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Art and Lies, And

4 minute read

Reposting stuff I like from the archives. This one’s from 2006.

1.

There is this picture of us back when we were even younger; snapshot circa 2004. 3 years after the start of our life together. If pictures could tell a tale this was the tale of us on the page just after ‘happy together’, though there you were, still assuring, still composed, still my best friend. Any casual observer might have waved it off as yet another happy boy and girl in love, as it was for a time, but by this time I had already gone. Walked out of that door to build a new life for myself, and pieces for you to pick upon.

2.

There is no picture of us, for you made me destroy them long ago. The digital equivalent of the primitive act of shredding, however, cannot possibly shred those which persist with no tangible traces. On that couch which wasn’t ours, in an apartment which wasn’t ours, in a time which never was ours, I had a smile which I don’t think could have ever been mine, and a lover who never was. Everyone’s a thief, so everything we had was stolen, though did you really have to take the heart, too? I watched you walk away, as you always do, with no tears but that scrap of paper in my pocket which read: I have always loved you. But.

3.

There is a recent picture I have with her. The sort which makes people cringe and squeal and avert their eyes: oh that’s too sweet. I don’t think I’d ever looked so radiant, or been as photogenic — she does bring out the best of me, it’s true. I’m usually smirking in photographs, never very confident about how I look. Yet in a moment without inhibitions, in a country which didn’t inhibit us, I actually beamed. You could even see the little dance in my eyes. I haven’t had the bad luck to have to do any walking, yet, except on and on.

4.

[..] but most pictures lie. The moment the shutter is released, so are such lies. Little ones and big ones; classmates you can’t stand wipe off the smiles for posterity and continue being pests. Words, however, are even more dangerous. There is no shutter to depress or release, only floodgates. No freeze frame, only continuously; everlasting and persisting long after the fact. Words just meander on and on like that, once released, there’s no undo, no file to destroy or photo paper to fade off. Margaret Atwood says the only truly honest writing is that which will never be read, not even by yourself — to be honest in writing would require the equivalent of writing with one’s left hand, correction fluid blotting out everything which has already been written, as you continue. Words, as we know, are fatal, which in turn rub off on the person who pens them, making her potentially fatal too. Art and Life may coexist, though if they also co-vary, correlate, and co-habitate then my god we are in trouble. Perhaps this is why, afraid of myself, I turn to other forms of art thinking they could perhaps be less dangerous in these hands, so I could feel as if I continue to operate heavy machinery though more forgivingly so. How was I to know that in a parallel life I could have such art director aspirations? I’m starting to believe I’m a movie. Which is potentially fatal.

5.

So in one movie there’s this scene with the three of you I love at a table, speaking with each other. I’m thinking my god let me out of here I can’t breathe. In another there’s a scene of a writer at her desk scribbling furiously in illegible longhand, haunted by the scrap of paper in her pocket; I have always… but. The camera pans, we’re at this cafe, more or less like one of the many other cafes we’ve had The Talk in. Bittersweet Comedy? you scribble. I want to reply: comedy only when there is an audience; bittersweet is quite enough for me. When people kiss in dark alleyways they are usually making promises. When we do, we break a thousand of them, including the ones we have been hanging on to for any semblance of survival.

6.

I can understand why writers may be attracted to each other — it must be wonderful to be written about. I have never been written about, though I have always been writing about. Then I think of Hughes and Plath and.. feel a little better about it. Writers are also a dramatic bunch, and I can’t even handle my own.

7.

As any good student of the social sciences might, I have fallen into the habit of diagramming and chart-drawing. Clearly labelled axes, arrows indicating strength and direction of relationships, establishing causal relations and so on. So in our chart of inclusionary and exclusionary love, i.e. Us and Them, we have 2 separate diagrams, each labelled family/ religion/ friends, other legitimate, Wanted Things like that. In one, the lines extend to touch every base, there exists the outward pull which initiates the relationship with Such Wanted Things; the area within which forming the total area of everything passionate like desire and sex and understanding, etc. In our chart, then, the axes are rarely ever touched; compared to the full circle/oval of the first, we have this malnourished figure which isn’t sure if it was a triangle or a skinny oval. Desire and sex, etc, The Things Wanted. Never once extending beyond its boundaries to touch the periphery of Everything Else and Ever After.

  1. Everything Else, Those Things Wanted, Tomorrows and our yesterdays. Full Circle.

Incandescent

2 minute read

Reposting stuff from the past. This one from 2005.

