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Other Names #15: Balwan

  Settling into a chair for coffee with his friend, Balwan felt his heart race and tension creep into the tops of his shoulder, pulling the nerves at the base of his neck into tight knots. Anger vibrated in his solar plexus. But he was not upset. His friend sitting across from him was. Balwan soaked up other people’s moods like a sponge. If you’ve met Balwan, chances are you’ve already made him cry. He often described himself as someone with an exposed nerve, fine-tuned to every little flutter in his environment like an emotional weather vane. Sometimes these moods were pleasant but even those moved him to such overwhelming awe that he was often reduced to tears. A glimpse of a bird’s nest or a half-furled leaf filled Balwan with inarticulate joy. An unexpected compliment could send his mood soaring and fill him with unbridled enthusiasm. Balwan noticed details that most people missed – a heightened sense of smell and touch and sight. It was like he felt the world around him with fifty

Other Names #14: Girija

  Girija was a woman. It was a condition she suffered from birth. The ailment limited her to talk a certain way, dress a specific way and behave in a manner that did not draw negative attention to herself. The slightest aberrations tended to anger or at least annoy people with inevitable ease. It was especially tough for Girija because she did not see herself as a woman much. The condition for her was purely physical. It did not dominate her thoughts or passions every waking minute. If she had to put a gender to her inner world – she would’ve said that she felt like a mixture of all kinds of people and sexes we don’t even know about and she liked it that way. Eventually she came to the conclusion that it was more than the condition of being a woman that plagued her – she was also a feminist which came with a daunting side-effect in her twenties of self-awareness. It made her head pound and her stomach churn at harmless words like ‘pretty’ and ‘feisty’. But Girija rarely discussed the t

Other Names #13: Keimoni

  In the train, Keimoni preferred to read a book to a newspaper, and not only because the size was practical. The paper didn’t hold her attention enough, and above all, it didn’t take her out of the present. The ride every day to work let her do the amount of reading she liked to take in at one time. She liked to read at home, at night, but other things. Keimoni read several books at once, each with a time and place, taking her out of the place and time in which she lived. She disappeared into books like someone running into the forest, emerging from the other side, always a bit changed from the experience of crossing over. These vanishing acts were a staple for all periods of waiting. In trains, busses, cabs, restaurants, park benches, offices. It did not matter if she was sloshed between sweaty arms of strangers in the train whose faces were less than two inches from hers. It did not matter if the light was too low or the seat already taken or if a hundred infants were screaming at t

I must not look

Kasar Devi, near Almora I must not look at the mountains, the white snow-clad Himalayas perched atop the clouds. I must not look at the rolling Sivaliks at my feet or the endless layer behind layer of misty mountains blurring into the sky. I must not look at the stars or think about the solar system – of giant suns spanned by countless light years, all that light turned to a speck of sparkle in the sky. I must not look at a tree for longer than a minute, so my eyes won't trace patterns in the leaves. I must never look at the time for then it passes either too slow or too fast but never as I please.     I must not do all those things so I can get some work done.  

Three salad dressings with a side of honesty

Salads. The healthy-and-mighty of all meals. The snooty accompaniment to a glass of rosé. The veritable rainbow on your plate. In Fran Lebowitz’s words, a salad is not a meal – it is a style. Well, as long as ‘style’ includes a fair amount of mud under one’s fingernails – I couldn’t agree more with Fran. Sure, it’s fashionable to eat a salad – but there’s a certain panache to going down on all fours in wet mud, rummaging through fresh lettuce pods every morning and wondering what you’re going to dress them in. While it’s far from the fashion statement that salad has come to symbolise, growing your own food definitely is a style of its own. There are many categories of salad snobs – the ingredient minimalist, the chop-it-right evangelists and the brigade of dressing-goes-first, but the only consensus between the salad factions is that you don’t actually need packaged dressing. A homemade vinaigrette made from basic ingredients lives just as happily on your refrigerator door, not to ment

Other Names #8 and #9: Sahil and Mira

  It had been three years since Sahil had last seen Mira. A lot had changed (physically) for Sahil in that time. His jaw had hardened to an angular shape, he had lost that baby beard that everyone made fun of and the unruly curls had been tamed to a neat close crop. He had returned to civilisation - unrecognisable beyond repair, as his friends often remarked. So, it came as a surprise when Sahil found himself looking at Mira, untouched by the passage of time. She still had the look of an alert school girl. Head held high, a neat round chin, wide thin-lipped mouth, snub nose, bright eyes and a forehead that was often flushed with effort or appreciation. She was finishing her thesis in Sanskrit from Xavier’s when they were together. Sahil always marvelled at how much the professors delighted in her – as though they were grateful for anybody who still took up ancient languages, especially for someone so gifted – but they were always worried as well. The problem Mira used to say, was becau

Project Other Names #7: Dr. Prarthamesh Potty

  Professor Potty scratched these words on the blackboard, punching the period at the end for dramatic effect. He turned to face his class of forty. Forty miserable, clueless schmucks, most of whom didn’t know the difference between a period and an ellipsis. And yet they thought a minor in Creative Writing would be a piece of cake. An easy grade to brighten up their mark sheet. He had overheard on his way to class, some of the students casually joke, “Next class…” proceeding to clutch their tummy and ejecting a fart-like sound from their mouth. The joke lacked half-a-decent punchline but regardless, the junior year would pick it up from their seniors, giving new life to a lame old gag. Professor Potty did not have a sense of humour. At least, none when it came to his name. You would think after years of being tormented by friends, foes, colleagues, relatives, lovers and eventually his own children as well, the professor would at least pretend to smile and take the power out of the old

Windows between waves

Back in 2009, during my last year in college, my friends and I used to take a three-hour train ride to Gokarna over weekends. It was a small seaboard town with a penchant for attracting people who listened to Bob Marley and chain-smoked cheap cigarettes. But what I remember most distinctive of Gokarna was the sea. It was a beautiful sunny morning like any other and we had all woken up late. After a heavy breakfast of Nutella pancakes all of us headed out to the sea. It was calm and we all wore our sun shades into the waters, lying supine on our backs and floating with the sun in our eyes. Unlike other days, we had given up on playing pranks – no one went underwater to imitate a sea creature tickling a feet or neck, there were no sudden shrieks of friends splashing the salty sea water into each other’s eyes and mouth – we were pinpricks in the vast ocean drifting further and further away from the shore, blissfully unaware of how close to danger we lurked. At first, we thought we were be