Fiction

Childhood memories

My first cousin and I, as kids, often slept at my granny’s apartment. I must have been only four, when I felt my eight year old cousin’s hand slide under my frock, resting for a moment longer than necessary, near my pubic region. I woke up with a start. Even at that age, I knew something wasn’t right. I pushed his hand away. He tried again. And again. Next, he took my hand and placed it on his tiny penis. When that failed to excite me, at one point, he tried to pee inside my mouth.

Fast forward a couple of years. I hated being left alone at home with him for company. His mom would leave for work, and mine would be out shopping with the neighbors. Even taking a shower was an ordeal, as he would knock and bang against the bathroom door. I would turn off the tap, and in my semi naked state, body still damp, run around the house, screaming for help. Usually there was no one, except for the male servant, who would dismiss my wails as being too dramatic.

And this one time, I must have been twelve or thirteen; I was fast asleep, when he slipped under my blanket, and said, “You can sleep, don’t worry”. Next, he put his mouth on my vagina and sucked hard. How could I sleep? That afternoon, I learned that as boys get older, their dicks grow larger, and in their pubic region, grows thick, curly, coarse hair. I was filled with disgust.

His parents, brother, and almost everyone else in the family, praise him to no end, and think highly of him for reasons unknown to me.  Now that he’s married and has a three year old daughter, (technically my niece, whom I am yet to meet), I can’t help but wonder, “Does he do this to his daughter as well?”. Can he be trusted around her?

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My mom would often spend her days shopping with the neighbors. I don’t even remember how old I was, but whenever the phone would ring in the common living room, I would excitedly rush to answer it. As one of the youngest members of a joint family, there was a pecking order to follow and the opportunity to answer the phone was not one that presented itself very often.

Usually the phone would ring within minutes of my mom leaving for the day. Someone was keeping a close watch on my living room. He would speak in a low, soft voice and knew me by my name. He would say, “Pull down your panty and put your hand in it. I promise, you’ll like it”. Shocked, I would disconnect the line and run away. Ironically, that same cousin would be around and ask, “Who was it?”. I would say, “I don’t know”. This one time, the caller was brave enough to identify himself. As it turns out, he was my neighbor’s son. That same neighbor, with whom my mom was out shopping. How confident he must have been of his pursuits to have willingly revealed his identity to a girl, at least fifteen years his junior. After many many years, when I finally had the courage to confide, my mom wasn’t even shocked. She said, “He’s been feeling up lots of women. His wife knows all about it”.

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Recovering from one or two such incidents can take its toll, but imagine being sexually abused by multiple men becoming a recurring theme of your childhood. Whether it be at the hands of the piano teacher who gave you piano lessons every Sunday, from the tender age of six, or your mom’s best friend’s husband who would slowly stroke your chest up and down, just when you were starting to develop breasts, or your distant second (or third?) cousin, whom you had met for the first time, during a summer holiday in the beautiful state of Assam, more than fifteen years ago. And how can you even forget your first “boyfriend”, who date raped you?

These feelings become a part of you, and you can no longer tell what your life would have been like, if this were not your life.

* Inspired by “An Open Letter from Dylan Farrow” and dedicated to all those women who have been sexually abused.

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A visit to Calcutta is incomplete without a pitstop at the Moori* wala. The roadside vendor skillfully tosses snack together in less than a minute. After silently pleading to my stomach to not hate me for this, I gulp down the moori. Next up is Puchka wala (aka Pani puri, Golgappa).

*Moori is the Bengali word for Puffed Rice

General ramblings

Roadside delicacy

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General ramblings

He was forbidden access; the past refused to admit him. It only reminded him that this arbitrary place, where he’d landed and made his life, was not his. Like Bela, it had accepted him, while at the same time keeping a distance. Among its people, its trees, its particular geography he had studied and grown to love, he was still a visitor. Perhaps the worst form of visitor: one who had refused to leave.

- The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri.

