The erotic exploits of black traveling feet

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Sanctum Sanctorum


September 9, 2014
Night of the Harvest Moon

I remembered you as I recited The Apostle’s Creed, past midnight. The moon reigned supreme in a clear sky, not dotting the horizon so much as drawing all attention towards it, like a burlesque star lifting up her skirt, daring us earthlings to confront the frightening directness of its celestial gaze. “Look at me,” it seemed to say, that orchestrator of tidal swells.

You ebbed into my thoughts, like a buoy floating on tempestuous waters, during my performance of that superstitious ritual, as I feigned belief in God, his only Son, the Holy Spirit, the Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. When I arrived at the solemn, “Amen,” I had run out of water. The translucent plastic bottle molded in the imagined likeness of the Virgin who appeared at Lourdes had been tapped dry. I was mimicking the gestures my mother taught me to make in times of duress. I was baptizing the territory of my house in a desperate attempt to exorcise whatever dark matter had settled into its corners, resulting in the synaptic failure it had come to represent.

It was no ordinary sequence of events that had forced me to seek recourse in such a counter-intuitive deed, one my rational mind would possibly never forgive. But then vulnerability was a luxury I couldn’t afford. I had expended too much energy dealing with trivial tragedies, first an electrical fire that could have burned down the building, then a potential flood from one particularly furious spell of rain, then a broken pump that heralded a day of drought, then waking up one morning to find the black, leathery remains of a baby bat that had chosen my living room for its suicide, etching an imprint of its dark, crimson blood onto the floor behind my book shelf, like a seal. This synaptic failure was no longer purely residential, the trauma translated into a state of muteness, a literary coma. It wasn’t that I was unable to write or read. I could. But I had, since I first emailed you, not dreamed a single dream, which meant the last dream I could recall was of you. The absence of dreams signals, for me, the death of creativity.

I was sure the dreams would return. What I was contending with was a sense of betrayal because the prophecy made in a dream I dreamed back in January, a day after I finished my book, had not come to pass. I was at Sunday Mass in my parish church in Kurla, Bombay. I was late, as usual, and when the service had ended, was on my way home, when a faceless woman made eye contact with me, then casually said, “This is the beginning of your Paradise.”

If only I could dream again, this situation could perhaps be undone. A correction had to be made, and the “Holy Water” from Lourdes could perhaps be of assistance. That morning, I watched a man walking over another man who had lain face downwards on the roof of one of the slums in the makeshift colony that exists on the other side of the fence separating our residential colony from theirs. As he threaded along his spine from neck to toe, I could sense how the pressure from the weight of his body was possibly smoothening the circulatory knots in the other man’s body. I knew then that I had to undo the synaptic failure that had afflicted my house. A correction was in order.

Faith is merely the suspension of disbelief, so I reasoned with myself. I decided to take my mother’s word for it, believe that the water indeed was holy, that it indeed had miraculous properties. I didn’t, however, need a miracle. I simply wanted a restoration of the order of things. I wanted what Leonard Cohen called “Chromatic Metamorphosis,” when his saintly subject of study, Catherine Tekakwitha, is at a feast after her baptism into the Christian Faith, and, temporarily blinded by the glint of cutlery, spills her glass of wine and the whale-shaped stain begins to discolor extended regions of the virginal tablecloth to the utter dismay and surprise of her guests. Wails and oaths resounded through the purple hall as faces, clothes, tapestries, and furniture displayed the same deep shade. Beyond the high windows there were islands of snow glinting in the moonlight. The entire company, servants and masters, had directed its gaze outside, as if to find beyond the contaminated hall some reassurance of a multicolored universe. Before their eyes these drifts of spring’s snow darkened into shades of spilled wine, and the moon itself absorbed the imperial hue. Catherine knows she is responsible for this unintended consequence of her spilling of the red wine. “I guess I owe you all an apology,” she stands up and slowly says. Cohen’s narrator learns of this undocumented “miracle” through his wife, Edith, a member of the same unnamed tribe as Catherine. He, however, discovers the link only later, when he chances upon the bizarre experiment Edith and his gay lover, F, have been conducting, injecting themselves with half a portion of “Holy Water” from Lourdes and half a portion of water from the spring at Catherine Tekakwitha’s shrine.

