Memories

When in tumult, her mind always wandered back to Andrew, to his sun kissed hair, to those bottomless blues that never seemed to age. Everything she was, everything she had, she owed it all to him. Even years after he was gone, it was always him that she missed when anything wonderful happened. It was always him she wanted to turn to, when she was frightened out of her wits.

Running into his father was completely unexpected. She was meeting Daniel for lunch at the diner around the corner from her office. It was a rare afternoon when both of them could make it. The diner was a no-frills place, but they both liked it there. It was unusually empty this afternoon, the only other patrons, two young men in army camouflage, silently eating their meal. Looking back, perhaps she should have taken it as a sign, but she had never put much stock in such things.

After lunch, Daniel was walking her back to her office when they ran into Mr. Halford. As always, his face relaxed into a sunny smile when he saw her. He walked towards her with renewed vigour and gathered her into a hug. Her first reaction was utter shock at the comprehension that this is what Andrew would have looked like when he were older. They had the same shape to their faces, the same eyes, the same smile. Of course, one of them would never age, never wrinkle, never develop a slight stoop to the shoulders…

Mr. Halford had become much thinner than she remembered, he joked that his age was catching up with him. She could see the haunted look in his eyes, even as he smiled. He greeted Daniel genially, gripping his hand firmly. They had met at the wedding, of course, she remembered now. Mr. Halford had made it a point to attend, he said he wanted to tell her on the most important day of her life how proud Andrew would have been of her, for all that she had accomplished. She had almost cried then, and he patted her on the head awkwardly, as he used to, when she was a child.

Daniel was a good man, he made her very happy, and she did love him, a lot. But there was always a part of her that felt that perhaps, he loved her more than she could ever love him. There were moments, when she looked into his dark green eyes and saw a flash of blue, when she ran her hand through his black hair and missed a sandy hue. There were days when she looked back in time and saw a young man in army camouflage at her door, his hair shining in the sun, with a lone red rose in hand, and a shy smile on his lips.

The simple life

The sunset sky as seen from one side of our paddy fields. 

As a habitual city dweller, I have never ever been a good village guest. This point was brought home with a bang when my parents bought some farm land and built a house of sorts some three hundred kilometres from my hometown. It is a village in the most basic sense of the word. The nearest town is some ten kilometres away,the nearest city about fifty. Houses are few and far between, mobile network is patchy at best, the mountains are close enough to touch, surrounded by a forest teeming with wild boar, deer, peacocks and an occasional elephant. The only saving graces are uninterrupted electricity and running water. This is where I agreed to spend a couple of days of my vacation with my parents.

I’ve only been here a couple of times before. Then it was just a couple of paddy fields and the erstwhile overgrown plot where the house stands now. I’ve seen a lot of pictures from when everyone else in my family visited here and I’ve heard stories of the neighbour’s dog who steals footwear. But it is my first time seeing it all by myself. 

View of the mountains from our front yard, the paddy plants are bent slightly in the wind.

The place is quite beautiful, something even the uppity urbanite in me cannot deny. It is very green and bright, smells and looks fresh even in the scorching all day long sunshine. There are trees and plants of all varieties around, with the Nelliyampathy mountains lending some relief to the otherwise flat countryside. The dragonflies and drongos and mynahs and colourful parrots make up the less exotic wildlife around. Today I even saw a peacock accompanied by three peahens out on a leisurely afternoon stroll around the paddy fields. 

The house itself is rather small and quaint, with only a couple of rooms, a kitchen and two bathrooms, suited more as an occasional getaway rather than as a long term habitat. It is pleasantly cool, owing to the tiles and wooden thatch. There is a breeze almost all day long, perhaps due to the proximity to the mountains. I quite enjoy the noises of the night around, the crickets and frogs and I don’t know what else. At some point I heard very loud howling from the other side of the paddy fields. Apparently that’s how they scare away the wild boars from getting into the crops. The same noises of the night unnerve me a little later at night. There are no lights anywhere around, save from my room. It is like I am the last person on Earth !

