to know any better either. When Jayant bhai was brought over to them, he walked in like a messiah whose flock trailed him. It started with his family taking him to their general physician who was swatting away flies in the middle of a hot and humid Mumbai afternoon and prescribing antibiotics to anyone who showed up, as a catch-all to cure all ills.
And yet, the curious case of Jayant bhai woke him up from his slumber. ‘He has stopped speaking?!’, he asked Jayant bhai’s family, incredulously. He suddenly felt deeply committed to his Hippocratic oath and experienced the inquisitiveness levels of Sherlock Holmes as he examined this mute patient for over thirty minutes. In all his twelve years of practice, he had not seen a case like this. And having spent a considerable amount of time inspecting Jayant, he finally decided that the sickness may be unusual but there was only one possible cure for it. ‘Antibiotics.’
The cure did not come and the pilgrimage to the clinics of other doctors continued. It was not unusual to see fifty people silently standing outside a doctor’s clinic and craning over each other to see if the medical man was making any headway with Jayant. Generalists were consulted. Specialists were referred to. Tests were ordered. Scans were performed. Medical journals were checked. Psychologists tried to unlock the secrets of his brain but failed. The medical community from Charni Road to Bandra suddenly had an unsolvable puzzle to grapple with. And yet, not a word escaped the lips of the silent man.
It would have been a positive reflection on the world Jayant lived in if the horde was there for his well-being. Maybe some were. But curiosity was a force more powerful than compassion. And so, in leading lives that were very ordinary, the masses followed the story of a man whose life had become anything but ordinary.
The silence of Jayant Vasavada assisted many a needy person. One such recipient was an aspiring writer who lived on the floor below the Vasavadas and shared a small room with five more Bollywood strugglers, who was inspired to write a story about a man who lost his voice. The simplicity of Jayant, however, found no reflection in the movie that told the story of a man who loses his voice when he sees his family murdered in front of his eyes and takes revenge on his enemies. In the climax of the movie, when his dog is about to be shot and doesn’t know about it, he screams at the top of his lungs and helps the dog escape his fate. The movie was made with such conviction that people were left guessing as to whether it was a spoof or a sincere story.
While everyone had a peripheral interest in the goings on in the quiet little world of Vasavada, the one affected the most was his wife Parul, who was dumbstruck at his state. She had always been the more garrulous one but even between her twenty-minute monologues, her husband had been able to sneak in a ‘Yes, yes’ and ‘Hmm, hmm’ and even the occasional, ‘You are absolutely right.’
With his silence, she was faced with an impenetrable wall. The one-way conversation, the responses using sign language, the acute awareness of the timbre of her voice resonating through the house – it became too much for her to bear. She decided that silence had only answer. Silence.
And so it came to pass that the household of the Vasavadas became a silent zone where no words were exchanged. Jayant’s shop, now looked after by a nephew, was a gift that kept on fuelling the fires of his house, as Jayant spent his days seeping in his penance like a tea bag left in a cup of hot water for a while. The superfluousness of Parul’s communication before this new phase now depressed her. Was anything she said ever necessary for him? Was using their hands to communicate love, hate, coffee and dinner sufficient for a marriage to last? She pondered in complete silence, choosing an existence in the house where the only sounds she heard were the din of the world permeating into their homes through the thin walls and open windows.
The man in the centre of this drama was content. What seemed like a mystery to others was a choice he had made. Jayant had blanked out his voice to clear up his mind. His voice felt like a vestigial organ to him. He had, in a moment of epiphany, realised that just like the rest of the world, he liked the sound of his voice. Perhaps too much. Believing that listening was a lost virtue, the atheist took a vow of silence for a week to bring that virtue back.
And a week of not talking opened up closed doors to him. He listened. He observed. He absorbed. And a week became a month and a month turned into a year. That little experiment evolved into something unexpected. He saw that his silence shaped the world around him much more than his words did. People projected their own thoughts on this silence as if it were a blank slate. Their opinions, their judgements, their energies, all found a focal point in Jayant’s silence.
Jayant added another twenty-five years to that vow of silence before his vigil came to an end with his last breath. He was surrounded by his wife and two hundred people cramped in the floors of his chawl. They all wanted to hear some final words. A mantra of salvation. A magic charm. But Jayant’s last breath was an ode to the silence that accompanied him.
And they all returned to their homes, murmuring at first and then talking normally next. They returned to the comfort of cacophony.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

My latest poem in Spark is for all the closet romantics out there. Read on.


Who Writes Things Like These?