As my head touched the pillow that night, after I had composed these notes for you, I confronted the perfect round moon that presented itself at a slant from my window, a white round communion wafer promising deliverance.

I fell asleep, and after weeks of uninterrupted muteness, finally dreamed.

Aside

Approaching 29


DISCLAIMER: This post, and the ones to follow on approaching 29, has been and will have been written on a Brother typewriter. They have, therefore, been left unedited so as to emphasize the automatic nature of the impulse that led to their birth. I turn 29 on July 16.

#1
May 9, 2014

Last night I dreamed I had turned 29. Time had lapsed. It was already two months later and I was suddenly one year closer to the inevitable 30.

What difference does it make?

We gather our years like sobriety chips. We see them as accomplishments. Milestones. Landmarks we use to give our retrospective recounting of experiences chronological context. Once, when I was 12, This summer when I was 20, that evening when I got my heart broken, I must have been 18 or 19. We convince ourselves of the veracity of these markers of time.

I do not want to mistake my years for experience.

I don’t see myself as having arrived at any place I planned to be. My fingers are getting lost in the interstices between the keys. Here I am, on the brink of 29, dabbling with now ancient technology, trying to electrify the neural pathways that connect finger to brain, trying to articulate thoughts I didn’t know had already entered me. Trying not to make him the core of my existence, trying to keep myself from unraveling, from surrendering to the vicissitudes of light, of life.

“A world wholly alive has a Hellish power,” Clarice Lispector writes. It’s a maddening line. She tricked me into reading it. The paragraphs preceding it were exercises in delay, studies in evasion, attempts at subverting a felt proclivity towards phallogocentric discourse. They were not asides, not diversions, they were all articles of her truth.

Clarice, where were you when I needed you? Why did I not know of your existence until two days ago? How did I even arrive at the age I am now, 29 but not yet, without having encountered the desperate electricity of your words. Clarice, I am looking at you through a magnifying glass. I am studying everything. The light only expands until it reaches the boundaries of illumination, the cusp between brightness and darkness. Knowing and Unknowing.

I want to understand the abyss you saw yourself in. Sometimes I am afraid I am living it, living the abyss, the secret fear of every writer; the formless. I am afraid I am losing the narrative plot of my own existence. Sometimes I worry that everything I indulge in, all my sensuous undertakings, are merely studies in destruction. I was going to say distraction, but my fingers felt otherwise.

“Lost in the Fiery Hell of a Canyon, a Woman Desperately Struggles for Life.”

What if he were no longer there to guide me into the formlessness of sleep? What then? Would I glide into the abyss and never look back? Would I as voluntarily embrace the unstructured loneliness that would inevitably follow? Would I cease to be the me I have come to be in these almost 29 years? Would I collapse under the weight of love? Or would I soar instead into the secret realm of bliss reserved for the solitary?

Am I depriving him of that secret solitary bliss by luring him into the convenience of that which my conditional love offers?

When did I begin to exist?

The Last Supper


It is no secret that an artist can transcend grief through her practice, and in doing so, deliver the recipients of her art from the trappings of the mortal world, tapping into the blood-sap of the universal. Take for instance my namesake, Rose-Lynn Fisher, who, after what she understatedly describes as a “period of personal change, loss, and copious tears,” found herself utterly captivated by the microcosmic world of the organically shed human tear. Knowing fully well the scientifically proven fact that tears can never be homogenous, that the impulse behind each drop allowed for a difference in texture, in landscape, she set out, with the assumed precision of a trained documentarian, to photograph, through a standard light microscope, the structure of 100 different types of tears, resulting in a profound series she titled “Topography of Tears.”

Two among these 100 images resonated with me on the morning of the 20th of June. In fact, on her website, these two typographies appear one after the other, the starkness of their contrast thereby elevated manifold. The first composition resembles the archeological remains of a ruined city, its artifacts seemingly buried under layers of repressed soil, its derelict cartography bearing evidence to an architecture that, once intact, now survives as subject matter for historiography. “Tears of Grief,” she captioned the image, which precedes its poignant counterpart; its opposite; so dense and veined it mimicked the obsessive foliage I encountered when I arrived in Goa, the land of my ancestors, just days after the thick Southwesterly monsoon clouds had descended above its topography. “Onion Tears,” was the caption Fisher gave this slide.