It is true that I have been somewhat charmed by the rustic village air and the unpretentious people around me, but it is very unlikely that I will ever live in one for a long period of time (although I do rather like the idea of living like a hermit in a place such as this, whiling my days away, writing and doing yoga). But I do understand the appeal of living in a place like this. I understanding the overwhelming sense of being at peace with your surroundings, the overall sense of well being that comes from being so close to nature.  Perhaps there is something of that early forefather in all of us, the one who exults at the sight of a sky full of stars, who gets excited at the prospect of clean air, who sheds an involuntary tear at the thought of food that hasn’t been sprayed with every toxic substance known to man … 

Deluge

Inch by inch

Fibre by fibre

Cold fingers of frost

Travel up my being.

Dread pools in my stomach

Sending shivers up my back 

My hand trembles

As I hold it out to the rain.

Cold streams of water everywhere

Nowhere to turn

Nowhere to run 

Nowhere is safe,

Nowhere to go but down …

Now in the front yard

Now in the front room

All I see is water

A pulsing, unending deluge.

Fall

Everything ended last fall.  She remembered staring up at the mountains as it did. Their heads were bare, the snowy caps that normally tempered their appearance melted away in the afternoon sun. The early fall mist hid their torsos from the city, giving them a disembodied appearance. The periodic blinks from the lonely communications tower atop the tallest range stood out in a lacklustre red.

His limpid green eyes were always a mystery to her. Although she knew that the saying that a person’s feelings are reflected in their eyes to be a farce, she had always been good at reading people. Not so with him. They were always impassive, well, almost always. She had known them to transform into dark dilated orbs which convey more than words at times.

She watched as his mask slipped, as her words brought confusion and then hurt to his eyes. She wanted nothing more than to take him in her arms and kiss that look away. But she forced herself to stay stoic, balling her fists inside her jacket pockets. She forced herself not to look away, to let him see that she meant it this time.

Their goodbyes were little more than perfunctory. After a moment of weakness, the mask was back, more opaque than usual. As she walked away, she felt chilled to the bone. She doubted it had much to do with the weather. She turned back for a last look. He was staring at the river, hands in his pockets.

The curious case of justice for some

Today’s Ragtag Daily Prompt word ‘Justice‘ is particularly fitting and poignant when you consider what is happening today and has been happening in the last couple of weeks  in the United States of America regarding the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh on to the Supreme court bench. Since he was nominated by everyone’s favourite orange cheeto on July 9, 2018, three women have come forward accusing him of sexual misconduct and harassment. The first accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified in front of a Senate panel yesterday, after which Judge Kavanaugh was granted the time to present his version of the events. And today, the same panel is voting on whether or not to go ahead with advancing the nomination process to the full committee vote.

I watched the testimonies of both the parties live yesterday. It was at times quite difficult to watch, especially Dr. Ford’s part of it. She was calm for the most part but the gravity of her emotions were evident on her face. Her statements were clear, believable and thorough. Even in the face of difficult questions about a time in her life I’m sure she’d rather forget, she managed to maintain her dignity and decorum, something even GOP Senator Hatch couldn’t deny (he described her as ‘attractive’ as well, which I found exceedingly creepy and in poor taste, especially considering the circumstances of the hearing). After Dr. Ford’s testimony came Judge Kavanaugh’s. The contrast between the two couldn’t be more drastic. Even in his opening statement, Judge Kavanaugh was aggressive, overtly emotional and generally hostile. During his testimony he frequently interrupted the Senators, was almost inappropriate to Sen. Klobuchar (he apologised for this after a recess, but it came across as too little too late) and was shouting to get his points across.

