The Friends in Our Lives

You need that 3am dead night friend,
The one who’ll always pick up the phone,
They’ll insist that you didn’t wake them up,
That you should never, ever, feel alone.
They’ll listen to you without interrupting much.
They’ll be indignant on your behalf.
And when you’re done, they’ll say “Oh, darling!”
And somehow, simply that’ll be enough.

You need that 3pm everyday friend

The one who drinks tea with you,
They make your day seem that much better,
On slow afternoons without much to do.
You make easy conversation, you laugh a lot
They know the people in your life,
They’ll get when you say that your cousin’s a bore
Or that your neighbour’s got himself a wife

Then you need that “Let’s go” friend!

The one who’s always somehow ready to go,
To party, to shop, to even repair your watch
They’ll take you to that late night show.
This friend of yours keeps you on your toes,
And makes sure you don’t become slack,
They’ll take you on an incredible adventure,
and plan the next on the way back.

Then of course there’s the F.R.I.E.N.D.S kinda friend,

The one who binge watches TV with you,
You have similar tastes, you like the same shows
Your favourite characters are the same too!
They get the snacks and you get the drinks,
And you watch in enraptured silence,
Their company spells comfort; they feel like home,
And they’re assuring with their mere presence.

If you’re not a book lover, (I don’t know you)

Then this one isn’t for you,
But everyone knows if you are one,
You need a friend who loves them too.
You really need a friend who gets without saying,
Just why you love words so much.
They understand why your eyes light up,
When a page of a new book you touch.
You’ll cry to them about not having books to read,
And for your sake, they’ll happily ignore
That ever growing stack on your bedside table
Of books you’ve never read before.

You need a once-a-month “let’s catch up” friend

The one who always seems a bit busy
But when they give you time, they give you all of it,
And picking the threads is nice and breezy.
They remember things you told them long ago
They know just the right things to say,
They might be out of touch, but never lost,
Even though for long you’ve been away.

Then of course, you need that “can do” friend,

The one you call when there’s something you need.
They always seem to know someone; to them
Everyone’s a friend of a friend of a friend indeed.
They’re handy, they’re helpful, they have contacts,
Their network is wide and exhaustive,
They know their way, through tweaks and turns,
And their capacity is quite comprehensive.

Then you need a sage of a friend,

Someone to give you wise counsel,
You turn to them when you’re in trouble,
And they always know what to tell.
You count on them to know what to do,
And you listen to every word they say
Just talking to them cuts sorrow in half,
They gently show you the right way.

You also need a “weekend” friend,

Someone you love to hang out with,
You might have grand plans or nothing at all,
But without them, the weekend feels incomplete.

Then you need that childhood friend,

The one who’s grown with you,
You might still be friends or sadly grown apart,
But you know they’ll always be true.
You share inside jokes from your growing up days,
You’ll always think of them with fondness,
Whenever you meet, you’re flooded with nostalgia,
And realise you’re truly blessed.

And finally you do need that soul friend,

The one who feels like your twin.
If soul, and not blood counted,
They would be your next of kin.
You know the one I’m talking about
You’re thinking about them right now.
They know you inside out it seems
Even though you don’t know how.
They seem to take words out of your mouth,
It used to surprise you, but not anymore.
They always know exactly how you feel,
And can tell when you’re all sore.

Each friend you have, has a special role,

A unique gap that they fill.
Lucky are you if you’ve found them all,
And if they’re all one person, you’re luckier still!