Tears from Onions

By late morning I was presented with at least a kilo of onions. They sat before me in a basket and I was unfazed by the task that lay ahead. I had elected to be in this kitchen. It was perhaps the fifth time I was there since Christine D’Souza had died on the 15th of June at 8.30pm. While most of the others sought refuge in collectively reciting the rosary or by participating in the tear-stained act of mourning, I chose to look for Aunty in her kitchen in Dramapur.

She was everywhere, her steel vessels still bore her inscription, several bottles still contained the water mango pickle she delighted in making every summer, the fridge still stocked the mangad, the preparation of which she had presided over perhaps two or three weeks ago. It had been four days or so since we had buried her; entrusting her body in a blue coffin, surrendering her remains to the rich laterite soil of St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Dramapur. At least I think it was four days, for in Dramapur, time passes reluctantly, with a pace so terrifyingly unabridged it is possible to live several lifetimes in the span of five days. And that is what had come to pass, for her children, all girls, two of whom are married to my brothers, had to return to their elsewhere lives, and so one month’s worth of calculated mourning had to be condensed within the life cycle of five days.

Her presence in the kitchen contradicted her otherwise absence. It was becoming harder and harder to reconcile myself to this loss. Her death had impelled an unexpected family reunion. And after having buried her, after having sprinkled wet red mud over her, we were now confronted with the responsibility of having to cook a meal in her honor for the anticipated month’s mind mass.

I inherited her at least 15 or 16 years ago, when my eldest brother had begun to court her third daughter. At the time they lived in Kalina, in Bombay. The Dramapur house was yet to be concretely built. Without our knowing it, she seeped into our blood; the consequence of the numberless feasts she had prepared for our indulgence over these years during which her seven grandchildren were born, all of whom I have known since their infancy. The oldest two called her Big Mama, the third grandson haughtily called her Okkol, which, in Konkani, means “bride”, while my three nieces and lone nephew referred to her as Big Nana.

Big she was. Her wingspan was immense. When she hugged you you could gleam for that precious moment the largeness of her soul. She had what is called a “Big Hand”, a phrase I picked up from my mother when she once described my father’s mother, Rosy, who shared the same characteristic. To have a “Big Hand” implies an extraordinary penchant for generosity, particularly when it came to the act of nurturing. Aunty never understood limits. Her proportions were never influenced by numbers. She cooked bountifully. She made feasts. She recognized palm vinegar for the magic potion it rightfully is. She restored you with her food. She fed you like you were of the same blood as she, and in the ritual of eating what she prepared, you suddenly were. Baptism by fire.

She was a sensualist, drawn to excesses, forever fighting against her ever-rising blood sugar levels, always empathizing with my sister’s and my proclivity for feni, sometimes even taking us to a corner, away from prying eyes, to pour us each a glass, then slitting up a plump green water mango for us to savor.

The anticipated month’s mind was fixed for 6:45am on the morning of the 20th of June. I barely slept the previous night. I had thought the rite of burial would bring me closure, yet each time I closed my eyes, I was greeted by a fresh memory of her movements across the kitchen, the way she bore the weight of her body and the demands she made on its muscles; the way she spoke in her broken English that bore all the nuances of her relative and preferred comfort with Konkani. How she would repeatedly utter the conjunctive aani when reciting to us from memory the ingredients for Pork Vindalho…

After the mass, we moved towards the graveyard to pray over her tomb. It was during this procession from the interior of the church to the wet, cross-marked outdoor that I found myself spilling into grief, submitting to emotion, tears collecting over my face the way droplets of water collect over the underside of the lid of the vessel in which rice is about to be steamed. I fell apart despite myself, like well-intentioned milk gone bad; its water content marginalized from the coagulated mass.

