lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Out damned spot!

Thinking about you is like picking at a scab. You know you ought to leave it alone, let it heal and drop off by itself when it will.

You keep picking at it.

I think of the times your laughter sounded untrue, when you hurt me by comparing, unconscious that you were doing it. I think of the times when it was you all the way.

You keep picking at it, the scab.

Your nail works at the drying edges, trying to help it along to get off your skin. Your nail probes at the flap, seeking to loosen it and lift it, changing attack and angles and trying to find another edge to tackle.

I think of the time we were both devastated, or I thought we were. I was shattered. You said a callous thing. I wept then. More for the stranger that stood in front of me than the terrible loss I realised that was mine alone.

The nail finds a fleshy flap to break loose and the scab lifts. There is a thin trickle of blood from the unhealed flesh. The nail is encrusted with blood too.

I will go wash my hands; I will trim my nails short too. The blood will dry up. There will be another scab. There will be a paler patch of new skin and a scar until that fades into body and past.

There won't be more picking at it, though. I am shut of you.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Fever song

The flurry of activity tapered off. Exhaustion, the fraught quality of the last few days and general malaise of the last month, fever and the tension of the last couple of hours all came crashing into me. The medicines they pumped through the IV channel must have kicked in, and I slept.

I woke to find a nurse injecting more medicines. I could feel the cool liquid entering the IV channel and flowing up my arm, but the nurse said it was my imagination. But it wasn't my imagination that felt every hair follicle present a scroll of grief and complaint as I turned over and cool air struck my skin. I drifted in and out of sleep.

Floating between sleep and a semi-trance, everything seemed strange. The smell of disinfectant as the room was swabbed stabbed me with a memory of a cognac praline melting in the warmth of my mouth. The sudden cold touch of a stethoscope made me gasp. The pressure cuff tightening on my arm made me queasy. I could hear blood thundering as the mercury dropped, and heaved a sigh as the cuff was removed. Eating a meal seemed to expend all the energy I gained by lying there doing nothing for days and days. I slept again.

Through the next few days, all I did was to lie there tethered to the bed by that drip. My universe shrank to the confines of the four walls. My sole connection with the world was the bell push I had to grope for and find on my left. Nurses administering medicines and eating insipid meals marked time for me. Play of light in my sky framed by the window marked day and night.

Then one midmorning, I found I was all slept out. The few adjustments of the bed, raising it or lowering it to get comfortable weren't enough; I needed to stretch my back. I sat up and stretched, and bent forward to grab my feet to stretch further. There was a windblown seedling clinging to the parapet of the building outside the window. A single banyan leaf. Behrman's masterpiece, I murmured.

Sitting up propped against the raised bed I watched pigeons strut, crows squabble and kites wheel in the little sky I had. Late afternoon sun turned a billow of spidersilk into a strand of diamonds and I watched it waft until the breezes picked up and it swung away from view. The halo effect of shafts of sunlight turning my fingers into stained glass paintings fascinated me for a while. I dozed again.

But sleep got scarce. Two hours and I was done. If I tried to read my eyes drifted shut and the story entered my dreams and made them strange. Authors and tales and interpretations got mixed up in my memories; Homer, Gemmell and Pratchett all retold the Trojan War in my dreams, all jumbled together.

Then sound crashed into my world. It was past three in the morning. Cuckoos and crows would be complaining back at home, on the shores of the Lake. But here there was a long blare of a horn and a pavement dog howling in protest.

That sounded familiar. Not the blare of the horn, but the cadence of the grumbling dog's howl reminded me of a song. I tried pinning it down. It was hard. At home I'd just rummage among my music or Google. I felt contemptuous of myself. Surely I could remember without such crutches?

P Susheela, I was fairly sure. I tried to play back the dog's grumble and the long blare of that horn resolved itself into a memory of a voice. T M Sounderarajan. Plaintively, yearningly calling a name and P Susheela replying in an echo. That was it.

I didn't know if the lights were on or off, if my eyes were open or shut tight. I travelled back in memory and bounced off various tangents. I knew where I was, though- in the Past. Line by line, phrase by musical phrase, image by image, slowly the song unfolded itself. The plaintive call and response and more, as I tried to remember all of it, the orchestral interludes, the humming, the poetry. I was certain I got the lyric right.