There she is, your ex-lover, across the bar and incandescent. Gleaming as she always does, though perhaps now from that diamond ring perched so effortlessly off her slender fingers, which grip the cigarette tightly in other places. You steal a glance. You steal two. You kick yourself for it. When the words “ex” and “lover” come together, you think, they form such a funny word. The prefix usually suffices, “ex” has an air of such finality, such legitimacy, all these things we never were. “Lover”, while being the closest word you can dredge up, comes together with the first with layers upon layers of an intensity now forsaken, a sordid mystery to be recounted, a tinge of regret in some places and the embrace of the new in others.

Beer, whisky, Marlboro Lights. The usual. I used to find the way she held her cigarette, the way she flicked it every so often, incredibly alluring. Now that I’m years past legal I find myself unconsciously recreating her style. I stopped requesting for Exit Music, she admits, mostly because I was afraid Shirlyn might realize.. I keep asking for it. I stopped coming here for the same reason. When, to torture myself, I’d ask for it, and revel in how it was rendered so perfectly, so strangled: we hope.. that you choke.. so perfectly mirroring us. It’s so easy to fall into old habits, you say. A temporary wave of nostalgia. Do you remember how we snogged at the ATM in front of your house/ at the playground/ in the lift, what we were thinking then? We weren’t thinking then. It’s so easy to fall into old habits, I know.

Old lovers, I used to say, are like old wine. (In addition to getting better every year,) You store them away, achingly at first, always knowing it’s the best move. Out of sight but not as much out of mind as desired. At some indeterminate point in the future you take them out, admiringly. Whether or not you partake again… would merely be a matter of choice. And circumstance.

Side-stepping, arm to arm, swaying together across that grass patch. Being this drunk would have been a good excuse a few light years ago. You ask: how many girlfriends have you had? I count with my hands and feet.. yet somehow manage to truthfully say, well, two. I’m drunk and of unsound mind but sober up at the words, ring, flat, wedding. Like a hostage who loves her captor I begin to feel, for the first time, pleased you are the friend I’ve never had, the friend you should have always been. Even if ring and flat and man are everything I could never be.

Roundtable

4 minute read

Where I post stuff from the archives, the stuff I like. This is from 2005.

Do you remember how when we first met, I thought you were Adrienne? You were in blue jeans, and a black, backless top. I was in what I used to wear years ago, and still do. Haha I guess things change, years pass, we move on, but not our dressing. Well I’m a bit drunk now so pardon my bluntness. I think about you sometimes. I often wonder if you do. I mean, of course, fondly — you know. We used to be close. I still don’t know what to call it, but I miss that. The uncertainty. The testing of boundaries. That streets had no name. The desperate feeling of wanting what you can’t have, the intense guilt. God the guilt. How intimacy was so innocent, how we were young. Adrienne. You thought I was someone else, who had the same name, but different hair. On my rare night out tonight I was with people I hadn’t seen in years. Classmates. People I knew back when I still bothered to dress up, before this jungle and this inanity became my home. People I knew back when there was you. Us going out in school uniforms. Disappearing. Years ago. When longing was young, and we were even younger. When longing was never wrong.

***

Let it go, pal, let it go. It hurts like fuck, sure. We can’t ever see beyond our pain or our loss. [glaring sideways for a second, then corrects himself] I’ve been there before. Recently. When you love someone so much and want nothing more than her happiness, yet she thinks you can’t give her that anymore. How can you go on, knowing you can’t make her happy, and she won’t let you try — knowing every moment you hold her, she’s thinking of that goddamn woman — [tense, tearful] It used to be simple, you know. Boy, girl, happy photos and expensive dinners. Birthday surprises and Christmas presents. It was simpler when we were younger. But at twenty five I suppose we know by now this is transient, that things run their own course. At least they’re — she’s — happy now. [wistful, sideway glance] And that should make us happy too. She was the first woman I loved. Only, perhaps. I suppose I should be happy to be the only man she’s ever managed to love. It’ll be our turn to be happy. [Inshallah.]