Back in her kitchen, better composed, I contended with the onions. My flair for peeling, chopping, and dicing was a noticeable advantage. The women, her relatives, were unarguably in charge. I was merely a sous-chef. My business was to prep the kitchen for the feast that was in order. I diced the onions. They exposed me to their acids, drew tears out of me, mingled with my tears of grief to probably create a new microcosmic entity.

Once done I reached for the tomatoes, then the cucumbers, then I volunteered to peel the ginger for the green masala the women were preparing, then I was ridiculed, they laughed at my metropolitan penchant for sterility. “Who peels ginger or garlic when you’re making a masala?” Then they jeered at me. “All the taste is in the skin.” Then I recognized my stupidity. Then they congratulated me on my acumen with vegetables. Then I sighed as the Vindalho began to bubble. Then I watched them salivate as the dried sunta began to acquire the flavors of the curry it had been dropped into along with chopped onions. Then I bore witness as the women released into each preparation the secret ingredient which I am now obliged never to reveal. Then I wept when they took the bangda they had slit and marinated in red chilli powder, salt, and vinegar to the backyard where a pan had been left sitting burning wood. Then, when the time was right, I helped them sort each dish into bowls and helped usher the feast onto the table for it to be blessed and then devoured.

Then we sat around the table, her table, like we had so many times before. Except this time we were eating in memory of her. Suddenly, she was more alive than ever, watching as each morsel entered our mouths in a ceremony of shared ecstasy. The pork was tender. She would have approved of the proportion of chillies and vinegar. She would have blessed the chicken that had been shallow fried in oil that was fuelled by burnt wood from her garden. She would have delighted in how perfectly the bangda had been fried, in how delicately we had placed the pickled mango in a plate, in the rich green of the coriander that consecrated the green masala chicken, the smooth consistency of the coconut milk in which the pumpkin had been drowned, in the stories that kept resurfacing of her Big Hand and the countless mouths she had fed and our sustained recollection of the nourishment she had offered us, the salvation we had received each time she had sanctified our bodies with the sophisticated sleight of her culinary grace.

Aside

Typewritten Blues


An exercise in automatic writing on my brother typewriter.

New Delhi, May 2014

It is only when darkness descends that I feel most insecurely the weight of the faded light. The errors of the day, the wasted vigil, the painful anticipation, the curious desperation for words to ignite, for language to make contact with paper, the purposeless sweat, the martyrdom of futile minutes… Sometimes only a sentence born out of nothingness can redeem the melancholia of the yet unawakened.

Twilight settled in so quietly. One moment there was the remains of the sun and the next moment it surrendered. That abyss we call the sky turned indigo. I still await the satori that last night’s dream promised me. I still await the epiphany. I looked for it in the mundane, it eluded me. I had every desire to submit myself to the dictates of thought. I had every intention. But I allowed myself to be distracted by lost causes. I didn’t give in to reflection. I let myself believe my body needed respite from its feverish longings, longings I couldn’t quell. I tried to elicit ecstasy, yes, I tried to finger myself into ecstasy, but my cunt felt like a bottomless pit, too boundless to find fulfillment.

Satisfaction is a myth. It’s a story we allow ourselves to believe. We entangle its mysteriousness in a parallel myth of happiness. What is happiness? The cessation of want? Where does it lie? What is its destiny? Does it exist at the end of desire? Does it arise from the hope that future wanting will find ways to satisfy itself?

I knew I went to sleep happy three nights ago. It was unexpected. We were drunk. We had spoken of the future, its potential for absences, its power to derail us. We seemed to have prepared ourselves. “I love you,” I told him, with my hand tucked into his, my fingers nestled against his fingertips, circling the circumference of his fingerprints, toes rubbing against toes, eyes closed in submission to the heavens, mouths inches away. “I love you too, baby…” he answered… the recognition I had waited six, no, almost seven years for. The cessation of want.

I wanted nothing then. I was complete in my longings. my body was warm, I could feel the warmth of the trickle inside my cunt, and yet, I didn’t even want him inside me, as I otherwise would have. It was done. We were both ready. We had finally declared to each other in the fullness of our honesty, in the sanctity of our lust, the expanse of our love for each other. And yet, when I was awakened by the morning chirpings, the noisy, combative cooing of piegons and parakeets and squirrels, I found myself once more with want.

