I went to a Farmer’s Market for the first time in Portland last year. I came back enamored with the idea, and frequented the local weekend markets in Sunnyvale and Mountain View for the rest of the summer.

I had the good fortune to finally introduce my Galatea to a farmer’s market. I had long wanted to. I was ecstatic at the prospect of today.

It was rather wonderful. I’ll remember it for a long time to come. We gamboled to our heart’s content, people-watched, ate crepes, slurped down honey straws, drunk limeade, had the sun bright and warm on our backs, and came back happy.

Thank God for farmer’s markets.

Now I am in such a fine mood that I must write.

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The hostel in my undergrad had cells that passed for rooms. You had thin double doors painted blue, and a walkway as narrow as economy airplane aisles. The room was roughly 15 feet long, and roughly 10 feet wide. You had slabs on each side of the walkway that passed for cots, and on these you spread your mattresses. There was another set of slabs at the other end of the room, set into the wall, to act as shelves. There was a metal desk (green) and a metal chair (green) placed between the bed-slab and the storage-slab.

For most of the year, it was stifling hot due to a lack of ventilation. A window opened out into the corridor. Unless you wanted to overhear the conversation of everyone passing by, unless you wanted everyone passing by to see you changing clothes, you kept that window shut tight. A window opened out onto the railway tracks. It being India, unless you wanted to smell human waste all day along, you kept the window shut tight.

In the little cell, I lived with my room-mate. We had curtains (consisting of bed-spreads swung over clothes-lines tacked onto the window bars on either side of the room). The curtains granted us a modicum of privacy and divided the cell into three narrow strips (our respective little cells and the walkway). Both of us treasured our privacy, and respected the other person’s wishes enough to let her be most of the time. We had protocols for communicating. We had never decided upon them. They sort of sprung up organically and we adhered to them automatically. We never barged into each other’s little corner of the world, and rarely interrupted each other while we worked or gamed or watched Youtube videos or whatever activity we indulged in.

She was from the North East. I went home every weekend. We had five days and four nights together each week. We had only one language in common. We were Christian, both of us, but she believed and I didn’t. She was worldly and extroverted, but still willing to give people chances. I was hopelessly shy, naive, but still unwilling to believe most people. I spoke crudely. She was classy. I slept early. She was an insomniac. I ate no meat. She loved dog-meat. She was lovely. I believed a few more minutes of sleep was more important than combing my hair. She was patient. I have been never accused of such a thing.

I had no interest in men. She liked peculiar kinds of men, and I disapproved of all of them. We had a pattern, of highs and lows, as she was courted by men always, and sometimes she took an interest, and then I disapproved, and then it crashed on the rocks, and then I went on with my ‘I-told-you-so’s.

She was patient and polite with most everyone. In fact, the more she disapproved, the more polite she became. I would backtrack very quickly once she started waxing politeness. I quite loathed being at odds with her.

She was heterosexual. I had nothing against men, or women, but I loved maturity, specifically the kind of maturity that is usually only born of suffering. At that point, I had only known a handful of women to have that, and no men. It took me quite a while longer before I could learn to appreciate a man’s looks. We were young, but my room-mate was wiser than most, and she was very accepting of what I liked. There was the occasional teasing reminder to keep my eyes off her.

She was a bit mothering. God, I had needed that, though I vehemently railed against it then. I vehemently railed against most things then.

She was an amnesiac. She locked me out one day. I was furious, because I was stuck outside after a journey long. She hurried back, but I had worked quite a head of steam by then, and she maneoeuvred around that as gracefully as she did everything else.

She knew the futility of railing against the inevitable. I didn’t. I am slightly better now, and I attribute that to what I learned from her during those years. She was patient, in explaining to me why certain things are. I like to think she learned from my idealism too, and became less jaded.

We had our own language. Elizabeth yelling that she was her father’s daughter, “my dear” said in a hundred, different tones, NC-17 rated conversations most of them, and the gentle teasing nudges to remind me of the bright summer day when she had patiently explained to me the resource allocation problem. It was the only day when she had understood something with numbers faster than I had, and I did not grudge her the glory at all.

There was her PhotoShop mania. There was Skillet. There was passion (hers) about Christianity. There was her railing against the grading system after a jaunt to the re-evaluation cells. There was her irritation when my dupatta stayed on my shoulders while hers didn’t. There was the scent of her Garnier shampoo, and the scent of my ayurvedic oils. There was laundry hung on the clotheslines, stifling the ventilation even more. There was her dressing up and me offering mostly silly judgements. There were often frank and hopeful conversations during nights, of the past and of the future, of sex and of family, and of each other. There was encouragement. I think I write better today because she encouraged me to write while I was with her. She was quiet when I wrote, and often seemed to know intuitively when to let me be. I was never afraid of having my thoughts broken and my writing flow broken. 

She knew intuitively (I don’t know how) when to let me be, and when to push me for answers. In that, she remains unparalleled.

