November 28, 2014

My first story on Medium: The House with the Mint-Colored Walls

I love the idea of Medium and have enjoyed reading many stories that have appeared on it; in fact, I always look forward to its weekly digest every Friday, which features the best from the week. I thought it would be a great platform from where to start sharing my stories as well and so here I am, reproducing the first of my stories. And given my constant preoccupation with homes these days, perhaps, it's appropriate that my new house with its mint colored walls was the focus of my debut story. 

It's bit of a long read so sit back and enjoy...


Pink and Mint

The first thing that I saw when we walked into the apartment was its mint green walls.

We had just arrived in New Delhi two days ago. Since June, we had moved from Pittsburgh, traveled across the United States, and divided time between Bombay, Bangalore, and Rajasthan before finally making up our mind to come to India’s capital city. I was both utterly exhausted of being a nomad for the past many months and apprehensive about calling Delhi home. Actually, more precisely, calling India home.

Apart from annual holidays to the homeland while growing up in Oman, I had never previously lived in India before. I was becoming increasingly disconnected to the idea of calling it home over the years. In fact, the label itself was becoming a complex abstraction for me. Was the home in homeland actually home? What was home anyway? I could worry about the semantics of home later though. Right now, I wanted a house: a nice, comfortable house, where I could anchor myself and start fleshing it into my space again.

I fell sick hours after landing in Delhi. On our first night, we went to a mall where there was an indie rock concert going on in a huge open-air court. I remember sitting on the edge of a white marble planter, simultaneously listening to the crowd sing along to the music and feeling a dreaded itchiness invade my throat. Every time I had previously visited Delhi, its notorious dust and pollution had not been my friend. The following morning, I woke up to find that the itch had snowballed into a cold: my eyes watered continuously, my nose was on fire, and I had little desire to do anything but remain under the covers for the next day.

I couldn’t, of course. I had a house to find.

Our apartment was the second one that the real-estate agent showed us in what would be a long succession of potential homes. Seeing the green walls after a day of battling a burgeoning cold, consuming cold, dessicated sandwiches, and dodging dusty, traffic-clogged roads was like stumbling head-first into an oasis. I wanted to camp out on the sofa itself, refusing to budge further. Afterwards, once we were done with visiting the other apartments (good, terrible, and ugly), the only one that remained with me was the green wall apartment. In the morning light, it would be mint-green, I thought, by dusk, it would assume the shade of pistachio ice-cream. I like the green wall apartment, I told my husband at dinner that night, as we listened to three college-age musicians sing Bob Dylan, let’s take that one.


The Tree Whose Name I Do Not Know
We arrived in the apartment. My cold became a fever — and I spent the first week in our new house, ensconced in the bedroom, either staring at the ceiling or the windows bracketing me. On one side, the shadow of a massive peepal tree and its spreading, embrace-like branches and numerous leaves dutifully dappled the balcony while the other tree — whose name I still do not know — was framed within the window, like a minimal black and white photograph. During the day, their leaf shadows stenciled and overlapped one another upon the green walls, the walls fluid canvases. The leaf-shadow dance lulled me into sleep; the green soothed and calmed me.

The house swiftly became a welcome sanctuary after all those migratory, mobile months.


We are still in the process of turning our house into a home. In fact, we are still befriending the city, understanding its costume, its dialect, when it sleeps, when it wakes up, the art of razoring through its traffic jams. We potter about in the house, migrating from one room to another, wondering where the guest room should be, what color flowers will look good against the mint.

A river of traffic flows behind our house. We hear people’s conversations, dogs fighting, and ambulance and police sirens. I was accustomed to a soundtrack of silence in all the places that I had previously lived. This is the first time my ears are constantly negotiating the overwhelming barrage of sound, the sheer plurality of it; my mind is learning how to filter, distinguish one sound from another. However, I don’t miss the silence quite as much as I miss peering above into the nocturnal sky, glimpsing the dense population of stars studding its surface. Here, in the city, like any other city, they are just as invisible as they are during the day.

Our landlord’s art work meanwhile still dots the apartment walls. In the living room, you can see camouflage-hued tapestries of Paris, a bright bird water-color, an Ancient Egyptian god and goddess in dialogue, and a mountainscape sparely executed in oils. I have decided that these works will continue to hang there on the walls until we discover and introduce our own to them. In any case, they are strangers no more; our daily engagement with the works has made them familiar to us.
There are three paintings though that that we have decided to never remove as long as we stay in the apartment.

These paintings are portraits of three distinguished women hanging upon one wall in the living room. I call them distinguished simply because that’s exactly the sort of air they exude. I have no idea who these women are. I don’t even know the names of the artists who painted them. What I do know is that these portraits define the house as much as the walls themselves. And like the tree window-photograph in my bedroom window, I am content to see their framed selves on the walls.

One of the Distinguished Ladies

What is remarkable is that each of them wear an identical expression of contemplation in their portraits. They look as if they were mulling over a problem or a puzzle or a query — and were about to unpack their thoughts to the artist. The thoughts would quickly spill out, raw, unadulterated, like paint gushing upon a palette from a newly pierced open tube. Yet, the women would just as swiftly incorporate them into the bigger picture, the larger idea, connoisseurs of both the macro and micro. These women are constantly editing themselves, their thoughts, striving to be better, fuller, richer persons. But they wouldn’t bite back their words, that’s for sure. If they have something to say, they will say it.

When we say goodbye to the house with the mint colored walls, I already know that we will miss these three ladies. In the next few months, we will be constantly overlaying the house with our presence— paintings, photographs, furniture, objects, books, our conversations — and by the time we leave, the house will have become an alternate version of itself, a new draft, so to speak. Perhaps, by that time, I will have even figured out how to solve the mathematical-like conundrum of learning to call my homeland home. But what these walls and admirable ladies will remind us of will be those initial paint-strokes, those first words on the computer-screen, a freshly new time, when blankness was exciting, when anything could become everything.