***

Semi-imaginary dialogue involving several people who have never met each other, all speaking to me in a bad dream: I had a part dream, part nightmare; we were kissing in my room and our parents caught us. I need to know it didn’t mean nothing to you. I had a luscious dream which ended too early. We were kissing in my room and our boyfriends walked in. Did it? We lit types — so obsessed. With symbolism, coincidence, signs, literary devices. Pregnant pauses. So obsessed with tragedy, and obsessed with obsession. You’re in love with the idea of being in love with me. And I’m in love with the idea of you being in love with me. Another lifetime perhaps, another place. Am I just a friend to you? It stopped being simple, the moment we kissed. You don’t know what it means to be loyal. She was my friend, you know, God, the guilt. She even hugged me. Come to London. Come see me in San Francisco. (Don’t come to my wedding.) You’re loyal, and well, loyal. You’ve been different things to different people, in different dimensions and places. In another time and place when this longing is never wrong. See me there, won’t you? I’ll dream about it, and hope it doesn’t end earlier than it should. /dream Did I mean anything to you? becomes a cry in the dark, though it’s no longer clear now from whom.

***

Down Monivong on a motorbike with you we went around in circles, lost. Moving onto Sihanouk Blvd it was the same, everything here was the same, looked the same, in this strange place. In the Trasak Pham of memories we were happily washing away the day’s thoughts — of Tuol Sleng, of genocide, of despots who died untried, of the white trash along Sisowath and starving children they literally kick away over chianti and foie gras — the lights went off. The whole street of Trasak Pham liked stealing electricity from this house, as our host had so graciously warned. The water stopped too. At least the soap suds were off, and there was always the prospect of sleep. With the air conditioning gone too, between stale air and mosquitoes, we chose the former. You tossed about, sleepless, bothered, while I fell flat and slept. I remember sleepless nights with you well by now. That night you stayed up to wait for Guy’s bike to pull into the porch. Many months, nights, later (we have no luck with electricity) we braved mosquitoes, escaping to the veranda at four a.m., telling each other jokes to stay awake until sunrise. We set out thus far without a purpose, returning with some. From Changi to Klong Prao, Arab Street to Trasak Pham, riverside to Thansadet, they say the woman in whose sides you seek refuge and who makes you laugh at four in the morning, is the one to want. In the right time and place when longing is never wrong, and we’re not getting any younger. Where the streets are never nameless, even if a little obscured. (I keep wishing I could write a little better about you, but as you know by now, happiness does not lend itself well to engaging literature.)

Excavation

5 minute read

Where I dig into my archives and repost stuff I like. This one’s from April 2005.

1.

Wherever I go, I am not allowed to forget – how perfectly crisp and displaced my unaccented English is. If there is an accent it is not one you can pin down. To my countrymen it betrays my independent school upbringing, a way of life, perhaps even my inclination towards the ways of the “West”. To all others it is a curious melting pot of diverse manners of speaking, testament to the absorption of diffuse cultures, if we are even able to say clearly what “culture” is, if we even had any control over these points of contact.

In a backpacker’s lodge in Australia one year, the football-mad nationalities gathered around the TV to watch the emotional Manchester United-Liverpool showdown, while the Americans sat in a corner unsure of what to watch out for on the telly. I realized, but not without some shock, that in the event I would ever watch my national team play (and so they did – at the Tiger Cup the next year, to surprise victory), the jersey I would be wearing would be the one on-screen. Red, too.

I said to a visitor once: the best thing about living in this place is the First World living at Second World prices. Everything else is a sort of win some, lose much situation. Our methodology in learning and teaching the Chinese language perhaps betrays far more than we are willing to let it – those characters, if we ever learn them at all, have become meaningless, we learn the broad strokes but not the fine print, we repeat to perfection the art of imitating a model essay under duress by our tuition teachers; those words are hieroglyphics at best, and the best that many of us can do is to attempt to create meaning from these hieroglyphs.

I am never allowed to forget my accent. In English, it is an accent which points not to precise geographic locations, but to imprecise states of mind and imagined affiliations. In the mother tongue, it is the lack of a passable accent that is grating to even my ears. Both have to do with displacement and unsettlement, and neither of them are exactly pleasant.

2.

The district does not sleep tonight. Sonagachi is just waking up, but the streets are already lined with last night’s vomit, uncleared, and the air still reeks of the liquor from every night before for the past years, uncleared. Today’s girls have taken the place of yesterday’s, though, who have either moved on to be the mummy (the lucky ones), or given way to one venereal disease and unwanted childbirth too many.

It is easy to rage when reading about it miles away from the scene – the exploitation! The misery! The violence against women and children! The illegality of human trafficking!