There was DSP. There were endless nights of patience while I worked on my DSP problem sets. The hyacinth, I remember, saw a photograph my room-mate had once taken of me while I had been doing my DSP. The hyacinth had said it was the most focused she had seen me, and that I must really trust my room-mate to be so engrossed and lost to the world. I did trust. Sometimes, coming back to her in the evening was the best event of the day.

That small cell was the smallest living space I have lived in, but it was the safest too, I think, because I could just be. 

We were in a cell, too cramped and poorly ventilated, but we were gloriously happy anyway. We lived in a cell (divided) but we lived together.

I went to the city yesterday to meet family. Dear God, it was heaven to hear the lilting melody of Thrissur Malayalam again. It took me back to lands lush and verdant, where I had grown up listening to the hymns and music of the Syro-Malabar churches. I was overcome by how much I had missed it all.

I had missed being cosseted by family as a child, never put down for a moment, carried around like a treasured possession and shown off to all and sundry. I had been first-born, and there was nobody else for them to lavish their time and attention on, though I had been a girl. I had missed the high ceilinged-churches, the nuns arranging beautiful bouquets of white lilies before the Virgin’s statue in the grottos and a hundred voices raised in song when celebrating the Holy Mass. I remember the glorious processions of the perunaal at my grandparents’ parish church, the firecrackers, the candles and the furious competition as families strove to outdo each other in spending on church expenses. It had all been so wasteful. It had all been so grand.

I have never believed. I had still been fascinated, by high ceilings, by altars elaborately decorated, by the Eucharist, by the candles, by the stained-glass windows, by the passion of those who believed in it all.

I would never choose to return to family. I still melt though, when I hear lilting voices raised in song, when they speak to me in Thrissur Malayalam, when I meet them and find nothing unchanged. That’s the saddest part of it. They haven’t changed. They still treat the women as property. Men have their every whim complied with.

They have changed, though, in subtle ways. Men still demand the same things, women still comply, but they have a few scant words of approval for me. It is likely I am mistaken about that. They are, after all, frightfully stubborn.

Then I think of my mother and her life, and poof vanishes all the warm memories that family evokes in me. Leaving was sensible. Grateful that I could.

Most residential areas in the South Bay area look run down. I have seen the same in the East Bay near Newark and Union City, though the suburbs of Fremont are shinier by comparison. The rents are appallingly high everywhere. One might think that the apartments would at least look nicer for all the rent that they charge. They don’t, because they don’t need to. Aesthetics is for the effete, after all.

In Atlanta, there were beautiful apartments in beautiful localities at half the rents. Even if you were in the suburbs, there were roads. Not the best of roads, and certainly not the best of traffic, but definitely better than those in the Bay Area. Driving on the Atlanta roads, even Peachtree Street at midday, was a better experience than driving on the California roads. With all the taxes that are paid to the California government, one would think at least the roads would be tolerable. Atlanta had lower taxes. Yes, there was crime. There were crime-free areas though, just as there are in any city.

And, best of all, I didn’t have to fret about evictions and evil landlords the way I must here. Am I moving into a place haunted by the ghosts of the evicted? Will they hate me forever or attempt to harm me, spurred by righteous anger? Will I have to keep moving from apartment to apartment to avoid the insane hikes in rent each time I attempt to renew a lease (and settle for moderate hikes every six months instead of a steep one)? What happens when the hike is steep enough to push me into localities farther and farther away from workplaces? What happens when the quality of life turns so poor and the best option is to move to cities like Seattle or Austin or Atlanta? Even the weather cannot compensate after a point for everything else.

That housing here is expensive is an understatement. I cannot have a little studio suite without sacrificing a mighty portion of my income. I could have had that in Atlanta, on my graduate student stipend. Here I must have room-mate(s) and make do with run-down looking localities to maintain a quality of living.

If there must be skyscrapers to make housing affordable and stop turning out people who can’t keep up with the insane rent hikes (and that segment of people who can’t afford housing will eventually expand to near everybody on a salary regardless of what industry they work in), then there should be. It definitely will keep the culture – the artists, the musicians, the writers, the actors, the thinkers, the darers et al – in the city instead of turning the souls out. Once they are gone, much of what makes this place appealing (‘full of character’) will be lost, and the companies will move their operations to regions around other major universities. And when that happens, with the lost tax revenue, it will be Detroit redux.

1) When I speak to my mother, I find that, slowly and helplessly, I am growing older and so is she. I had wanted to do a lot for her. I might never, I fear.

2) When I listen to Mendelssohn, I remember a time when I had been so devastated that only the solo violin could lull me to sleep.

3) When I am paid compliments deserving or undeserving, I remember a time when I had nothing, and wonder if today will make up for any of it.

4) When I see long virgin-blue skirts gathered upwards by the northern winds, I remember that there once was a year with a seventh month which had held more kisses than raindrops, even in Kerala.

5) When I hear the old whisper in my mind of having not done enough, I think back to that day in Sr. Patrick’s office and remind myself that I’d done what I could.

