Monday, January 30, 2006

fact or fiction?

Note This is for a creative writing class I'm taking. The brief - to write two 500 word strong stories told in the first person and set in the past. One must be fact and the other fiction.

Both stories are now up.


My family and I spent the summer of 1990 with my aunt in the small and sleepy town of Gorakhpur. She and her husband - a professor of biology lived in squat, ugly staff quarters on campus with their two daughters. Approaching their late 20s, my cousins were still unmarried – earning their mother the collective sympathy of friends, relatives and even the occasional stranger. Like products close to their expiry date, they were nearing the end of their shelf life and people were wary of taking them home.

Though my cousins had all the girlish notions of love and romance they were to marry men their parents chose. And till that time they were to preserve their virtue at any cost. So their pent up fantasies and longings found release in an ageing almirah that stood in the corner of their bedroom its shelves weighed down by romance novels of every kind. Books called ‘McGowan’s Woman’ and ‘Branded by Passion’ emblazoned with images of attractive people who looked both angry and aroused. I was fascinated. A sentiment heightened by the knowledge that I was forbidden from reading them. I remember the burning resentment I felt towards my elder sister and cousins. Why should they get to read ‘Viking Lover’ while I had to make do with the Famous Five?

So one hot afternoon as the soporific combination of a heavy lunch and the
heat-burdened air took its toll on my family, I lay in wait. The house was
soon silent but for the indignant droning of the fans that seemed to be
protesting that others rested while they worked.

The illicit almirah stood in its corner, one door half open as though it
knew I was coming. I fed a plump arm in to the narrow opening and rummaged silently for a book. I tugged one out at random and made my way to the balcony where the prolific creepers and potted palms shielded me from prying eyes and the heat.

I finally looked at the cover. ‘Blackmail’ - a story of betrayal and revenge. At first I wondered why the book was forbidden fruit. It seemed so – normal. And then Giles swept Felicity in to his arms and began making passionate if somewhat violent love to her. I couldn’t understand most of the words and phrases but something about them told me that this was the part I wasn’t meant to read. This alien tangling of arms and legs, the hurried disrobing and mute protests. Was this what my eyes were shielded from when we watched television? Nauseous excitement coursed through my body. The fear of being caught is a potent aphrodisiac.

As their love scene reached its climax, the sweet smell of soon to be wet earth tickled my nose. Clouds of a freak summer storm gathered with alarming speed and relieved themselves over the campus forcing me indoors, where I kept the incomprehensible book for adults aside. And fell into the open arms of my waiting childhood.


I remember everything about the day I first saw him. The bright sunshine. The sky a real sky blue. The bare trees and overdressed pedestrians that ruined the illusion of a perfect summer day.

He was standing inside one of those dinky life style boutiques. You know – the kind that sells empty coconut husks as salad bowls for £150. My eyes were drawn to the lean muscles that strained under his perfect black skin. Angular. That was the word. Even in such a feminine environment he exuded a masculinity that made me a little week in the knees. A sudden, vicious gust of wind jolted me out of my reverie and I hurried away, not wanting to be caught staring.

A week later I found myself taking a walk in the same area. I stopped to tie my shoelaces and as I straightened up realised I was standing outside the shop again. He was there and just as beautiful. I remember being relieved that he wasn’t a figment of my imagination.

It took me two weeks to summon the courage to go inside. I agonised for hours over what to wear – like it was our first date or something. I wore my best jeans, a crisp white shirt and a beige trench. He seemed the clean and classic type and I wanted to make a good impression. I couldn't bring myself to walk up to him though, so I pretended to be absorbed by a candleholder in the shape of a turbaned native. After throwing a few furtive glances in his direction I left.

I dreamt about him that night. His strong arms. That lean body that I knew would be soft and almost liquid to curl up against. I could see the two of u together – we were a perfect fit.

I soon settled in to a routine. I would visit the store once a month - usually in some kind of disguise. Funny but not outlandish hats, oversized glasses, sometimes just a newspaper. Once a week I would walk by, slowing down as I passed the store and casually look for him. I even managed to take a picture of him, which became my desktop wallpaper at work. Friends and colleagues teased me and called me a stalker. They said I was obsessed. But it wasn’t like that. Honest.

It was during one of my monthly visits the self-imposed restraining order was breached. I couldn’t help it - after so many months of knowing him I just had to. I was so close I could smell his earthy scent. Before I knew what I was doing I had extended a trembling hand and was lightly caressing his back.