The book’s theme is very similar to her previous works – Bengali immigrant family, struggles encountered while making a life in the US, memories and long lost relations back home in Calcutta. Overall, a storyline that leaves one very dispirited. Somehow, there are nuggets in all her works I can relate to; perhaps one of the main reasons why I continue to read her books, although they are nowhere as great as the first one, “The Interpreter of Maladies”. For example, the quote above.

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General ramblings

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We were north bound today, on an early morning, 6.20 am Trenitalia train from Rome Termini to Florence Santa Maria Novella station. Because of my experience with Indian railways, I was mildly worried about Termini being unsafe at this time of the day. Gladly, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The station was extremely welcoming, no pickpocketers, or leery men, or annoying hawkers (my guess is Bangladeshi); the latter have been hounding us ever since we’ve landed here and from last night, here’s the choicest dialogue: “Apna aadmi hai – aapke liye Roses”.

We reach Florence at 7.57 am, about 6 mins behind schedule. It was chilly outside; made me realize how much my tolerance towards the cold had reduced, ever since I moved to TX about three years ago. On the pavement opposite the Taxi stand, quickly spotted a Bata shoe shop. Earlier notions of Bata being an “Indian” brand were quickly put to rest. As I edit this post towards the end of the day, must add here that I plan to pay it a quick visit tomorrow morning, since I badly need some sole inserts for my moderately-fashionable-feet-killing boots.

While at the Taxi stand, managed to converse with the taxi driver using sign language and pointing at the Hotel name on my iPhone – my Italian is limited to ‘grazie’ and ‘prego’ on Day 3.

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Stopped by a small eatery, right outside the Florence Cathedral. The eatery proudly displayed its 4.5 stars awarded by the critics at TripAdvisor. That should have been my warning sign to turn around and leave, but hunger got better of me. Cappuccino and food in general costs twice for sit down service versus stand up. We decide to sit down, since we have some free time and also, I refuse to eat standing up. The server responds to my “Thank you” with a dismissive “Nothing!”. Thank yous are repeated several times just to hear him say “Nothing!”. The cappuccino is served in a bright pink porcelain glass; coffee disappears in less than 5 gulps, because it’s so amazing. The bruschetta, disappears in less than 5 bites too, not because it’s good, but because it’s puny for the price I paid (1 tiny slide with uncooked tomatoes, abundance of table salt served on a slice of bread, for 5 euros).

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Florence has an amazing small town feel. Streets are still deserted at 9 am. Winding cobblestoned streets greet us, where even tiny cars manage get stuck. Natives don’t speak much English – I kind of like this, because I associate this with the feeling of being “abroad”. At the end of my first day here, I can somewhat declare that I prefer this type of Italy more to Rome, which although I enjoyed a lot, reminded me of New York. I love New York, but I cannot tolerate the craziness for more than a couple of days. Similarly, I loved Rome for the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Trevi Fountain and the lovely piazzas, but if I were to do this all over again, I would spend twice as much time as I’d planned to, in Florence.

There isn’t a whole lot different that I can add to what’s already been written about the Uffizi Gallery and the Accademia. There is so much to learn, to see and just the general atmosphere of being surrounded by some of the most famous, original pieces of sculptures and paintings produced by legends, such as, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rafael, Bartolomeo or Caravaggio, will unwillingly force you into a renewed relationship with art.

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You might think I’ve gone crazy, but let me just say that I loved and admired the Florence Cathedral and its magnificent dome so much more than the excitement I could muster for St. Peter’s Basilica. Yeah, Basilica has La Pieta and is the Holy Grail for Roman Catholics, but the widely beautiful orange Dome, the Gothic architecture of the outer walls and the fact that a normal person like me has the full liberty to walk around the Cathedral and admire it up close from all angles, is just one more reason why I prefer Florence over Rome already.

Oh, and that fact that my posts about Rome are still in draft stages, while this post, on Florence has already been published ;-)

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India, Me

Two incidents, on the same day.