It was reported before the hearings that it is possible that a different facet of Judge Kavanaugh’s personality to the one he embraced during the Fox news interview might be in evidence during the hearing since President Trump had advised the good Judge to be emphatic and aggressive in presenting his side to the committee. This report and  the consequent testimony were quite revealing in themselves. A man, a conservative, white, straight family man, the kind of man who is universally representative of the who’s who in power, he shouts, cries, is rude and crude to members of cabinet in the most powerful country in the world, and his actions are considered powerful, even honest. Anything said against him is decried as a witch hunt. A few Republican senators (such as Sen. Graham) defended, consoled and even praised him during the hearing… All of which led me to wonder, why is it that when a man loses his cool and becomes emotional in grandstanding, he is considered powerful and when a woman does that, she is considered emotionally unstable ? If Dr. Ford had cried and torn her hair and added some theatrics to her testimony, would that have made a greater impact on the Republican Senate committee members, or would she have been called attention seeking or unstable or any number of things that we have known women to have been called when something like that happens ? Judge Kavanaugh kept yelling “I’m a good man” and kept mentioning his family and how the accusations have affected them over and over again. While I feel for his wife and his young daughters, if he is indeed guilty, that cannot be a consideration, either for his confirmation or for prosecuting him for the offences (well, the latter is probably not applicable since these incidents happened a while ago, and the statute of limitations almost certainly has expired). Then there is the “boys will be boys” defense. Yes, it might be unfair to have a mistake made in someone’s teenage years spoil a person’s future and his/her whole life. But sexual harassment or anything in that family of offences cannot be written off as just mistakes. And it cannot be  a ‘rite of passage’ for young men in any civilised society.

These musings might be unproductive, and this might just be once of the instances where this disparity has become evident. It might be futile to hope for justice for Dr. Ford and women like her, who have been brave enough to come forward, and countless others who haven’t (I mean in general, not just in this particular issue). Nothing has changed since yesterday, as I was typing this, the Senate panel has voted to advance the nominee hearing to the full committee. Judge Kavanaugh may well become Justice Kavanaugh by this time next week.  And considering his relative youth, he might very well remain there for the next thirty years. Civil liberties, women’s rights to decide about their own bodies, environmental issues that might indirectly impact the world as a whole (and by extension, our planet), all these crucial issues might depend on his say-so. There is nothing left to say about it, except, “God Bless America”, although I sincerely doubt this is the scenario Irving Berlin had in mind when he wrote those lines !

 

P:S – I am not a citizen of the United States of America.  I don’t seek to offend or support anyone’s political leanings. These are my opinions as a citizen of the world who closely follows politics, who cares about people in general rather than those belonging  just to my nationality and above all, as someone who cares about the impact these small events have on a global basis (that includes social, political and environmental issues).

Evening thoughts

I would sometimes sit out in the benches in my balcony with a cup of tea in summer. It is a very peaceful place most of the time, though too cold to be in winter. Beyond the garden I can see the mountains of the North chain in the Austrian Alps. I don’t generally watch sunrises, they insist on coming too early in the day. But the sunsets, absolutely marvellous. My favourites are the late summer sunsets.

My balcony faces west, so I don’t actually see the sun, but I can see the light pass over the mountains, range by range. On clear days, the contrast the light makes with the blue sky is beautiful, not to forget the white clouds reflecting the golden light. Right before the sun goes down, it’s like they cluster around for that last bout of warmth before the chilly night. The golden light becomes amplified in their white nebulous bodies. I have seldom seen a more beautiful sight.

From my seat, I can vaguely see the spires of the church nearby. I have to strain my neck a little bit to see it, there is a rather large pine tree and a few buildings in between. I mostly just hear the church clock, striking the hour. The church stands at one end of the park that I go for my walks to. The park itself is notorious as the main drug park of this little city, but I largely ignore its reputation in summer and spring. It is only in fall and winter when it becomes dark earlier that I adjust my schedule so that I’m not inside the park too late. Perhaps it is the most basic of all human conditions that prompts such an action, fear of the dark.

