Tag Archives: death

Attachment is Bondage. – Rumi

Art by Jacquie Boyd.

And, what a sweet, sweet bondage it is. I would be nothing without this bondage, this pain.

The same pain that drives the narrative of my novel. Not just words, or whole sentences, but pages of writing. Reams and reams of it. Yes, it’s the kind of bondage a writer dreams of.

The same pain that made me write a poem before I had typhoid last April (and nearly didn’t make it) and then revise it after I recovered. Sort of the “before” and “after” phenomenon.

The “before” version is a bunch of suppressed longing. “If you only knew” seems to rule. The “after” version is more about screw this suppression. Here is my heart. Bloody. Sinewy. Pulsating. Take it or ignore it till it stops beating, and turns black and blue with rigor mortis.

Now, I am not even sure if it’s the same poem anymore.

The “before” version titled, “Cannibal,” along with two other poems, is in Danse Macabre. Read them here.

The “after” version titled, “Cannibal 2,” is forthcoming in Subliminal Interiors next month. Watch this space.

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Fasting and Feasting

I am slightly upset, but I am trying not to show it. Writers are supposed to have personas that are never upset, and ever smiling. If we are upset, we are supposed to pour out our upset-ness into our creativity.

Last week, three of my poems were accepted by the same publication. After I did a little jig around my bedroom, I realised my ghazal was going to be up first. I was happy. It had been written with a specific purpose in mind. Today would have been the perfect day for its inauguration.

But no, the editors decided for reasons of their own to publish one of my other poems. I would never argue with an editor unless they messed with my actual work (which thankfully, has happened only twice in my memory, and both of the editors I am afraid, were rather inept.). So, even though I love the publication and the very approachable editors, I am slightly upset. Slightly pouting. Slightly sulky.

What a start to a weekend, eh?

My poem, “Fasting and Feasting,” based on one of my photographs of the same name, is now in Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure. You can read it here.

Two more of my poems and a short pulp fiction piece are forthcoming in Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure. Watch this space.

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Filed under poetry, rant

Anniversary Blues

I should be up and about. Rejoicing. Celebrating the completion of my second year as a blogger. But I am sick. Even while writing this, I have to pace myself. Type a little. Catch my breath. Lie down for a bit. You get the picture.

When I came back from India, about two and a half weeks ago, I thought the tiredness and the infrequent fevers were a result of overexertion. Four months of it. But the fevers got worse. They were always the same. Violent shivering, followed by sweats. They became more frequent in nature. In fact, I was weak and nauseous all the time. Something was definitely wrong.

The doctor took one look at me and asked, “Did you take any of your malarial shots before leaving?”

Err, no. I was too busy with other things. Plus, I thought myself to be invincible. Surely, a few mosquito bites wouldn’t kill me?

“No,” I said, guilty as charged.

“Hmm… I suspect a case of malarial strain. Get these tests done.”

Wow. Malaria. The Great Indian Adventure doesn’t seem to get over.

Last night, I couldn’t stop shivering. Four layers of blankets did not do the trick. I felt guilty. Ma was awake due to my invalidity. Every half an hour she would feel my forehead. Baba, who hasn’t even recovered from his own illness, was up too. I felt angry at myself. And perhaps, a little vulnerable.

I have found that vulnerability often leads to stupid existential questions. In my case, I asked Ma, “Will I die?”

“If you are fated to, then yes,” she said in her usual cavalier manner. Before I could question her on her morbid joke, she added, “But don’t worry. You won’t die so soon. You will live to be in your eighties.”

You see my mom takes inordinate solace in the words of our family astrologer, according to whom I will live to see the Grand Old Age.

But what if he was wrong and I did not make it? What would I miss?

Let’s see…

I would not live to be thirty (which in retrospect, doesn’t seem like a bad proposition).

The Great Indian Novel that would not be written (ahh.. all that research gone to waste..).

The second M.A and the Phd that would not be done (I did like the sound of Dr. Sanchari Sur).

The dreams, wishes and fantasies that would never get a chance to be fulfilled.

The love that would never be professed…

Okay, maybe I am getting a little ahead of myself. It’s malaria. Maybe. Not c-a-n-c-e-r. Nobody dies from malaria these days.

So, with a brave face and a que sera sera eshque attitude, I gave my blood and other things to be scrutinized by lab rats. The pronouncement comes in a few days.

Meanwhile, I will stop moping, cross my fingers for the best, and hope for a better anniversary next year, and the next, and the next, and the next…

(Afterall, everyone deserves a second chance. I am just counting on mine.)

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Photographing Death

The Hand that Kills: The knife used for the “halal cut”

DISCLAIMER: Some of the images may be offensive or too graphic. Please view at your own discretion.

An edited version was published by Helter Skelter Magazine on 13th March 2012.

I am not the senti type. I don’t cry at movies. When I have friends sobbing, I pat them. Awkwardly. Once, when I was five, I watched a chicken being slaughtered. Without flinching. So, when I went to buy mutton at the local mutton shop last week, the severed head of a goat lying a few meters away from my face did nothing to deter me from peering at it, curious.

“Where do you kill your goats?” I ask the guy.

Young and dapper in his lungi, Nafeez says, “Why! Right here!”

Not having seen him do it even once in the past two and half months I have been here in Calcutta, I prod, “But when?”

“At around 6:30-7:00 ish in the morning.”

That explains why. I am never up that early, except when I am headed to the fish market.

Before I can curb my tongue, I ask, a trifle too eager, “Can I watch? I mean, can I photograph?”

He smiles, “Sure…”

I am not sure why I make the request. I am not even sure why I have this sudden morbid desire to photograph the last few moments of an animal’s death. But what I am most not sure about is why he doesn’t react negatively to my strange request.

