Tempered Steel

The glass was transparent, filled three-fourths with water. The subtle curve of the meniscus caught light from above and glimmered. With my chin resting on the table, I observed her animated face magnified through the liquid. She sat across, wearing blue, with her jet-black locks breaking into waves, one layered over another brushing on her shoulders. She blinked those big scary eyes and moved her head from side-to-side. She was trying to make a point I suppose. Every once-in-a-while, her hands would shoot up, forming words in the air. Yes, she sure was saying something. But blame her peculiar nose, a tad-bit voluminous, and that curious stretch of lips; I felt all my attention being pulled as toward, making it difficult to spare any for the words those moving lips formed.

With time the skin over my chin started to feel numb under the weight of my head and started to sting. I sat upright and leaned on the back-rest. She smiled as if to acknowledge my change in posture while yet continuing with the monolog. I wondered how one smiles while talking. Aren’t the lips already busy in sounding the consonants, particularly the labials – ‘m’, ‘p’ and ‘b’. Possibly one times the smile to that portion of the speech when words do not include these. I felt amazed at how talented their brains need to, to be able to predict beforehand which part of their sentence is devoid of words containing those alphabets so that they may smile at that exact moment. Such an arduous strain on brains micro-circuitry. I blinked in awe of her this gift and tried to smile.

Tried to, but couldn’t. This is not the day I smile. It’s a sad sorry day. I broke my coffee mug. Despite the charming presence of her, in near proximity, the ache of the misfortune was too searing to wane. She had given me it. While some might argue the very same ‘she’ is sitting right across the table that seemed to hold a glass of water, two plates, two pairs of spoon, fork and knives, a box of tissues, and a promise of food that was yet to come. Now the latter half of the previous statement in this recital is beside the point, yes, you figured it right. I guess I put it there to shift attention from the unease the former half of the statement had caused within. Yes, the coffee-mug was given by her, but she was that ‘her’ no more. Time leaves indelible insignia of its passage, doesn’t it? Some desirable, while some not. Some tolerable, some not.


Just then, there was a sudden moment of profound quiet. I saw that there were no more ripples in the water in the glass. Her lips had stopped to move as well. I said, ‘yes, I agree’. And she smiled.

Contrary to what you might think, no, this isn’t a failed marriage wherein we just indifferently tolerate the other. In fact, we are not even a couple. It is just that I have something going on. Something that is being a bother. And I can’t tell her that. As to why I can’t tell her, well, I don’t know. Though now I can think and try to come up with reasons in retrospect as to why I can’t tell her; but beforehand I don’t know what made me want to not say and keep it to self. Maybe it just didn’t occur to me to tell her about it. But then isn’t it how we are at times. Inexplicable to self. Not that that mystery can’t be unwoven. It’s just that it would rather be quite a burdensome bother to undertake. And it’s easier side-stepped.

While these philosophical counterpoints subsided inside my head, I noticed that her eyes were downcast and the smile that she had beamed before had turned smug, then sore, and finally sad. It’s incredible how the same stretch of lips could be made to portray such myriad different emotions. A mathematical impossibility if one may. But then, she did, and thus it isn’t an impossibility anymore, is it? So this is that point in the narrative wherein it becomes clear that I have been outstripped in my endeavor to outsmart her. Poor me. Well I don’t actually mean ‘poor me’, but inside my head, I could hear her quip ‘don’t wallow in your own self-pity’ at my that phrase; a nasty retort we had together once discovered in a comic strip. The distraction aside, I felt my heart miss a beat.

Funny that it begins with a series of missed beats, strained breaths and roiled emotions. And this same bunch recurs when you see your better half down and under. ‘better half’ having been used in a literal sense with not too much emphasis on the ‘your’ pronoun that did precede it. Though on a second take, much emphasis has indeed been put on the absence of emphasis on that possessive pronoun. Such a recursive turmoil language adds to the act of living. For what is unsaid is also as affecting as what is said.

I came clean and said, “I dropped that coffee mug you gave on that friendship day”. “The yellow one? The one with a black lid and café coffee day written as upon ?”. “Yes, the same. It fell and broke into a thousand shards of splintered ceramic.” “I knew I should have given you one made of tempered steel!”, and with that, she broke out into her characteristic peal of laughter. I again caught myself gazing at her peculiar nose, admiring, smiling, chuckling as it twitched as she paused for breath between laughs.

Yes, it’s inexplicable; this human contract with its inherent asymmetry of emotional exchange.  In part because we are humans, fallible, with a lifetime spent in cultivating behaviors that are a far cry from ideal. And in part because this portrayal is a consequence of the wistful imagination of a soul reflecting in solitude. Either way, how much harm can come by wishing ‘happy friendship day’, even if the only real aspect of that proposition is ‘day’. Someone said life is a comedy, written by a writer with a tendency to overindulge in the tragic. And given the superlative intellect (quirky smarts, handsomeness, and knightly chivalry) of this ‘someone’, we are bound to concede to his point. As to why his, and not her? Well, it’s apparent I am a guy ain’t it.