This morning, the mountains were covered in a thick film of mist. It almost seemed as if it had snowed up there already. I don’t see it anymore. Even if it had, the relatively warm day has melted it away. Their heads are bare and Grey now, as it usually is, except in winter. To be surrounded by mountains is a strange feeling, especially if you are not used to it. There are lots of hills and mountains where I grew up, but my hometown is primarily characterised by its coast and proximity to the sea. You have to travel outside the city in order to wander in the mountains. In the places I’ve lived since, mountains were always something you travelled to see. Nowhere else, but in Innsbruck, were they a constant presence. Here they are close enough to see all the time, to touch, to climb. They are real in the realest possible way.

I’m leaving Innsbruck in three weeks, for the forseeable future, perhaps forever. I’m taking a long holiday at home, and then me and my panoply of random things are moving to France, to the landlocked city of Clermont-Ferrand. I didn’t have an easy relationship with Innsbruck. After almost five years, I suppose a few squabbles are the norm. But I do believe that I will miss it terribly. I will miss the mountains that I never embraced, the office room in which I never felt at home, the people whom I will forget and the home that was never mine. I will miss them all.

P.S – I’ve written about missing Innsbruck once before, but the melancholy of this golden sunset prompted another of those.

I (maybe) <3 Innsbruck

inn
My favourite picture of Innsbruck that I ever took. The river is Inn, the mountain peaks are part of the Nordkette (northern chain) mountain ranges of the Austrian Alps and the structure seen far away is the city station of the funicular railway that ascends the mountain.

I still remember with perfect clarity what my first impressions of Innsbruck were. It was six years ago, and I was moving yet again, to a different country, to a different city. It was a long flight from my coastal Kochi to mountainous Innsbruck. I had stopovers at Doha and then Vienna. The flight from Vienna to Innsbruck was unforgettable. A tiny Austrian airlines plane manoeuvring above ranges upon ranges of Austrian Alps which were already wearing sparse snowy crowns in September, and finally setting down inside a mountain ring that hosted a small city and a smaller airport. That was a truly magnificent spectacle.

panorama
An Innsbruck panorama from atop the Hafelekar peak of the Nordkette mountain range.

Another distinct memory is of my first snow here. For a person from a coastal city in a tropical country, snow isn’t exactly commonplace. My first encounter with it had been in London three years before. But London snows are, well, weird. It only snows for about ten days from Christmas to the new year. In most of the city area, it doesn’t settle at all, the foot traffic just crushes it into disgusting sludge. So it was quite an experience to see settled snow, literally overnight (I kid you not, it was cold when I went to sleep, and when I woke up, all was white !), its carpet stretching as far as the eye can see, and as high as you can look. The mountains around Innsbruck in snow is a sight worth seeing.

colouses
The colourful houses of Innsbruck by the river Inn near Marktplatz. This is one of those images that most people (especially tourists) associate with Innsbruck.

I left Innsbruck after six months, lived in Italy and then in Serbia, for six months each. When I came back here in February 2014, nothing much had changed. Yes, 2014 was a strange year, weatherwise. It was already quite warm in February. There wasn’t much snow that Winter. But Innsbruck remained as I remembered her.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The river Sill near which I live.

I have a difficult relationship with Innsbruck. I love looking at the mountains, I admit I’m not much of a hiker or a skier. But I hate that it is so land locked. My only consolations were the rivers Inn (after which Innsbruck is named, Inn-brücke means bridge upon the Inn, which became Innsbruck) and Sill (near which I live). I love watching water flow, there is something so calming about it. I love the fierce beauty of the swollen Inn when she carries the snowmelt from the mountains. I love the placid currents of the Sill as she gurgles along. And I love my flat, which is pretty great, not to mention the great location, which is in the heart of the city, but removed from all the hubbub (such as it is) . It is almost my perfect space. And I absolutely adore my backyard, especially when it snows. But I hate that Innsbruck is such a tiny town (I don’t consider it a city, not really, it is minuscule, with a population of a little over 100,000 people) and is pretty much dead after 7 p.m. It experiences a brief awakening over the weekend, but even that is nothing to write home about.