Being here changes all that. The rage is still present but tempered with resignation; even understanding. Some of the girls look as young as 12 – mostly, they are; if not, then they are malnourished and hence look many years younger than their actual age. Most of them are not here by choice. The only people who get to choose are those who had “choice” taken from them in the first place: the ones who, now hundreds of miles away from their homes (in Bangladesh, Nepal, rural parts of India whose village names they never knew, cannot remember, or can never return to again from shame) – these people can choose to stay in, or ship out into the big cities of West Bengal and beyond, where they have no one, whose language they do not even natively speak.

Sonagachi is Kolkata’s red light district – it also happens to be Asia’s largest. Conservative estimates put the number of sex workers in this district alone to be at least 40 000. This number means nothing until you take a walk through it: girls as far as your eyes can see. Some of them reek of alcohol and substances; all of them look resigned.

It wasn’t the fist-clenching, heart-pumping moment I had expected.

Instead, I felt the – what shall I call it – sadness – permeate my body and grip my soul, as my eyes fell to meet their vacuous ones, woman to woman.

3.

It was the moment I had been waiting for all my life, to invoke that trite turn of phrase.

I’d felt her inch closer to me, her arms against mine, as we tried to pretend to be interested in watching the movie, my palm against hers. We lasted about eight minutes. By the ninth, we were kissing breathlessly, bodies against each others’. She was my first as I was hers – it felt nothing like kissing the many boys we’d each had. I remember with precision all which I was thinking as I stepped into her darkened flat: how is it possible that I have only known this person’s last name for a week, and yet feel this.. impossibly close? After. I was lying stomach down, fiddling with my mobile to pretend to have something to do other than swoon.

“When you grow up,” she said. “You’re going to be really scary – impossibly brilliant and sexy. And I’m going to have to try so hard not to want you.”

I was grasping at straws vacillating between my rising enchantment and the crushing despair: that in two hours she had accomplished what it took my men months to, if ever at all – wrap me around like that. And she knew it.

I sat at the edge of the bed, as I would continue to for weeks after, watching her as the orange light fell upon her face, as I would for months after. Her hand in mine for never more than an hour each time. I remember thinking, my God, she’s so goddamn beautiful.

It has been a number of years, but I’m not sure I’m done growing up, or if I’ve even begun to.

Release

2 minute read

Where I dig into my archives and repost stuff I like. This one’s from 2005.

like the foreign worker who, having spent six days of every week, fifty one weeks of every year, building for a country that is not his, listening to languages that are not his, but whose greatest pleasure comes from talking every Sunday in his native tongue for hours to any relative and friend in Dhaka who will listen, to release his repressed Bengali at a dollar a minute, no matter the cost, who,

like the repressed lesbian kissing her first girl after a string of boyfriends, and is perfunctorily surprised to find she likes it much more, because girls don’t merely stick it in and slop around but take their time with her, and she knows now, from a kiss alone, that irrevocably, and uncontrollably, she has to be, the mystery ends here, no matter the cost, who,

like the seven year old in his first week of school, is afraid of teachers, people he calls monsters, as they are very big and scary and always demand to know if his shoes are white, if his nails are clean, if he’s brought his consent form, like it matters at all, and he finally manages the courage to raise his hand, to ask in a meek voice, if he can go to the toilet, there where he swears to never again take Ryan on in the challenge of drinking three cans of Coke at a go, no matter the cost, who,

like the wage slave on her night out after years in the office, is relieved to find the bar to be the same as when she last left it, in 2001, only that the prices of the drinks have risen proportionately to her income, so has the number of suitors (men and women) taken on an inverse relationship to it, and she realizes she is now 28, though last she checked it was 2001, and once in 2003, so after a few rounds of whisky she gets groovy, at the time of the night where whisky is now called ‘happy juice’, determined to have fun for a change, no matter the cost, who,

like me, is relieved to find release, release from the spell of old, from the bright lights and other excesses, from the daisy chain of ex lovers of ex lovers who are now each other’s new lovers, from the endless chain that swears they love you, truly, really, but not really at all, but now finds greatest pleasure in holding the hand of the one I said I loved yesterday, though I already meant it everyday before yesterday, in sitting here writing, as she sits here sketching, admiring her with the silliness of the first flush of love on my face, knowing that I am, in far too many ways, as a woman reborn, in a motion picture where I provide the words and she the pictures, set to the soundtrack that is ours, and ours alone, and I leave this dangling without a full stop because that’s just the way it is, no matter the cost