I arrive early. The shop is yet to open. The streets are getting busy with people rushing to work or school. Some of them give me stares. Dressed in my pjs and a hoodie, with my camera bag on a weekday, I must be an uncommon sight. I ignore the white noise, waiting patiently for Nafeez.

But Nafeez doesn’t show. It’s past seven. Another guy, much older in appearance, shows up. I have seen him before. I assumed he was Nafeez’s father. Or, assistant. I watch him open the locks, and sweep the front. I ask him about Nafeez. He shakes his head and asks me to call him, offering a number. I feel awkward about calling my local butcher, so I decline, indicating that it’s okay, I will wait.

I wait. It’s almost 7:30. The sun is at a high. The traffic is worse. The number of staring people has increased. I can feel myself sweating under my hoodie. I curse myself. I should have never come on a weekday.

Finally, Nafeez shows up. Smiling, headphones plugged into his ears. He is unapologetic. Instead, he gets to work. Quick.

His shop, like most butchers’ shops, is raised at a height. What I didn’t know was that there is a reason for that height. The shop houses live goats underneath its floor. Nafeez removes one of the floorboards, indicating inside, “Are you sure you will get good photos while standing outside?”

I peer into the darkness, the bleating of the scared goats much clear now. I see two to three goats scurrying around in circles in the enclosed space. One of them sticks its head out of the gap and bleats frantically. I imagine it saying “help!” I want to feel bad, but I feel nothing. My head says it’s going to die anyway. Might as well document it.

“You are right,” I say instead, as I climb onto the shop floor, making room for myself in a corner.

Nafeez takes a small knife, and reaches for one of the goats. It escapes him. He quickly reaches for another, trapping it with his thigh. I watch, unable to click. In a few seconds, he has cut into the jugular.

It strikes me that this is what “halal cut” is. I watch the goat struggle briefly and then die a slow, silent death, as its blood forms a small pool at Nafeez’s feet. I click. And, click. And, click.

A customer, an upper middle class Bengali babu, waits outside, impatient to get some fresh meat.

To Nafeez (in Hindi), “How long will this take? Should I go to that other shop?”

To me (in Bengali), “So, what is that you want to gain from taking these photos?”

Before I can defend myself, Nafeez answers on my behalf, “It’s her pleasure.”

I shrug.

“I love taking photos. It’s a hobby,” I say.

Later, I ponder over his words. Was it my “pleasure” to watch this poor beast die? Was I a sadist?

Someone I once knew was excited about his trip to Barcelona. The first thing I had asked him though, was whether he was going to see the bullfights.

“Uh… I don’t think so. I don’t really like the gore,” had been his answer.

Well, I don’t know about the gore, I had said, but think about it. The poor thing is going to die anyway. Shouldn’t you honour its death with your presence?

We had laughed about it. Ha, ha.

Now, the joke is on me.

Laugh, why don’t you?

Update: All of the photos from this collection were accepted recently by two different magazines. While “Fasting and Feasting,” “Death and Dying” and “The Hand that Kills,” made it into scissors and spackle, “Leftovers” was taken by Carnival Magazine. Oh, and I gifted a framed copy of “The Hand that Kills” to Nafeez. He couldn’t stop grinning.

Death and Dying : Nafeez holds the goat down as it bleeds to death

Leftovers

Fasting and Feasting

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Filed under anecdote, photography, Travel

A Death Fantasy (your’s, not mine)

A taste for the morbid. That is what I have. I entertain fantasies of death (your’s, not mine). But this one was written in a moment of delirium. That’s all I can tell you for sure.

One of my flash fiction pieces titled, “A Death Fantasy,” was published in Corvus Magazine’s launch issue. You can read it here  (It’s a pdf. You might need to download it. Look for the piece under the ‘Table of Contents’.). And, feel free to comment and criticize. I won’t end up fantasizing your death. Promise.

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The Man, the Artist… my Dadu

Dadu and I

It’s five years to the day. That’s how long it has been since he left.

I remember the day I got the news. I was in Professor Ruth Knechtel’s satire class. I received a call from dad, and ignored it. Later, when I called back, mom gave me the news. Dadu had passed away the night before.

A lot of people don’t know this. But it was Dadu who  instilled in me the love of storytelling. The earliest stories I can remember were told to me by Dadu. They were tales of his childhood in his ancestral village, located in current Bangladesh, formerly a part of British India.

Dadu is the reason I am who I am. He dared to follow his dreams, and broke away from the family business. My ancestors were traditionally traders of paan, a leaf that is popular in India as a mouth freshener post-meals. He came to Calcutta as a young man to become an artist. And today, I can dare to follow my dreams of becoming a writer, thanks to him.

Paan

He worked for Bombay Photos, and perhaps, his most popular art piece is the Nirma Washing Powder dancing girl.

Nirma Washing Powder dancing girl

I was his favourite grandchild. And, I am not even the youngest. He had an unshakeable belief that I was his mother, reincarnated. Sure, it’s true that my face shape and bone structure bear an uncanny resemblance to my great-grandmother, but that could very well be because we share the same genes. That is what I tried to tell him. He brushed it off. Apparently, when my mother was pregnant with me, my great granny came into Dadu’s dreams and told him, “Son, I am coming to your family.” That’s the story he firmly stuck to.

We were close. I dreamt of him often after he passed away. He would come into my dreams and impart bits of wisdom to me. I wonder whether those dreams were a projection of my own desires, or whether it was Dadu coming to give me a sort of closure. I would like to believe the latter.

But he hasn’t been coming into my dreams for over two years now. I think he has either passed into that place where all souls go to, or if there is reincarnation, then he has been reborn already.

I know I will feel a familiar vacuum when I visit Calcutta this year.

I miss you, Dadu. A lot.

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