Tug of War

I told you I couldn’t do it anymore,
That I was bruised, and I still am sore.
I told you, never, ever will I call you again.
No, you’re not worth that familiar dull pain.
I can’t always be the one to make that first call
I’m tired of wondering if you miss me at all
My messages to you, delivered and seen,
Time and again, asking you how you’ve been.
Drifting forever in the space between us,
Unwanted, abandoned, and then at last
Would come your reply; too little, too late.
And all this while, all I could do was wait.
So no, I said, I will not put myself through this.
I shall not be ignored, nor shall I be dismissed.
But the more I tried to salvage my pride,
The weaker I became, the harder I cried.
Your silence was deafening, but what were you to do?
Tell me you knew exactly what I was going through?
Good bye, I said, have a good life my dear
This is my last call, the very last, I fear.
I disconnected the call, and memorised your voice.
I couldn’t help it, you left me no choice.
So I kept to myself, everything I wanted you to know,
That hauntingly beautiful song I heard on the radio,
Or those lines I read that touched me to my core,
That movie I watched that left me wanting more.
I told myself I was okay, I was doing just fine
I had severed all ties, and the resolve was all mine.
Until one day, when the skies were grey and wet,
And so was my heart, weighed down with dread.
I ached for company, for conversation and laughter.
I craved that delicious warmth I would feel after.
I scrolled down my contacts, wondering whom I could talk to.
And saw your name. I faltered. What could I do?
The wound had barely healed, I was barely whole.
I thought I had moved on, but what about my soul?
If I reached deep down, I knew it wasn’t the truth
I was still shackled, just like you’d feared I would
My fingers hovered between a yes and a no
Look what you do to me! I hate you so!
My ego whispered, ‘Refrain’, and refrain I did
I salvaged my dignity, and felt proud indeed
Told myself I did the right thing, that I was strong
Then that yawning hole in me yelled that I was wrong
I mutter your name over and over again,
I question my reason; am I no longer sane?
Torn between two choices, both equally cruel
Each reminding me that I’m nothing but a fool
So I choose the middle path, the much dreaded half,
I talk to you in my mind, and that feels enough.
For now, my heart tells me, for now it is so
But how long this will last, I don’t quite know.
I hate you because I miss you, and it rips me apart
Still I won’t call you, because deep in my heart
Ego and love, both monsters at war
Are burning each other, I don’t know what for.
I’ll wait and burn until the edges fray,
But I shall not call you, love you though I may.

Faith, Music… and Aita.

I must have mentioned this before, about how I am not a religious person at all. I consider myself spiritual, yes, in the sense that I believe in the construct of destiny, and I’d like to believe that there are greater powers in play and that there is a plan.

But this is not about religion or spirituality. It is about a childhood in which spirituality and music were so intertwined that for the longest time I couldn’t tell one from the other. It is about those evenings meant for singing prayers and sitting next to Mamma and Aita as we soaked in the Borgeets and the Naams. It is about watching Aita getting moved by the scriptures so much that she would have tears in her eyes, and feeling utterly at loss as to how anyone could get this emotional about stories from Lord Krishna’s life. It is about listening to her read aloud, in her beautiful sing-song voice, page after page of chapters from the Kirtan and trying to figure out how anyone would willingly seek pleasure from (what seemed like) such a boring means of recreation.

I chalked it to her age back then. I thought it was a habit old people got into. You know, thinking about religion and spirituality, and probably finding hidden meaning that’s lost on us simply because we were young.

Of late I have been missing my Aita a lot. She played a fundamental part in my upbringing, having taken care of me from the time I was a wee three-month old while Mamma went to work. Aita’s account of my days include tales of my mischief and how I would come up with creative ways to torture her (such as pouring water on the lemon pickle she had set out in the sun to mature), until one day, when she said enough was enough and that I needed to be sent to school, which explains why I started school at the early age of three. Evenings were spent singing/praying and then listening to stories from Mahabharata and Ramayana while lying down on her lap. She is amazingly progressive, and gave me and my sister life lessons that one would almost judge rebellious. Question, she would say, don’t just believe in things you are told, and if it doesn’t seem right to your conscience, resist; resist with all your might. I will never forget the day she sat us down in front of her, and told us in all sincerity, “Marry for nothing but love, but find a man who would make you proud, when you introduce him to your father.”

Even now, I equate being open and progressive with Aita. I equate strength and independence with her. I equate music and spirituality with her, and my way of keeping her in my heart is to ensure that everything she’d handed down to us is nurtured and taken forward. My way of enabling that was to bring a copy of the Kirtan and the collection of Borgeet and the raihal (the wooden ‘platform’ on which to place the book while we sing from it) with me when I got married and shifted to Vietnam. I pledged to make my own little spiritual sanctuary, in whatever manner I could, and whether I was fostering my own faith, or honouring the culture instilled in me by my family, I didn’t stop  to think.