The history of our existence lies in our record of wants.

We are what we want. Our wants define our being, our drive, our destines.

And yet, today I found myself without want.

I would have liked for words to have yielded to my will. I would have liked to have been the mistress of the unexpected. I would have liked to have had him kneel beside me begging to be sated. I would have like for him to penetrate the ennui that had settled that only dissipated when even fell.

Why does evening have to fall? As if it were made of a fabric so heavy it had to yield to the laws of gravity? Why must it always descend upon us, like gloom? Why does it seem to signal the abortion of the morning’s pregnancies? Today it felt like death. Like the loss of something so irretrievable I had to compel myself to write just to restore for my sanity the hope that that which is pure and essential is not wholly contained in fragments of broken light. Else the day would have slipped into eternity without a moment’s hesitation. I had to mourn the purposelessness of existence, the difficulty in finding significance in the everyday is becoming for me a monotonous exercise. One I can neither escape nor conquer. I seek significance. Not just in language but for myself. I want to be significant. But how?

Everyday I recognize the futility of it. That the myth of one’s significance is exactly that, a myth. It is so divorced from reality one is astonished by the persistence of the desire. How to keep at it? How to continue? What is the texture of the quest I am after? What will be the nature of its resolution? How must I save myself? Or am I already beyond redemption?

If there is a god, will He or She or It or They forgive me the sin of having wasted this day? Or must I hope for the other extreme? To be forgiven for trying to make too much of everything? Am I burdening the cosmos with my faux gravitas? What is significance can only come from living? What if I am deluding myself into thinking I was made for higher thought? Will my hubris be forgiven as an oversight?

The Aesthete’s Intercession


Image

He is aware that the violence is momentary.

 

It must be.

 

Precision is imperative.

 

A votive beheading; an eager dissection with the same searching blade; a meditative reaching into crevices; the zealous extraction of flesh.

 

The smaller the softer the sweeter the more delirious.

 

His eyes have tilted to a slant. The curled tip of the blade picks at a convenient point around the circumference, ushers the fruit to a corner of his street-side cart, along with the other depositions, then the second, then the third.

 

The round, bruise-colored husk is now bereft.

 

Love child of coastal excesses; fruit of the Palmyra tree, offspring of hedonistic divinity; translucent flesh, interior wetness revealed after lips have made contact with its texture, then hollowness; the epicurean tongue glides against the pocket, sucks in the liquid remainder, tears into the suppleness, until all memory of its existence survives squarely as experience.

 

Tadgoda, Nungu, Tale Hannu, Taati Ningu, Taati Munjalu, Tal Gaha, Tala, Tari, Taal, Pana Nangu, Munjal, Targula.

 

Beauty lies on the edge of surrender.

 

***

 

Four aesthetes walk into Lal Bagh.

 

Morning light stretches against the leaves. Speckles.

 

A post-colonialist discourse follows.

Their pace is punctuated by ellipses; breath-spaced gaps; revelations; anecdotes; the demonstration of axes; the illustration of detail; observatory notes on the import of wrought iron; the commissioning of exotic plants; their uprootment from foreign lands; the subsequent translation, transliteration, transcreation; the hegemonic attempts at writing over without erasing; the horticultural superimposition to create new histories.

 

The territorial appropriation of beauty.

 

The lead aesthete escorts the initiate; he rummages through the grass and delicately lifts the fallen frangipani; temple flowers. He sees the familiar face of the woman who comes by everyday to pick strewn flowers and collect them in her polythene bag.

 

They greet each other and when she is gone, he turns to the initiate and tells her the intriguing story the woman had once passed down to him; of the snake who had made a home for himself close to the frangipani.

 

The Director of the Directorate of Horticulture had issued a directive to rid the garden of the snake. The order was carried out by the reluctant underlings; the snake’s home was smoked out. The next day the snake slithered its way to the Director’s home and bit his wife.

 

Is beauty born of conflict, or does it exist in spite of it?

 

Is our postlapsarian world unknowingly obsessed with recreating Eden?