Cheese-burst pizza, starry sky, and cogitative overflow

pizzaThe slice of pizza was dripping cheese. It’s buy-one-get-one-free at dominos today, thus this pact of momentary friendliness with this random stranger. You had walked into the campus eatery which has a dominos kiosk. It’s a lazy Saturday; the sun is dipping down the horizon, and your body aches from the bout of basketball from a moment before. You came alone, as you often find self, and while intently running the topping varieties and flavor-types against their stated price, you felt a gentle poke. Assuming it as just another strained muscle sighing, you ignore it and continue with your mental computation. The poke, a little more strong and lingering, recurs. As if to assuage the actomyosin fibers of the modest bulk in your right deltoid, you try to rub the region when long spindly fingers, soft, squishy, definitely feminine, get caught between your hand and your shoulder. You turn your long lugubrious post-match body to behold a pretty thing.

May the feminist readers not rise up in arms. The ‘pretty thing’ reference is not out of insensitive objectification, nor because of haughty demeaning arrogance. Rather, it’s just a gentle colloquial quip within, over a random fellow living ‘thing’, in plain purposeless assertion of the fact.

So returning to the narration, yes, she was pretty. Tall, svelte, with a healthy glow of soft nutmeg, her black locks sported what they call a layer-cut. Yeah, I have had ample feminine company in a once remote past when I was more socially involved to know what a layer-cut is. I am fond of its patterned break in symmetry. Her lips were moving as I was busy observing, admiring, and probably withholding a possible spike in heart rate that inevitably happens when a guy beholds a pretty girl; I know, petty biology and stuff. Breaking self from the trance, I tried to force focus on the words that those moving luscious lips were forming. As it started to make sense, though with a definite delay (blame the slowing of cogitation the palpitating heart had brought forth), it seemed she was suggesting we share the price and order a pizza, as we will then get another for free. Seemed a sane deal. I said sure, and  soon we found selves sharing two pizzas, both non-veg, and a bottle of coke at the open-air theatre that forms a comfortable retreat just beside to consume the sustenance, with a black starry sky forming the canopy.

No, it was no love at first sight. I have no faith in the concept of love. It’s an endearing artifice, an artifact of biological evolution, a lie if you may in plain simple terms. And also no, we didn’t have sex right after pizza. We were too full for some physical action. All we did was share a moment of our existence, and left carrying within us a little of the other. For, ideas communicated through conversations that get entrenched in memory accrue real physical change in one’s neural connectome. Put differently, while you are talking to someone, you are making change in their brain. Amazing isn’t it. And that is precisely what we did that night, making and breaking connections in the others brain.

people“I think it is a flawed premise to blame a guy as being superficial as because he likes a girl for her looks”, she said. Yes dear readers, it was the girl’s dialogue, and not this guy’s, as you might be bound to believe. While given the fact that she did have good looks and I did like her, her statement seems a motivated assertion well placed in context, patronizingly placed if to be put blunt and frank. But then, she followed her assertion with a reason that appealed. She said, “When you think about it, introspection is an illusion. While your like for certain things and dislike for some, your inclinations if you may, though totally real, your conscious consideration about the reason for those likes and dislikes needn’t be. And as it turns out, aren’t indeed. You might like an apple. But you do so because it smells good, tastes good, looks an alluring red, feels crunchy in texture, or just because of its oblong spheroid shape, is always a guess. Your stated reason for why you like an apple, needn’t be, and as it turns out, often quite isn’t, THE reason for your liking an apple. Now given that such introspective considerations are illusions, what wrong is in it to say you like a woman just because she looks good. Chances are, you like her for some reason else, but her looks is what you consciously think as to be the reason. Or rather, at the other extreme, you may think you like her because she is well-natured and open-minded, but your like stems from your inherent appreciation for her, let’s say, body odor. A totally sane contention wouldn’t you say.” And as if for dramatic effect, she smiled a broad beaming smile, and bit into her pizza spewing the cheese from within, a drop of which fell on her skirt. She wiped it with the tissue, and had a gulp of coke.