You can read the original version here...and in the meantime, why don't you too think about sharing your stories there?

November 24, 2014

The Neon Horse: Of Collaging, Blogging and Looking At-ed Ness

Kitschy Horse, Collage, 2014

I impulsively decided to throw together a collage a few days ago. I find making collages as relaxing and enjoyable as taking long, meandering, purposeless walks. I visually gorge on a rich buffet of colors, images, and patterns, thinking about nothing in particular, cutting and ripping and pasting until the collage somehow...fits together. The journey of creating and the end result in form of an image, however startling or obscure, both appeal to me very much.

It had been months since I last made one and when I came across this journal while organising my collection of (many and mostly empty) journals, I decided that at least, its pages should be blank no more. In the past, I was used to making bigger-scale collages but I liked the diptych format that this journal gives me, it's like simultaneously writing two interlinked yet independent stories. I sheared through a single magazine (Vogue India's September issue, to be precise), as opposed to a whole bunch and ended up structuring the collage around this fantastical horse head that featured in an ethereal, dreamy shoot. Except it has much more of a neon kitschy vibe going on here when transplanted in the journal.

I can't help but wonder though if abstracting a collage is also a metaphor for what's happening in my life though. I have cut and pasted myself into a different city - and something inevitably and unsurprisingly has changed in that moment of transition. What is it though? And what of the narrative that I am writing myself into?

I am also thinking about the blog as well. I began it sometime in April 2011, describing it as the constant visual commentary running in my head. I also meant it to be a writing portfolio, where you could dip into and leaf through my writing. The blog and I have naturally evolved with time; it's not just about capturing whatever ensnares my visual fancy, impaling it beneath the glass case of a post. I can see the changes in my writing, even the nature of my looking-at: what I look at, how I look, the details which I now pay attention to and would previously never have considered.

There is more than just the look-at-nedness, perhaps. And so, I am wondering about the shape and direction this blog is assuming. Sometimes, there's so much I would like to do with it. Other times, I am content to fiercely stake it out as my garden, my space, my world, just as I had said in my very first post

Should I continue collaging it into my story as I have been doing all this time? Or entirely repurpose it?

I think I need to go take a walk and think it out...

PS You are most welcome to share your thoughts on your own journeys/challenges with blogging or other personal projects!

November 19, 2014

What My November Looks Like So Far: Bandaged Trees, Whimsical Walls, and Germinating Poetry

It's almost the third week of November.

I resist the perpetual temptation to say, where has the year gone by? I know the answer this time. This year so far has been made of: dismantling and farewelling a home, making cross-country and maritime journeys, setting up a new home (again), hearing a city's new chatter, the colors of its dialect,  and studying its costume, its embellishments and fabrics.

The winter light is elegant, immaculately composed, a bit elusive completely evanescences by the time dusk falls, leaving behind a leached, bereft world. Seeing the mauve shadows, you think, the world feels a better place in the presence of such good, strong light.


I take pictures as long as it's there.


One of my simple pleasures soon after moving here was buying a mogra bunch every few days. When I went to the flower-seller yesterday, I once again asked him if he had any mogras; he shook his head, gesturing instead towards the piles of saffron marigolds, tooth-white chrysanthemums, and pastel-hued roses girding him. I will have to wait until next year to breathe in their giddy, monsoon-scent.

Bandaged Branches

The trees here may not be burning yellow or orange like their peers in other parts of the world; however, I am amused to see one tree adorned in these colors for an ongoing literature festival at the India Habitat Centre. I like to imagine whether it is a wounded warrior tree, bandaged in colors of blood and turmeric, pain and healing or a flamboyantly dressed one, eagerly showing off its sinuous curves in crimson and vermillion?


I wander into Shahpur Jat, an urban village, ostensibly to admire its iridescent, whimsical walls, the glad subjects of a street art festival. However, I stumble upon a maze of characters: contemplative, sad old women, hookah-smoking and gossiping men, freshly-slaughtered fish, roasted peanut, and thoughtful, kind momo sellers, pre-teen girls manning their fathers' groceries stores while intently watching a Hindi soap on a tiny TV, and a playful brood of puppies, who joyfully bite our fingers as we feed them Parle-G biscuits. There are stories of stores tucked here and there; when you walk inside them, you feel as if you have stepped inside someone's doll-house imagination, their parallel universe. I like these stories-stores. I like these walls. I like Shahpur Jat. I want to come here again.

In a white walled, gray-shiny floored gallery, I glimpse an artist's fictional maps. When I was a little girl, I would spend hours reading the atlas, jigsawing the countries together, how Austria was pink, USSR the largest country in the world, tracing the ocean between India and Oman. I even made up my own country, Trontia although I never went as far as to become its cartographer; it still exists somewhere in the landscape of my imagination. It's been years since I have thought of Trontia though. It's also been years since I thought of space colonies and I only just remembered my sheer awe at the thought of a home other than Earth when I saw Interstellar yesterday. At the same time when I was mapping Trontia in my head, I was poring through science encyclopedias, hungrily inhaling everything astronomical: black holes (unimaginably frightening), the sun ageing into a monstrous red giant, nebulae, aliens, and space colonies, the artists' depictions of them resembling Earth distilled and bottled in glass rings.  

It Happens in the Unlikeliest of Places

There are poems waiting to be written too. Here is one gingerly poking its head through the stone, plucky, salad-green, and glossy. I let it emerge. There will be plenty of time to let it and others grow. 

What  is your November looking like so far?