 

“Every time I walk here I find myself getting more and more curious,” says the lead aesthete. By now we have torn fledgling flowers from the Tamarind tree, indulged in the premature sourness; plucked inch-long apples from a human-sized tree and basked in the memory of the forbidden; collected samples of shed bark; shredded slivers of the paper-trunk tree…

 

In other words, the timeline of our walk was constituted by a series of singular moments. We had come to understand how beauty only reveals itself through the act of pausing. The aspiring aesthete must learn to isolate it, approach it, contemplate its mystique. Beauty must be absorbed. Like a parasite, the aesthete must relish each morsel, allow it to perpetuate through the bloodstream. The aesthete must become the accumulation of her encounters with beauty. It must define her being.

 

Beauty lies in the perception of it. A tree may be blossoming wildly in a forest; but if there is no one to witness its grandiloquent display; is it still beautiful?

 

 

Was the White Silk Cotton Tree with its stellar girth and its elephant-skin texture magnificent only when it intercepted our gaze? Or was it always carrying its one thousand years in that large, majestic moment? What were the collective beauties that defined its being?

***

 

She decided he was beautiful months before she could encounter him.

 

And when she did, she learned that he was not a man of faith.

 

He only believed in the sun.

 

In the certainty of its daily rising and setting.

 

In its gospel of light.

 

And that is what he practiced; that was the purpose of his being; to draw with light.

 

And after she knew him; after she had loved him; she was still unsure if he saw in her the beauty she believed she possessed. She wanted to see in him her reflection. But he rarely ever acknowledged her beauty. Rather, she hadn’t yet learned to decipher his coded, non-verbal appreciation of its existence.

 

One day he relented.

 

 

She was informing him of an admirer who, he could tell, was seeking to acquaint himself more meaningfully with her beauty. She was yet unaware of his motive, though, to her credit, she did anticipate his desire for her.

 

“I’m not surprised,” he responded. “You’re young, and beautiful.”

 

“So you admit I’m beautiful?” she asked, seeking assurance.

 

“It depends on how one defines beauty.”

 

“And what is your conception of beauty?”

 

“I think of beauty as light. Light that shines through from within. Yes, I think you’re beautiful.”

 

***

 

Later she would learn it was through his eyes that he revealed his lust; through his sight that he touched the world. His manner was to look at the object of his desire, and covet it through that gaze. Everything fell into perspective when she chanced upon this revelation. All those times she found herself confounded by his ability to resist touching her dark, naked body lying beside him, all sun-kissed and yearning; the times she knew she had aroused something within him but not enough to lead to surrender; the times she would beseech him with her eyes that hungered for reflection. It was on a mid-summer morning that she discovered the secret behind his beholding of beauty. She was half-awake half-asleep, and bare; had shed her clothes in the darkness of the hot, dry hours of night. When she opened her eyes she found he was awake beside her, resting the weight of his body against his angled arm. He was poised towards her and his eyes had been roving her extent. When he noticed she was aware of his trail, with a single finger he trekked along her breasts and circumambulated her nipple. All she saw was his finger against the blackness of her skin, its surface reflecting the sunlight. She finally understood how his caressing of her body through the slightest touch transformed it from flesh to feast.

 

***

She was always aroused by the sensual, but over time it would become an obsession. The world, she would learn, existed purely for the purpose of her indulgence. She would come to understand how to isolate the sensuous and devour it through her experience of it. She would begin to document their love affair by inscribing it as a litany of pleasures. She would begin to pursue, relentlessly, the beauty in the every day.

 

***

 

Sometimes she couldn’t bear the maddening intensity; it made her weep; it interrupted her lust; it cleansed her of her sins; it made her new. It made her conscious of her fragility, her innocence, her capacity to destroy in order to dance over the exquisite ruins. It made her aware of the threatening, devastating myth of her own beauty.

 

***

Born of destruction, beauty destroys. Beauty, while firmly affixed to the world of the living, is entrenched in mortality. It derives its being through the fact of impending death. And yet, Beauty must be lived, must be felt, must be experienced, must transform in order to be. It must please and also terrify. When transcribed, it defies its mortality, becomes truth. It is all we know, all we need to know.

 

***

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