The stars, the moon, the sun
They fade in the face of your glory,
The ripples on the grandest lake
Aren’t a patch on the dimples on your face.’
‘Who writes things like these?’
He thought to himself.
‘Those eyes, those limpid pools
Those melting pots of honey,
Those purveyors of great words
Without ever making a sound.’
‘Who expresses their love like this?’
He shook his head as he read.
‘There is none but you
I am nothing without you,
I’d leave this world in an instant
It’d be living hell without you.’
‘Oh, these lovelorn people,’
He smiled as he folded the paper.
The poem had come his way,
Left behind on a seat of a bus.
Did the giver forget it?
Or did the recipient leave it behind?
This wasn’t how he expressed love—
He, of the repressed silences,
And wordless gestures,
Of the meaningful touches
And quiet support.
He went home to that quiet wife of his
Who matched his silences with hers.
And on they went to the end of day—
Food consumed, clothes changed
And his gentle snores beginning
To fill their small bedroom.
She picked up a book for her daily read
And found a new bookmark in it—
A paper, yellowed slightly and folded gently,
Placed there furtively by that sleeping man
Knowing well she’d discover it.
She smiled as she read the words—
Ones that he would’ve never written
Ones that he would’ve never said aloud:
‘The stars, the moon, the sun…’

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Annus Moviebilis VI

Year six of tracking movies seen. This was my lowest score in recorded years. This was mostly influenced by the fact that I ran out of things to watch on Netflix and Amazon. The number of shows that I saw also went down from 24 to 20. This was a year where I consciously read more and watched less.

Scores:

2008: 99
2014: 86
2015: 105
2016: 116
2017: 132
2018: 78

The full list of movies can be found here: https://1drv.ms/x/s!AsQ_MU1XkvrDiOFLMt-xanpoZFOW3w 

I am going to take a break in doing this meticulous recording of movies and shows for 2019 so I can break free of that thread in my head that can't let go of this statistic. 

Let us see what happens in 2020.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

The Almirah

Remember that steel almirah in your parents place? And that beautiful creak and shriek that happened when you tried to open it? That hunk of metal that we all trusted our lives with?
Mighty privileged to get published in the 9th anniversary edition of Spark with my little trip down memory lane.

http://www.sparkthemagazine.com/the-almirah/

The Almirah

I was back at my parents’ house. But I had not come back alone as the prodigal son. This time I had returned as a parent myself. My two kids were sleeping on their grandparents’ bed, exhausted from having spent their morning baking in the hot Mumbai sun. I realised that this was my chance. I decided to steal a few precious moments of downtime to myself, to indulge in an activity that was close to my heart. The joy of looking through old pictures.
I tiptoed in, careful not to wake up the sleeping devils. The bag with the pictures I sought was in a cupboard. An almirah. ‘Almaari’, ‘kabaat’, ‘beero’, and other isolated terms as it is referred to in different Indian households. That trusted steel almirah, typically made by Godrej, in shades fluctuating between the grey and the green, taking pride of place in the bedroom.
I twisted the handle ever so slightly. As a kid of the 80s, I knew that unlike the modern day cabinetry which promises the smooth, silent glide of a samurai sword coming out of its sheath, the cabinetry of my childhood was as noisy as the gates of haunted mansions opening up in horror movies. I must have lost my touch, for, despite my efforts, the opening of that Godrej almirah was followed by a large groan and a shriek. The kids woke up. And I bid goodbye to a promising afternoon.
I patted the almirah gently. I could scarcely be mad at it. There it was. That guardian of treasures that was almost as old as I was and very dear to my parents. That cacophony that accompanied its opening it was part of its charm.
Every family that I knew growing up had one of these in their homes. That perfectly cubicled almirahwithin which the most important assets of the household were preserved. Clothes, photographs, documents, ornaments.
The bottom half would usually be split into three equally distributed horizontal drawers. The top half would have two vertical separations. The one on the right was for hanging clothes. Sarees, ironed shirts, that odd coat that would rarely be worn. The left side would have a few more horizontal partitions.
‘His and Hers’ were all part of that same almirah. Oh, and so were ‘his and hers’. I remember the arrangement of my clothes jostling for space with my mother’s sarees and my father’s bushirts. Of course, you would never be so blasé as to let the clothes touch the steel base. You’d first tear up newspapers and arrange them at the base of each drawer and only then would you put the clothes on it. The newspapers would change frequently. So while the headlines of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination would stare at us for months, Tendulkar’s century at Perth would also be remembered each time I would pick shirts from the bottom.
The most critical records of our lives found their way to the vaulted almirah. The most precious pieces were saved in the almirah within the almirah. A drawer that would act as a safe and had its own key. This is where the jewellery, the money would be hidden. Godrej must have trusted its own manufacturing to a great extent for any robber would know exactly what to break open to make the most of what the house had to offer.
The almirah came with its own set of keys. Thick, gleaming, long keys that hung from a bunch. While it was not true of my mother, I have seen many other households where that set of keys would be tucked into the waist of a saree wearing mistress of the house.
Whether it was my parents’ place or at the countless others where these boxes of secure storage would be found, some things remained constant.
The almirah, when opened, paved the way to a family’s treasures. The almirah, when closed, played host to the family’s vanity. Along the height of the almirah would run a half length mirror that would be the perfect place to make sure that the comb had fixed up the hair stylishly, that the fall of the saree was set correctly and that the shirt was tucked in evenly. As if the ornate etching on the side of the mirror was not sufficient, the mirror would be decorated by bindis.
And as if the almirah wasn’t utilised enough by the space provided to store things inside it, the space between the almirah and the ceiling was used to store things as well. Stack of bags for travel, a cycle that isn’t being used anymore, giant pots. There truly was no end to what that patch of a few square feet could accommodate.
Over the years, amidst its layers, the history of a family built up in that almirah. The layers of objects that made up its contents became a sedimentation of memories. And as the family aged generation by generation, the almirah too grew old and started to rust. Patches of its decay would start spreading unevenly across its surface. A little mark of dark brown near the bottom, a bit of paint scraping away from its top. The almirah grew old with its owners and yet, like every family, strengthened its bond among its imperfections.  It was like that unopened bottle of wine that gathers dust on the outside but blossoms in its flavour from the inside.
Times have changed now. The Indian middle class is upwardly mobile and artisan wooden cabinetry is slowly taking over from this trusted storage mechanism. And yet, the almirah continues its role faithfully in the houses of older people. It serves as a totem pole of memories and its creaks are the sweet sound of a bygone era, a nostalgia that I revisit each time I go back to my parents’ house and attempt to twist that handle ever so slightly.