My first Guxaai Thai  in Vietnam

So maybe this was why, when the husband mentioned last Sunday that it had been a long time since we’d done anything remotely spiritual at our house, I suggested having a naam. After making the first compulsory call to my mother to affirm that I did have it in me to organise one at our place, I made a mental list of things I needed to gather, and realised that it’d been so long since we’d had a naam at our place that I would have to brush up on the tunes. And that’s when I opened up my Kirtan and the all-too familiar tunes came back to me. If I stumbled once in a while, I only had to trust my instinct. I would just have to close my eyes and I would hear Aita’s voice singing loud and clear in my mind, nudging me in the right direction.

As I sat there, singing prayer after prayer, lovingly caressing the pages of my still-new book while thinking of the well-thumbed one back home, I finally got it. I finally realised that I could see myself doing this, sitting in a corner and drowning myself in music… and restoring my faith while at it, and that it has got nothing to do with age.

Then again, maybe it *is* about age. Maybe I am finally old enough to appreciate what was given to me, and realise that now it is on me to pass it on to my daughter. To faith then, and music. And a formidable woman who revolutionised the naamghor by making her own tunes and starting a whole new trend.

....and she posed with me too!


Your eyes drank from me before skin met skin,
You burned me and left scorch marks everywhere.
We didn’t just meet, we shivered and crashed,
The raging house on fire, that’s what we were.

‘Don’t hold back,’ you whispered in my ear.
I sighed and told you I didn’t know how to.
You stripped off the layers, until I had none.
One word and I’d unravel; I’d give myself to you.

And give myself I did, all I could and more
You knew just the right things to say,
You claimed me as yours, and I let you
For I didn’t know any other way.

Until the day I dared ask for something,
Your word, a promise that you would stay.
I let the word “forever” escape my lips,
Because I couldn’t bear to be away.

You told me I was naive, that forever doesn’t exist,
You told me it was all about now and here,
You packed your clothes, slammed the door and left,
Your goodbye still lingering in my ear.

I salved my scars and licked my wounds,
But you didn’t break me; I was alive and whole
And I thanked the stars shining above me,
That it was only my skin I had bared to you,
And not my soul.


Endings and Beginnings

I miss them already. I keep dreaming about them, and find myself unconsciously thinking about them as though I will meet them right after Diwali break. I think about the sheer number of books I’d wanted them to read, and wonder what I am going to do with all these books stacked in my house. Walking into the bookstore will not be the same without my eyes scouting through the Young Adult section for new releases and good deals. I look back at just how much they had bloomed and flourished in the last six months and send a silent prayer that they keep doing so.

My last day was two days ago, and I think the wound is still a little too fresh. My subconscious has not woken up to the fact that I am no longer a teacher.

My class, as usual, rose marvellously to the occasion, and organised this superb farewell party in my honour. I got letters from each and every one of them, and a framed collage of photos as a gift from the whole class. What amazed me was how carefully they had picked each and every photo to be included in the collage, and how they knew just the right ones. There’s a photo of me with them on a field trip, a photo from my book launch with Adil Hussain, quite a few with Miss Munchkin because I keep talking about her so much, and of course one with my red, rep lipstick. It was also quite something to get a note from a parent thanking me, and a poem written by another parent, for me. While I am used to getting notes from my students, being appreciated by parents made me feel like I must have done something right, after all.

The other classes showered me with gifts, including the hardcover of Dan Brown’s latest, something I had been coveting ever since I had seen it in the bookstores. One student gifted me a painting he had made, and the note that he wrote behind it was as beautiful as the painting itself. Apologising that they hadn’t bought gifts for me, a bunch of guys invited me to the music room and gave me the gift of a song that they performed exclusively for me. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time, because all the while I kept thinking that I was leaving them behind.

My colleagues gifted me a whole bunch of thick books, the operative word here being thick because as all book lovers know, there’s nothing better than a thick book and a big mug of tea/coffee to go with it. I received the illustrated Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban, completing my set for now, and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series (each one a doorstopper of a book, yay!)

To ensure that I wouldn’t sit at home and mope about, my best friend in the staffroom took me to Clarke Quay after work, and we spent the entire evening talking and eating and making merry. It was a celebration of friendship, specially the rare kind of friendship that stems from being mere acquaintances, but transcends into comfortable familiarity, and then warm intimacy when you realise that they have become the person you can say anything to.

I know it’ll take time before the feeling sinks in. Come Monday morning when I don’t have to get dressed for work, I’ll have to say goodbye once again. Whenever I’ll see a book I had bought for the express purpose of lending to students, I will sigh and miss them all over again.