"Lovely to touch isn’t it? It's hand crafted Italian leather. Would you like to sit down and see how it feels?” a helpful assistant asked.

I don’t remember what I said. But I do remember the sense of loss I felt as I walked away. And the smell of his skin.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

neither here nor there

From my window i see

Green marzipan
Dusted with icing sugar.
Frosted golf green for dessert


I am warm
In this by now familiar womb
Comforted by the soft dark shapes that surround
I know it’s time to leave but
I don’t want to
Not yet
I am just getting comfortable

A great big heave
A headless voice
And I am pushed out
Silently kicking and screaming
In to the cold

My station has arrived

Musical Chairs

They shuffle uncertainly
To a noise that has over time
Become music
It comes to a sudden stop
And a confusing scramble ensues
No one playing by the rules
‘Cheater’ hangs unspoken in the air
glares strain the eyes of the disgruntled
The train pulls out
And those standing continue to play
But never by the rules

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Sharing is for Care Bears

Your wedding day. Waking up at 4am. Having 20 of your near and not particularly dear female relatives watching you get dressed - passing a critical eye over your jewellery, cup size and hair (none of which match up to that of their daughter/daughter in-law). That funny feeling in your stomach – is it nerves or that extra vadai you had last night? The fake hair gun stapled to your head. Weighed down with enough flora to enter at The Chelsea Flower Show. Jewellery. More jewellery. Still not enough. Add some more. Heavy silver anklets designed to make you take tiny shuffling steps that will pass as coyness. Ooh! Some more jewellery! The need to pee immediately after the last safety pin of your intricately tied nine yard sari has been fastened in place.

Now with all this going on is it fair to expect anyone to know exactly what wedding vows they’re agreeing to? Now I’m ok with the whole thing about fidelity, honesty, etc. But with everything going on at the wedding itself (refer paragraph 1) I said yes to sharing. And after almost four years of marriage I think it needs to be re-evaluated.

I was warned about it by well meaning friends and colleagues – “Whatever you do don’t share the duvet.” I heeded their advice for the first 2 years and a bit. But after coming to this country of sub zero temperatures I in my naiveté decided that one queen sized duvet would be so much cosier than 2 singles. In anticipation of the divine, down filled creations imminent arrival matching duvet and pillow covers were bought. What a pretty picture our bed made. Until we got in to it.

Conflicts zones are never pretty – especially when combat takes place between husband and wife. It started off a gentle tussle – honest. A tug from me reciprocated by a tug in the other direction by Beelzebub – I mean my husband. A rather substantial yank in exchange for a whack on the head. All in good fun. Until I felt the bitter cold begin to creep up my exposed calf. And war was declared.

Like most battles, ours has dragged on indefinitely with no sign of peace. Sure we call truces once in a while. Summer. Birthdays. Religious holidays. But the next night all is forgotten and the battle lines are drawn again. It’s not always violent. Psychological warfare can be just as effective. Threats and bribes work equally well too. Using toxic gases was ruled illegal in the Human Rights Convention of 2004 (unless beans had been on the dinner plate that night).

My advice to those of you taking the plunge is this. Sure - promise to be faithful, honest and loving. Heck promise to share if you have to. Share pretty sunsets, chocolate fudge sundaes – your toothbrush if you’re not hygienically inclined. But do not share a duvet. Put it in your pre-nup. Have it cast in stone. Get it tattooed on your foreheads (so much cooler than matching rings don’t you think?) Just don’t share the duvet. Learn from my experiences.

Now if you will all excuse me it’s time to go to sleep. And kick some ass.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

In love with an older woman


I realised the piece needed a bit of pruning. Here's the result with a few pictures thrown in (courtesy the sherpa)

“Don’t forget to sing that song from Great Gambler” instructed my father, and proceeded to show us how in a rather off-key way before ringing off. With these words of wisdom ringing in our ears my husband and I set off to the Serene Republic.

“Venice! Now?” was perhaps the most oft asked question when we told people of our impending plans. Traditionally January-March is a time when most people in England head out for a spot of winter sun. Fuerta Ventura, St. Barts and The Maldives is where it’s at. Venice with its cloak of mist and icy temperatures isn’t exactly welcoming. But we were firm – Venice it was. While going off-season may have meant no carnival or listening to live jazz bands in the city’s many piazzas, it did mean that the only beings we would jostle for space with were the well-fed pigeons of St.Mark’s Square.