Monday, October 08, 2018

A Bookstore Rescue

I am back to publishing on Spark after a gap when I was busy with the book release.

Here's a little poem on a troubled man and the unlikely release he finds.

A Bookstore Rescue


“You are three months late …”
Went the letter that he kept away.
With slouched shoulders, the defaulter
Walked out of his apartment.
He felt breathless, suffocated, boxed in,
Squeezed by tragedy’s relentlessness.
A house he may lose, a wife he already lost,
No prospects, no love, no lovers, no money.
And then, the skies opened up,
On misfortune’s favourite child.
In despair he took flight to reach
His beloved place of escape.
The store welcomed him.
With books on endless shelves,
The mass of human knowledge,
Brimming, toppling over.
Books were his lodestone
On sombre unsettling days,
Where words were his balm
To remedy the bruises on his soul.
He walked along the aisles,
Skipping past Philosophy, Art,
And that ever alluring History.
None drew him in today.
He didn’t give a second look
To the Cooking section
Or the absorbing treatises on Politics
Or the holy tomes on Religion.
Enough, he thought, of this world
In all its gory complexities
And its gruesome grimness
And its excessive dose of reality.
And so, as light as a feather,
He skipped to the end of the store,
To the colourful racks and the bright pictures,
To the lively and bright Children’s section.
He collected ten books on a whim.
Stories dipped in pixie dust,
Simple fantasies, uncomplicated lives,
Unburdened souls, Uncluttered morals.
He read them all, not realizing the irony.
Here was an adult escaping into
A world written by other adults,
Who were attempting to do the same.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Book release: "r2i: Return to India"

I am very excited and proud to announce the release of my 2nd book, ‘r2i: Return to India’.

I had decided to write this book over two years ago when I r2i-ed to India and I am grateful that I had a story to tell and the persistence to see it through.

The book is a chronicle of my r2i experiences and I hope it interests you, entertains you and touches you in ways that my second innings in India has.

Please find the book at the following locations:
Kindle (worldwide): https://amzn.to/2P75lU9
Print (US and RoW): https://amzn.to/2P75lU9
Print (India) : https://pothi.com/pothi/book/parth-pandya-r2i-return-india

r2i: Return to India


Tuesday, June 05, 2018

The Girl with the Whiskey Voice

The old pine for youth but youth may not offer everything expected of it. Read my latest poem published in Spark magazine.

The Girl with the Whiskey Voice

They called her
The girl with the whiskey voice
Like ether held together, with water
Perched on a delicate stool
She sat on the stage alone
Tuning her guitar to her soul
She was all of twenty-three
Youth coursing through her veins
Through unclogged arteries and nimble joints
And yet her soul was a fragile parchment
The scars of her past were
Stories preserved with ink and vinegar
They sauntered in every night
Filling in that little joint
With smoke and their emotions
Each moth bringing their baggage
As a homage to that iridescent flame
− Lust, love, admiration, sorrow
They fed off her youth
Off the fullness of her body
Off the absence of any blemish
Off that freedom from responsibility
Off the freedom to dream
Off the freedom to just be
But youth is sometimes
Just a promise of an oasis
A mirage to those removed from it
The girl with the whiskey voice
Was a soul aged with torment
And wisdom of a life lived precociously
The night began and she sang of love
And youth returned to those who heard
While she travelled to an older time