Before I tell you about the two incidents yesterday, l have to say I had a mildly interesting week: Lost all my belongings (that included about 12 years of piano sheet music, music notes in general) that used to be in my store room, (thanks to a highly incompetent group of managers at my housing community), only to have this burning intuition very soon that I’ll never see my stuff again. I am actually quite fine with losing everything that might have been in that store room (if you don’t even remember the contents, how important can they really be?), except for my music notes, the only misplaced item that I happen to remember, which kind of proves its sentimental value. I am left with the arduous task of deciding if I want to sue those bastards, or escalate the matter to the Upper Management, or drop it completely. The lawyer in me wants to exercise Option No. 1, the lazy-do-I-really-care part of me wants to go with Option No. 3. Which means, Option No. 2 it’ll be for now.

Then, yesterday, took my dog, Sasha, to see a “dog shrink” (Read: Behavioral consultant) for the first time when it should really be me who should pay a visit to a shrink (more on that later), but we do all we can to keep our dogs healthy and living for as long as possible, fully aware of their short life spans, and yet, we let ours fall into disrepair. Or at least I do.

Now that I have these thoughts out of my head, let me move on to the two incidents themselves.

Incident 1: Happens while I’m out grocery shopping.

Random desi, catches me just when I’m about to check out. You have to realize desis DO NOT just walk up to each other in the US and talk about Bharat desh, mangoes and Indian politics. In fact, desis will go to great lengths to avoid each other in public places.  So, you can imagine my surprise when this mans walks up and says, “I think I’ve seen you somewhere?”. Umm, sir, no you haven’t. He probes a bit about my profession, where I work, and how long I’ve been here, and volunteers the same information. But this is not what was offensive. What’s offensive is this -

He: So, which state are you from?

Me: Huh?

He: No, which state are you from?

Me: I’m from Calcutta.

He: Oh, do you speak Tamil?

Me: (WTF?!!!) No, I don’t.

He: I will introduce you to my wife. Both of you can go shopping together.

Me: (faking a faint smile)

He: Oh, by the way, I have this family type business. Let’s talk about it.

Me: Sorry, gotta rush. Let’s catch up again. (And on my way out, cursing myself for giving him my phone number. Should place him on the block list ASAP).

Incident 2: Late at a party, same day.

Friend 1: Where are you from in India?

Friend 2: I’m from Bombay.

Friend 3: No, no. He’s not from Bombay.

Friend 2: What do you mean, men? I’m from Bombay.

Friend 3: You’re Tamilian noooo…So, Tamil Nadu.

Friend 2: WTF? Are you crazy? I was born in Bombay. Always lived there.

Friend 1: (Stunned. Cursing himself for asking the question)

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What is wrong with the people of India? So many blogs, so many Tweets, so much of awareness online. All for nothing. Yet when most folks of my generation look to marry, they will first look for a girl or a boy of their “caste/religion/state” and if for some reason, this is not a possibility, then they’ll go look elsewhere.

Edited to add: Sometimes, people won’t say it aloud, but they’ll silently calculate the “mother tongue” of the person based on his or her looks (especially the color of the skin), the first name, and maybe the last name, if they’ve had the balls to exchange this information.

Current mood: Pensive.

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Austin, Life, Music, Piano

Puke

Today is a landmark today. Took a tiny step to re-kindle my synthesizer/digital piano passion and ordered a decent model for myself. My metalhead-tattoo-rendering-always-buoyant boss (who shall remain unnamed on this blog not because she’s less important, but because letting out her identity would mean revealing secrets at various levels, something I take very seriously now and more on that later), provided the necessary artistic inspiration and the name of an amazing local, independent shop in Austin. I had to do my bit to Keep Austin Weird.

I am ecstatic; feel more cognizant of my hands and the nervy quiver that hasn’t left them since late evening. Do they still remember how to create music? At least, they’ve been provoked.

For the crazy metalhead, whose fortitude knows no limits, who knows how to live life more than anyone else, and most dearly, who is still living it up.

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