backyard
My ‘winter wonderland’ of a backyard 🙂

So like I said, I have a difficult relationship with Innsbruck.  But, now that it is almost time to leave it, I’m feeling a little sad. It may be my Stockholm syndrome talking, but she and I did have some good times together. I did meet some great people, do some interesting things, and got on a little further on my quest to come into my own. Those are things that will stay with me, if not forever, still for a long time. Innsbruck was after all, my home for almost five years. I do believe that once I have moved, I will miss this itty bitty city. Therefore, I will not say Goodbye, Innsbruck, I will simply say, Auf Wiedersehen !

 

 

What was she willing to give up for love ?

Anything…everything.

She had nearly given up everything for it.

She often said to herself that she was too young then.

But in her heart of hearts, she knew that she still will, even today.

She had always been reticent to speak about it, even think about it. Remembering the love without the grief had been quite a task. The loving, the crashing and burning, all are intertwined in her mind. Almost a decade has passed since the event, but that grief still calls a part of her heart its own.

She used to be a romantic. As years passed, it gave way to cynicism, bit by bit, until she didn’t know where her skin ended and her sarcasm began. It seems almost like a cliché, a girl with solid upbringing, dreams of unicorns and rainbows and princes, kisses toads only to know that in real life, there are no princes, just you pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, trying to stay afloat.

And then he asked, ‘Do you believe in love ?’

She answered, ‘Yes’.

‘What kind of love ?’

‘That which smolders forever’.

She lay back on the bed and stared at the meagre blue sky  visible between the roofs of the buildings around. The white clouds passed by, twisting into different shapes as they went. A horse turned into an apple and the apple into fire. Then an airplane flew by, scattering the fire, in its haste to land at the airport nearby. Other clouds took its place, floating by in an everlasting tango.

She turned her head to watch his sleeping form. His brown hair tousled and sticking up every which way brought a smile to her face. She reached out to touch the salt and pepper scruff on his chin. She quite liked the sandpaper feel of it. She ran her hand up his face,  through the dusting of freckles on his cheeks, to his crow’s feet, to his forehead wrinkles. She rested her hand on his forehead and really looked at him. He was almost never this peaceful. He was always moving, twitching really, pattering his feet along a tune in his head, doing one thing or the other. Even when sleeping, he twisted and turned so much so that it was nearly impossible for her to get any sleep until she got used to it.

She wasn’t quite sure how all this came to be. He was just an idea in her head for the longest time. Even in the cynical character that she projected for everyone, in some inner recess of her mind, she fervently wished and patiently waited for someone like him to  come along. And when he did, it threw her for a loop. Everyone talks about falling in love, but staying in love is a completely different beast. There was no rule book, no guidelines. You were left to wander without a map.

She had built these walls in her mind over the years. They were partly to protect her from hurt, and were partly born out of shyness. The tallest and strongest wall was the one she built between who she actually is and what she called her public face. That wall never came down in front of anyone, not even her closest friends. He was patient, he was so very patient. A reasonable man would have run for the hills. But he stayed, navigating through her tantrums and insecurities and general unsociability, tearing down that wall brick by brick, piece by piece.

As her mind was wandering on these musings, the object of these mental meanderings opened his eyes. They were azure as the sky, deep and steady even when languid. They softened as he looked at her, crinkling at the corners in a half smile. She leaned over and pressed her lips to his forehead. His smile widened. He pulled her to him, burying his face in her hair. She laid her head on the crook of his neck and inhaled his scent. As his arms tightened around her, she felt truly safe.

Sometimes

I want to write an ode,

To your steel blue eyes

Those clear spots of calm

In an ocean storm.

Azure as the sky

Tender as a flower

Those gorgeous orbs

Take my breath away.

Open them, my love,

Gaze at me as you do,

Drown me in their depths,

Hold me in their embrace,

As long as this moment lasts.