6) When I see the veins of my hands, blue and cramped, I hope that I’ll have written all that I want soon enough.

7) When I look at you, I know that weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.

Last summer, I took a train down to Washington. It was a lovely trip, taking me through California, Oregon and Washington. I had noticed the poverty in California then, sharply apparent once I had left San Jose. I had written of it too, and spoken of it to many since.

I heard the idea of the six Californias recently. I am not convinced that 6 is the right number, or that the idea is solid enough to be taken seriously, but I do feel that California is a state too big. The disparity is astounding. Perhaps thinking of dividing it might do some good, for everyone concerned. I am not speaking of gerrymandering. I am not speaking of economy-based divisions either. I feel that a compromise can be made based between regional identity and resources. Perhaps, for the next fifty years or so, after a divide, the water agreements, the debt responsibilities and the education system could all continue to be shared (in-state for everyone within the erstwhile boundaries of the old state). A gradual transition to better governments and happier regions who could continue without disliking each other intensely. I know nothing deeper of the many factors at play. This is merely something that I feel might be appropriate after having seen the massive differences in culture, economy and resources across the state.

[I also wish they would return my tax refund.]

~~~

I have been thinking of returning for a doctoral program. I had tried my best to avoid thinking of that successfully enough until this week, when Yoda brought it up and made his case. It will be necessary, for me to do the work that I love best. On the other hand, as I think upon it, I am reluctant to return to a system where I might have to deal with repressed or frustrated men with near-adolescent minds who set out to be cruel to women merely because they can get away with it. I don’t want to work away days and nights in harsh-lit labs (window-less) and deal with the pettiness of many cooped up there as they strive to please and publish. Perhaps this is more true for my specialization and other fields are better. Nevertheless, my takeaways from graduate school continue to be painful advocates that advise me not to return.

~~~

I found the grey cotton blouse that my mother had given me two years ago. It is made for the summer and I am very happy to have retrieved it from the mess that is my unopened luggage from Atlanta. I am now tempted to actually unpack and find other useful artifacts that might be hiding within.

~~~

I found lotus seeds at a Korean supermarket yesterday. I also found that they carry yam cakes, radish pickles, rice wine, kimchi and more bounty of this ilk. This was the result of an accidental excursion that also unearthed a restaurant that serves Marathi food. It was quite lovely to watch Yoda as he read the menu with great pleasure.

I suspect I might have been equally giddy when I came across the quality kimchi.

~~~

She has completed 700 miles. I am travelling more than I thought I was. The mileage continues to be nice.

A rather odd happening. I was driving to pick up Yoda from his workplace, when crossed the road recklessly a man tugging along one of their garishly-coloured bikes. He saw me, did not stop, and continued across the road at a wicked pace. I braked and waited for him to pass. He stopped. Then as I drove slowly, he rushed across again. I was quite exasperated and pressed down on the horn. He stared at me and quickly finished crossing the road. I am not sure what his motive was, but I was quite unsettled.

~~~

I often get asked questions about marriage. My mother gets asked these questions more, since she is more accessible than I am. She provides more gracious answers than I would. She has more patience with the vice of prurience than I do. I think it might be easier if she didn’t have the patience and if she could merely ask them to sod off, instead of attempting to please everyone with vague replies speaking of the vague future. Why would it matter now to please anyone, after living for a very long while with a tapestry of love, loss and grief that is too cumbersome for most to look at?

It is easier to live having never had, than to live having lost. You can covet in an abstract and fairytale manner what you haven’t had. On the other hand, when you think of what you’ve had and lost, then the regret and grief is all-consuming. And sometimes, mourning the loss of the living is harder and messier than mourning the loss of the dead.

I remember what it is like to be wrapped in petals of safety (you were my safe house, painted royal blue and white), and my life would have been bleak without. It was bleak without, later. I remember what it felt like to be under the monsoon skies, drinking in the sight of verdant green clashing with drenched royal blue and white. I remember crying, inconsolably, when I crossed the ocean.

It is, usually, not the passion that ruins. It is the aftermath. It is the parting, the loss, the mourning. For the longest time, I could not look at stained glass windows, royal blue curtains and rooks without remembering. Everything was a paltry stand-in for the revered. Memory is a knife that strikes deep when your daily life is unpleasant.

The rain to the wind said,
‘You push and I’ll pelt.’
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged–though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.

I know how the flowers felt as the rain and the winds smote them. Mine was a life akin to that, for the longest while, as I circled like a bird in a storm, often buffeted by gales, until I was drawn into a lighthouse.

Life is not a song, even now, and likely never shall be. I have a lighthouse, though, and that is more than what I had hoped to have.

I remember wandering under Emory’s trees, crunching the red carpet of fallen leaves underneath my feet, mourning the ruins of my life, imploring some alien providence to have mercy. I’d like to walk under the autumn awning again, after a few years, when I finally have sorted out a few malingering aspects of my life and livelihood, and then whisper a prayer of gratitude to whatever providence decided to grant mercy.

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