Now, what film? I didn't know or care. TMS and Susheela were enough to start with, and somehow I had the feeling it was a MGR film. MGR and Saroja Devi? Ah, that's who the Deepika girl reminds me of, Saroja Devi. Pretty. More important, who wrote it?

thennai vanaththinil unnai mugam thottu eNNaththai sonnavan vaadudgiren
eNNaththai sonnavan vaadugiren
un iru kaN pattu puN patta nenjaththil un pattu kai pada paadugiren

A voice said, are you all right? I didn't realise I was singing aloud and conducting the instrumental interludes with my hands. The nurse looked puzzled and nervous. It was the dog, I said, by way of explanation. She looked worried and repeated her question.

I am fine. I want to go home, I have to look up something, I said.


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Patient Missus Em

For those of you who were hoping I had 'softly and suddenly vanished away', this is bad news. I am back. As to why there was a longish by my standards break in posting, here's some explanation:

How soon can you admit yourself, dear? No ifs and buts, I notice.
It will take me a couple of hours to organise things.

Who is the patient?
I am.
Who is admitting you?
I am.
There are consent forms, things to sign…
I will sign them.
This is very irregular.
I know.

We will be giving you an IV channel.
Does it take six nurses to do that?
The junior sisters are here to learn…
I do not want to be a practice dummy, thank you.

Don't move please.
Then listen to me please, before you touch me again. You are trying to put clamps on my wrists and ankles, and those are the most painful parts of my anatomy. Tell me what you are going to do, and I will be prepared.
Make a fist.
I have.
Make a tighter fist.
I can't make a tighter fist. If I may suggest something, try to find a vein in the right arm, you can search all day on the left.

What is this?
Your tea.
But why have you given me cream crackers?
You are put down as diabetic on the chart.
I said I take my tea with no sugar and very little milk. That doesn't make me diabetic. Do you think I wouldn't state such an important thing when admitting myself?

Toast and tea for breakfast?
Yes, fine.
What is this? This bread isn't toasted. Where is the butter, jelly or jam? What is this white thing?
That is paneer. Butter is spread in the kitchen. Jelly isn't served.
Are you trying to starve me to death as you treat me?

I'd like to use the bathroom, please.
The ayah will get a bedpan.
No, I will go the bathroom.
Junior sister will carry the IV bottle.
Call your senior.
Sister will stand outside, with the drip.
It's not long enough, call your senior.
Hello, I am the RMO. What seems to be the problem?
I need to use the bathroom.
Sister, stop the drip. Let the patient finish and start it again. Oh, and get the portable IV stand.

Ah, my dear, are you all settled in and comfy? Sister, this is a patient very dear to my heart. South Indian lady, you know. Such a wonderful person. She puts up with so much pain, never complains. Such a pleasure to treat.

The nurses exchange a doubtful look and stare at the doctor and me as though we were Bug Eyed Monsters.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Every now and then Gmail informs me that so and so has added me to his or her contacts list and would like to chat with me. This confuses me.

I don't know them from Adam and Eve, so why would I want to chat with them? If they stumbled upon my blog in a strange fashion, surely they can mail me?

I do reply to mails, and if after some correspondence it turns out we have something to talk about, I'd be happy to add them to the list of pals I converse with. But a stranger (I know the person thinks I am not a stranger but still, it is a stranger) and a bolt out of the blue, asking to be added to my contacts frankly baffles me.

The thing is, I reply to mails, not these requests to add a contact, because correspondence establishes that they

a) are literate,
b) don't type gr8 and 4U,
c) have something to say,
d) don't ask for my number, vital statistics or rates per services and what services I do offer,
e) are entertaining and fun and do not indulge in multiple exclamation marks,

and then we can talk. I have made many friends online and most of them are dear and precious, but none of them started off adding me to their list of Gmail contacts and demanding they be allowed to know when I am online and chat with me.

Let us have a reason why we talk, after all.


Monday, January 07, 2008

One last sane moment

This is goodbye.

No, it is not what you think. I rather like you, and that's why. I am afraid I will fall in love with you. You won't like that.

There is resonance and there is so much similarity it is scary. I can see myself falling in love with you.

My love is a grasping clinging all-pervasive thing. I'd get insecure if you so much as looked at another. My love and my world will be so full of you that there'd be no room for others, but I know you can't love me in the same way. You will talk to others, you will have a life beyond me, somebody will mention your name and I will get insanely jealous.

And neither of us wants that.

I will love you to the extent that my own self is subsumed in my love for you. That can be rather exhausting and you will chafe.

So I am stopping before I can get to those stages of devotion, longing and madness. I am quitting before you feel claustrophobic and shackled, before you will resent me and my helpless adoration. Because I am scared.

Escape while you can.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Arrow of time

When I was crags and boulders
Your surf crashed against me

Aeons mellow us

Sandy beach now
And waves lapping gentle

Even now

Fault-line tsunami meteorite strike
Anything can happen.

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