From Marco Polo Airport, Venice is an unhurried one hour water bus ride away. For the well-heeled who don’t want their monogrammed Louis Vuittons rubbing shoulders with the Delseys of the world, the water taxis are always there. They take just 20 minutes and pipe in the Dynasty theme tune for free. However the water bus does provide a wonderful build up to Venice as you chug by the islands of Murano, San Michele and Lido.

Our hotel - the Cavaletto e Doge Orseolo wasn’t as grand as its name. But a minute from St. Mark’s Square - a beguiling mix of history, art, high style and avian droppings - made it an ideal base for exploring the city. A 5 minute walk along narrow alleys where Cartier rubs shoulders with traditional tabbachios lead us to the Rialto Bridge. Some of the best views of the Grand Canal can be had here – that is if you can squeeze past the cordon of ubiquitous Japanese tourists. They line the bridge taking pictures as though Venice was going to sink any moment. After a quick snoop through the Rialto Markets we decided to take the plunge and do what everyone does in Venice. Take a gondola ride.

Following our guide books advice we went to an official gondola stand. But even here nothing is fixed and you can – no you must haggle. When we walked away from an exorbitant demand of €100 for a 30 minute ride, we were followed with calls of “Scusi, scusi senor senora”. (For those of you have shopped at Fashion Street in Bombay, it’s reminiscent of the hawker’s beseeching ‘Behenji’). If you have any notions that gondola rides are cheesy – remove them now. A slow meander along the lesser known and smaller canals of Venice will take you past the homes of some of history’s most notorious and illustrious names – Cassanova, Napolean, Mozart. The waterways are silent but for the rhythmic swoosh of the oars and the gondoliers cry of ‘Stai’ and ‘Oyve’.

While gondolas are a charming way to see Venice they’re not exactly the most practical. Or economic. So we walked and walked. And walked. With maps, without them, sometimes just following people who looked like they knew where they were going. We often found ourselves in quiet, residential neighbourhoods where ageing buildings with their terracotta and lemon meringue yellow paint peeling stood sombrely. Almost every window framed by frayed lace curtains and decorated with lush window boxes. The epitome of shabby chic. Here we escaped the touts and tourist shops and pretended we were strolling home from mass at Santa Maria Gloriosa Dei Frari.

Our tired feet got a well deserved break at the Café Quadri back at St. Mark’s Square. A former hang-out of the Austrian Army the outdoor café provides unobstructed views of the basilica, the Campinale and the fat pigeons that wield more power than the erstwhile doges. Pretty soon we lost track of time and realised we’d been there longer than the four horses that imperiously look out from the front arches of the basilica.

Almost as famous as Venice herself are the lagoon islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello. We jumped on a boat and did a half day island hop exploring them. While Murano’s glass industry and Torcello’s ancient church are wonderful, my favourite was Burano. This fishing village catches your eye from afar with its rainbow coloured homes and lines of fluttering clothes left out to dry. Keen to buy the intricate lace Burano is famous for, I almost fainted when I saw a delicate table runner priced at €350. Maybe some other time.

Back in Venice, I practised some of my best critic lines before checking out the city’s wonderful art collection. The Titians and Bellinis got ‘Wonderful patina’ and when it came to Klimt, Rothko and Dali at Ca’Pesaro and the Guggenheim it was ‘Wonderful use of light and space’. For those in search of some al fresco art a walk along the Grand Canal will do where oils, watercolours and pencil sketches vie for attention. And your wallets.

If investment art isn’t your scene don’t worry – money can be put to good use here. From the iconic interlocking G’s of Gucci to the understated elegance of Bottega Venetta. Murano glass blown in to life size trees with multi-coloured parrots perched on the branches. And if none of these make you reach for your wallet how about an apron printed with a close-up of David’s well coiffed pubis?

I hope that’s not put you off your food – it didn’t dampen our enthusiasm one bit. Our gastronomic tour of Venice included Capuccinos at St.Marks, risotto at a small trattoria in the Rialto and crispy, thin pizzas in San Polo. But the highlight of this junket was dinner at Harry’s Bar. From Truman Capote to Ernest Hemingway this unassuming establishment has hosted the rich, not-so-famous and everyone in between. The bellini cocktail was created here and visitors from around the world drop in for a drink or two and a fabulous meal. But all this does come at a price. So while our food went down a treat, the bill was a much harder to digest.