But then, I look at the little one at home who is more excited than ever that Mamma will be home to pick her up after school. I look at the humungous stack of to-be-read books on my book shelves and lovingly caress their spines with a promise to give them their due share of attention soon. But most of all, I look forward to this: writing… moulding my thoughts into words, seeing them take shape, witnessing a manuscript that starts from a single word extend and lengthen… Yes. I definitely look forward to making progress on my second book (can I get a Hallelujah here?)

Ending this with the poem I had written for my class, that I read out to them.

A year is a short time, I agree.
But I hope what they say is true
That it is not how long you spend time together
But it is how much they mean to you.

And if we go by those words,
Then it feels like it’s been eternity
Since I’ve known you and loved you,

And given you my all, in its entirety.

So let’s not be sad that
Our time together has come to an end,
Let’s not see this as the end of the road,

Let’s just say it is simply a bend.

Look, I know, this doesn’t help much.
Saying good bye is always tough.
But do lend a ear to what I have to say next

And maybe, just maybe, my words will be enough.

When I walked into the classroom that first day,
I knew life wouldn’t be the same,
When I saw your eager faces smiling back at me,

I knew a spark was lit that would turn into flame.

How right I was! Time has proven it.
From being mere strangers, we’re friends and how!
We talk about books, and music and so much more

We even crack inside jokes. I mean, look at us now!

They say nothing in life happens without a reason,
And I firmly believe there is a good one.
That our paths in life have met and crossed,

And we’ve had our season in the sun.

Maybe I was meant to change something in you,
For I know you’ve definitely changed me.
Each of you have a place in my heart,

Each of you as special as could be.

So don’t feel sad today, let’s not cry.
Let’s think of all the times we’ve made each other smile.
I hope your love for words keeps burning strong,

I hope you’ve learned to love books all this while.

Coming to books, I sincerely wish
You always find good ones to read.
May you meet beautiful words on your way.

And may they come to you whenever you need.

So yes, that’s all I guess, I’ve nothing more left.
It’s time for us to part ways.
Before I leave though, all I’ll say
Is even when I’m old and have wrinkles on my face
You’ll cross my thoughts and I’ll wonder where you all are.
And if someone asks me “After all this time?”
I’ll just say, “Always”.

Of love, containers, and gajar ka halwa

The last two days have hung heavy on me. I finally let my students know that I am leaving the school and that next Tuesday would be my last day teaching them. Even as I answer their whys I tell myself it will be okay. That I will be okay. Because while a part of me says that I could never be anything but a teacher, the other part reminds me that I am, after all, a writer.

Between wrapping things up and prepping for my last day, I had almost forgotten that I had two tiny containers my colleagues friends had sent food for me in, and it is an unwritten code of conduct that you never return empty containers. So despite feeling wrung out like a sponge, both physically and emotionally, I decided I would make for them the one thing I know that spells unconditional love: gajar ka halwa.

I still remember the first time I made gajar ka halwa. Courtesy her crafty colleagues, Mamma had chanced upon a “healthier” version of gajar ka halwa, which called for boiling the grated carrots with milk in the pressure cooker first, and then adding ghee and sugar and stirring until that liquid goodness turns into melt-in-the-mouth thick. That recipe was one of the first recipes Mamma handed down to me. So yes, coming back to the first time I made it: it was for my sister’s boyfriend, who is now my brother-in-law. A little back story, if I may?

My sister met her husband in engineering college, and those days when she would come back home, the only person she could talk about was him. I hated his very guts. Who did he think he was, to charm his way into my sister’s heart and shove me aside and make room for himself? I took it upon myself to pick out his flaws, and vehemently made up my mind to detest him forever. But then, over time, when I realised that he was there to stay, and was not a hopeless infatuation of my sister’s like I had predicted he would be, I made gajar ka halwa for him. The tightly sealed steel container that I sent with my sister back to her hostel was my peace offering. ‘There’, it said, ‘I am grudgingly willing to admit to myself that maybe over time I might start to like you.’ Heaven knows that that container paved way for many more to come, and that over time I would not just like him, but attain the ability to love him blindly.