Beauty with brains is an enormously captivating company. But then, I did score in the top 0.1 percentile on the IQ scale. Her smarts gave me a high. And I couldn’t help myself joining in. “Your premise and the reason as for holds. But you oversaw a caveat in your chain of logic. One’s self-image. While the introspective reason for your inclinations may sure be an illusion, assuming you remain honest to self, your reason for those inclinations conjure your self-image. While your like for apples sure might be because it’s crunchy to chew, you think you like it because its nutritious and keeps doctor away. Thus, you build a self-image of prioritizing a rational reason motivated by prominence to nourishment over a petty feeble reason as about its crunchiness. In human terms, you think of yourself as a person who likes a woman because she is well-natured and open-minded, even if unknown to self the real reason might have been her body odor. So, your conscious image of self, which affects your decisions, is different. Thus, rather than neglecting conscious censuring as about the virtuosity of your reason for your likes and dislikes, you totally overseeing them as they might, and probably are untrue, and giving-in to primal instincts demotes your position as a civilized being. True that it’s a lie, this conscious censuring, but the lie consequents a good, your sense of self-respect. And this latter comes a long way in your making pro-active socially-conscious decisions.”

I was looking up at the stars as I went through my turn for monologue. This is the trouble with heavy arguments. To completely make sense as a stand alone assertion, one needs to quote the caveats and define the context, and that stretches it into a laborious monologue. But then, the argument that’s put out results to be robust. She knew it, and she knew that I knew that she knew it. She had been lying beside till then. She sat up, and leaned over, hiding the stars with her pretty face bordered by her locks, and her eyes glittered. I smiled an understanding smile. We understood the other. It’s not often to have someone understand your ideas. Yes, there is a lot of noise about people understanding you, as a person. But they forget that a person is but a bundle of ideas, notions, concepts and contentions. And to truly understand someone is to understand their thoughts. A means vital to this is to converse. Here, we had, and we did now get the other. She bent down and we kissed. Our kiss tasted of cheese. Can one ask for more in life.

handsAnd well, more did happen. About we not having sex right after the pizza, well I did not lie. Though I might have misled you. We did make love, though not ‘right after’. It had to wait till the break of dawn. We both went for a jog. Hot, sweaty, we had a bath and spent the greater part of next  morning in bed. After a nap through noon, we were sharing coffee in the eve again at the eatery, by the open-air theater when she quipped, “You know, your argument about conscious censuring despite the illusion of introspection, it has a fatal flaw. That of motivated reasoning. That is, reasoning is not a purely objective rational process. While possibilities can be conjured honestly, the process of annotating to them a probability of occurrence, is a vague step that can be quite easily biased by one’s motivation depending on personal qualms. Given we cannot divorce the human in us, our reasoning in vague terrains as in the case of introspection is quite often motivated toward the conclusion most appeasing to one. Thus, the censuring despite the illusion is again rigged as because of this motivated bias in reasoning.”

Well, one might argue that recital is too long to be a quip, but then it was well rounded and a resilient stand alone opus. I just had one statement in reply, that I did put across quite unceremoniously. I said, “Will you marry me?” And she, well, crinkled her eyes and burst out into a good-natured laugh. She looked into my eyes with her dark black pearls for eyes and asked, hopefully in mocking jest, “Why not, but pray what is the reason for this like as your might surmise?”

The Before … series

before sunrisebefore sunset 2     before-midnight

The ellipsis above, as you might have guessed, is to mean sunrise, sunset and midnight. Before Sunrise, a movie released in 1995, is about two people who meet in Vienna and walk as they talk till Sunrise. Before Sunset, which released almost a decade hence, in 2004, is about the same two people, who meet again though this time in Paris, and walk as they talk till Sunset. There is also a scene in a café where they sit and discuss US gun policy but that’s beside the point. And in Before Midnight, released in 2013, the setting is Greece, while the walk as they talk holds again, not surprisingly till Midnight. And the movie, each of them, is a luscious slice of life.

Imagine a movie where two characters talk, talk about themselves, about the other, about what they think of this world we live in and the issues therein. Starting with the reticence of talking to a stranger, with that scintillating thrill of a new romance; through confiding in someone whom you feel at ease with and have come to trust, to arguing and hurting someone you know will stay by your side when you are hurt, the movies capture the process of two people coming to know the other.

If you think about it, a person, at any given point in time, is a collection of thoughts and memories. Leading from this premise, to know a person and be known only becomes an act of speaking and listening. And these movies capture people in this very act, alive, wherein amidst lots and lots of words, they familiarize and know about the other, as we come to about them. There are few for whom, a movie sometimes is a window to experience life from a different vantage point. For them, an honest portrayal becomes of paramount importance. This movie, while all honest and sincere, manages to frame life, people, and the ordinary, in a convincing tapestry of poignancy.

For serious movie watchers, and of course readers with a taste for Classics, I strongly recommend this Before series. It’s a treat.