Our last day in Venice was spent wandering about Campo di Ghetto Nuovo. The deserted squares we walked through looked like they hadn’t changed in decades. I wouldn’t have been surprised if an army regiment came marching out. That’s the wonderful thing about Venice – everything seems to be from another time. The houses, the gondolas, the calm, unhurried air that permeates the city. The modern tide that has swept the rest of the world has left Venice literally untouched.

The Lonely Planet calls Venice an old courtesan. While I first thought that rather unflattering, I now realise the title is anything but. Venice has aged gracefully and wears her wrinkles and grey hair with a quiet dignity. Unlike other cities that get brighter and glitzier as they get older, Venice has not rushed in for a face lift and some botox. This old courtesan will seduce you and let you take your time exploring every inch of her. And the pleasure my friends, is like no other.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


For those of you who haven't read comment 21 of the previous blog - my good mood has been largely recovered thanks to

1. Everyone being so nice to me (I have no money if that's what it's all about :))
2. A trip to Venice that begins tomorrow morning

I'm sure I'll find the rest of my good mood on a gondola or buried deep in some risotto.

See you all next week. Have a wonderful weekend

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


I have lost something. I really can’t remember when I lost it, somewhere around the 2nd or 3rd perhaps? I have no idea where to start looking for it either – the Lost and Found counter at Euston Station? In the dark recesses of my cupboard – under a pile of crumpled shirts and trousers that don’t fit (but were a real bargain)?
Or should I rummage through the garbage – maybe I threw it out with the one million Pizza delivery mailers we get every week.

Perhaps you’ve seen what it is that I’ve lost. How do I describe it to you? It has no definite shape, size or colour – in fact you really can’t even see it. Neither can I for that matter. But I can sense it. When it’s there, it acts as an invisible cocoon against the cold, the bad news that’s on the television every day and the fact that I’m what seems like a million miles away from home. When it’s not there… I feel cold. Alone. I burst in to tears every now and then and drink too much coffee. I sit at work and think about being at home – snuggled under the duvet, drinking hot chocolate and watching bad, daytime television.

I’m peeling an orange right now. Maybe I’ll find it in the middle of one of the juicy, squashy, citric segments. Masquerading as a pip. Nope - not there either. I rummage through my bag – but all I find are old bills and even more pizza delivery flyers (they seem to be everywhere – telling me my New Year Resolution to avoid them is futile).

Should I go out and search in its favourite haunts? Maybe it’s window-shopping on King’s Road or having a big, fat cappuccino and buttered croissant at Patisserie Valerie.

Maybe I should put up some posters. Except instead of the usual adorable puppy or fat, one-eyed cat there will be a big blank space. And it will say


Last seen on 2nd January at 10:16 am.
If found please return to owner.
Considerable reward on offer.

So if you sense a shapeless, colourless, weightless, odourless something lurking in a shoe shop or eyeing a double cheese pizza – it’s mine.

It’s my good mood. And I’d like it back.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Written on the 09:36 to Peterborough

I have been forced in to writing.
An empty page lined in banana leaf green stares at me.
Taunting me.
Because it knows as well as I do that I even though I have nothing to write, I must.
Because I have uncapped my pen
With a grandiose flourish that was perhaps too grandiose for a standard, blue Bic. Which is perhaps undeserving of flourishes of any kind.
By now, the other passengers are staring at me with unveiled curiosity.
Waiting to see what I’m going to write.
So I pretend to think.
And write down ‘So I pretend to think’.
I look at my co-passengers.
They seem to be satisfied with my scribbling and have gone back to reading the paper and sending text messages.
So I begin to make secret little notes about them.
About the man’s scuffed leather briefcase and the girl’s blue scarf.
I soon tire of that, but I can’t stop
I’m in the groove now
I have to keep writing
So write I do
‘Faircloth Ltd.’
‘Blue elephant’
Words and phrases linked only by the pen that inked them.
I look up.
And see the man with the scuffed leather briefcase.
He’s writing in a cheap spiral notebook with an expensive pen.
Our eyes meet.
We give each other what we think are subtle once-overs and then look away.
We both write something down.
I write ‘Funny lime green shirt’
I hope he’s written something nice.

Monday, January 02, 2006


What will the critics say?

‘Light as air?’

‘Heart achingly delicate?’

‘The empty spaces speak volumes?’

‘The curves of the piece glide effortlessly?’

The milk boils over

Forming an ephemeral sculpture

Of light, delicate, empty bubbles

Framed by the microwave window

What will the critics say?

P.S Happy new year everyone!