That was not the only time I made gajar ka halwa to show my love and affection. I remember this one time when I was in college, and I had invited my best buddies home for Bihu. The previous day we’d had our family picnic, and towards the end Mamma and I’d had a tiff, and were on gruff speaking terms (if you know what I mean) Back from the picnic, slightly irritated and not so slightly tired, I suddenly remembered that I had promised to make gajar ka halwa for my friends. A promise is a promise, and so, I started grating my way through the huge pile of carrots, arms screaming, eyes drooping. And then of course, came the arduous task of stirring, and stirring and stirring some more. Towards the end, Ma hastily pounded some cardamom and tossed the powder in the pan. That was as close to a reconciliation as I could have hoped for. Fail-proof that Mamma’s recipe was, it turned out perfect. And testimony was the phone call I received the following day from my best friend’s mother asking me for the recipe because apparently he had said that mine was better than hers!

Without consciously thinking about it, I started equating this humble dessert to love. It came to me, incidentally in the same steel container, that Mamma lovingly packed and sent all the way from Tezpur when I was in a hostel in Guwahati. Sitting on my hostel bed, feeling lonely and homesick, Mamma’s gajar ka halwa felt like a warm hug that melted me from the inside. Much later, when I was studying in Tezpur University, I would  make some to bring to my brother who was living in the hostel, and that would become the one thing he would always remember me by. In fact, the day after my sister got married, I entered her mother-in-law’s kitchen, and made gajar ka halwa for my brand new brother-in-law.

Thirty weeks pregnant, of all the things that I could have desired, it was gajar ka halwa I’d had a craving for. And so I made it, standing in front of the stove, shifting my weight from one hip to the other, heaving and sighing because hey, what the heart wants, the heart wants. In my mind, if itty bitty baby in my tummy wanted that, I’d do anything to make sure she had that.

So today, looking at the mellow orange mix of carrots and milk, stirring in the ghee and sugar and cardamom, I thought of all the times I made gajar ka halwa for the people I loved. These two people I made it for tonight? Very special ones. Made me think of the reason I had those containers in the first place, and how it might seem to be about food on the surface, but was so much more. It was about that time when a person thought about me and told herself, ‘Well she loved the chicken I cooked so much I should pack her some.’ Or that time when she brought me lunch because she knew Jenny wasn’t around to pack mine. Or about all the extra portions a friend thoughtfully packed with just me in my mind.

Jenny looked at me, all sweaty, hair sticking to my forehead, furiously stirring the halwa, and asked me why I chose to make this when I could have made anything else.

‘Because this is love, Jenny. Why would I choose to endure this if not for someone I love?’

It felt almost ritualistic, the stirring, and as I stirred, I felt… maybe not so melancholy anymore. I am not looking forward to saying goodbye to my students. I definitely do not look forward to saying goodbye to colleagues turned friends who have become such a major part of my daily life. But I tell myself I am lucky to have found in them people I absolutely adore; people I would be willing to make gajar ka halwa for.

To aching arms and breaking hearts, then. And food, of course. Always.



I resign. Here, take my notice
To whom it may concern, it says,
I inform you with this,
At this moment, on this day
That I wish to quit.

I quit from sleepless nights on the couch,
Glaring at a screen that takes me away
From things that matter the most
No offence, but I can live without knowing
What happened to everyone else today.

I quit from letting others affect me,
From letting insults disguised as compliments
To get under my skin. I’ll leave them be.
They will have no place in my mind
Or my feelings or my memories.

I quit from being nasty to my body.
From wincing at my reflection
And telling it what it isn’t, what it can’t be.
From now on, I’ll tell myself I love it.
My marks my scars; flab or fab, I’m just me.

I quit from seeking validation elsewhere,
I’m enough, and that’s all there is.
Never again will I say, ‘Say something nice’
Has happened once, has happened twice
I promise myself it won’t come to this.

I quit from living in the past,
Carrying the massive burden of memories
Wherever I go, heaving and hauling,
Never forgetting, on the brink of forgiving,
But never quite letting them go…

I quit, I tell you, I quit from holding on.
That’s quite enough, my heart says.
What use is it to remember what was,
When this is what it is till the end of the days?
So there. I put it in writing so I know.

Yours sincerely, it further says,
A cluster of vivid dreams,
The entire rainbow of mixed emotion,
A study in conflicts, if you please.
And thus it ends, my resignation.