She bent over the table holding the cue stick in her right hand, balancing it over the little hump formed by her gloved left fingers. She closed her left eye, eyeing the cue ball lining up with the blue striped one and the corner pocket. Satisfied with the collinearity of the stick, cue, ball and pocket, she thrust the stick to play a neat stroke. The cue hit the blue which rolled to near the pocket, swerved around, hit the rail and returned. She looked up with a gingerly smile and quipped, “Damn!”. I loved this girl! Not as in, ‘loved’ loved. As in, admired loved. She had quick wits, a sharp tongue and an uncanny originality that never seemed to grow old. Also, she had terrific long legs!

I twirled my stick in the chalk and moved to the other end of the table. I was deciding between the orange solid, near the pocket but away from the cue, and the brown solid which was near the latter and away from former. She walked around to near to consider my quandary. “How do you feel about incest?” she queried. May the dear reader not blink at the abruptness of this primer. We often used to come up with ‘surprising’ conversation starters. The usual is for the mediocre. It’s more interesting to speak about the unconventional, the tabooed and the disconcerting! I always considered these strolls out one’s comfort zone into weird terrains great fun. And she was good game, not to mention often the lead.

pool1“As long as they don’t make kids, am cool. Kids if they happen in consanguinity as with incest show birth abnormalities.” My opinion was build on the medical consequence of such acts. A comparable scenario from plant reproduction has a more concrete label for the phenomenon I described, inbreeding depression. The depression is not psychological, as in sad-depressed. It is a genetic decrease in vitality and survivability. Something I came across in my reading. I decided to hit the brown solid, the one closer to the cue. I would have greater control on the stroke. I positioned myself for the shot while she thought for a moment and replied, “Ok, biology apart. How do you feel about it? Isn’t it weird. Sex between brothers and sisters?! I sure am uncool with it.” I held my breath and took the stroke. The cue hit the brown, which rolled slow and stead to the pocket, and came to a halt a whisker from the pocket. I let out a ‘sigh!’.

I took a step back from the table and looked at her. She had a gorgeous face with black eyes and natural brows. She had her hair pulled back. I particularly liked her nose. It just had the perfect proportions with a straight septum, the lower end making an angle of one-twenty degrees, and the nasal-alas forming flat slants sharply merging laterally. And the tip, that dear tip of her pretty nose was rounded forming an ellipse with its major axis lined with the long of the septum. If I were da Vinci, I would paint her nose on Mona Lisa. I got a grip and said, “Well, ‘weird’ is a concept I don’t subscribe to. It’s scientifically untenable. Attraction to a person is inexplicable. You just like a person, like that. One can consciously try to reason it, but then, what are the chances that your stated reason is ‘the reason’ indeed?! Now given that premise, I don’t see why if two people, related if be may, if attracted need hold back. Only don’t make kids. If you want them indeed, well just adopt. One more kid from orphanage would be happy to have a real family.”

It was her turn to take the stroke. But she turned as toward enquiringly. “Take the stripped yellow the far end. Though take care to avoid the 3.” She nodded and moved around while responding to my earlier comment, “Your position is too utopian and divorced of emotion.” I cut her in, “Divorced of emotion, oh come on! I am choosing for respecting the emotions of the involved parties. Who’s else if-is of relevance. Of the by-standing society. Well, they sure need get busy minding their own business”. I noticed her gauging the distances and angles. She presented a sight of intense focus. A swift strike, and the sound of the clash of balls was closely followed by the hollow tumbling bass of the striped yellow going down the pocket. She let out a gleeful chuckle. Her eyes sparkled! I do very much love this pretty girl, all beauty and substantial brains. Her next stroke though was a hopeless fumble. Yet the thrill of the previous pocket had her upbeat. But by now I was tired. We had been on with the last five balls for the last quarter hour. Though only three more remained, I was more willing to shoot myself in the head rather than slumber a moment more over the table.

As if reading my mind she ventured, “Shall we call it quits. It sucks!”. I was glad. Well, more than glad. She had just saved me from my bullet. I happily acquiesced. I replaced the sticks at the stand while she took upon herself to get the balls out and arrange them in the rack into a neat triangle. We turned from that green boring torturous table, it still beats me why we often come to it, and walked away, together. I wanted to hold her hand while we walked. But then, it seemed inappropriate. As about our little conversation about the appropriateness of incestuous flings, well, it faded with table now in background.

Before anyone gets bright ideas, we aren’t related. As in we both do belong to the same species, the Homo sapiens, but don’t share any near ancestor we know of. Only the hypothetical ape-woman Lucy. And walking on along, we soon found ourselves another queer crazy primer to talk over. A curious thought occurred to me. “We talk about things to learn more as about, or so because we just liked something to talk to the other, an act that had us both together in it. A togetherness we had come to appreciate, admire and may-probably looked forward to.”pool2