Dipti Anand is a poet, writer, and editor living and working in Delhi, India.
I’ve been out drinking, ending up at Public Affair, for a few hours with a few friends. In the car, on the way home, a vague film of cologne and smoke envelopes me—a scent that’s partially mine, but now impure on account of mixing with that of others whom I’ve sat next to, brushed hello’s with, hugged or whose plates I’ve eaten off.
If you really are a combination of the five people you’re closest to, I think those permutations can change every day. Who’s standing the closest? Who’s the furthest away? Whose jokes do you get? Who’s telling the best stories? Who’s telling average stories in the best way? Who did you miss seeing all this while?
Why do we forget about the ‘day’ in singular and think only in years? Why does everyone forget about the individual senses and focus only on the whole body?
It’s not particularly pleasing or displeasing, this mélange of smells. It’s just pronounced, I can observe it, and it reminds me of the morning yesterday, in the elevator at work, when I could smell McNuggets going up to the 7th floor, riding in a box full of people just as late as I was.
I’m finally home, and while climbing up to my room in our house of ramps, I stop in the kitchen to make a grilled cheese sandwich before I make my way to bed.
I’m thinking how I can’t sleep when my stomach rumbles and makes more noise than my thoughts. There’s a time for everything and the night is for dreaming.
It’s a little secret that I look forward to it all day. But just when I turn off the lights and swear myself in for a good night’s screenplay, I start to dream and the vision hangs and repeats and re-repeats itself as if I’m trying to get every detail in the very first image right. By the time I usually do, I’m already asleep. If I don’t, I have to turn to something else.
I briefly put on Community, and turn off the TV right before they’re going to commit Abed to a mental institution.
I’m not guilty about how late I’ve slept in today, mainly because I’ve decided to make my dog (an 8-kg, 9-year-old, golden cocker spaniel) my gratitude totem (thanks Science of People), so that I’m reminded, each time I look at him, to feel grateful for something, if not everything, I’ve got going for me in my life. And today, like every day, Oscar’s the one who’s woken me up. He’s missed my face by a few inches, but his paws and slobber are all over my forearms.
Like me, Oscar likes to wear attar, but these days we’re using apple cider vinegar on him to get rid of his ticks. The air around his body feels different but when he rubs up against my leg, he leaves behind a residue of his coat that smells like he normally does, as if alerting me to his changing but ever-the-same ways all in one breath. Later, the cider tends to grow stale and smell like sweaty feet, but I kiss him around twenty times anyway. I guess it’s love that makes me do it.
The morning is slow, so I turn to the implicit synergy between tea and biscuits to spur off a set of chain reactions for my day to begin.
Like a peach, there’s a pit buried deep in my belly, but my skin is soft, bruisable. Soft on the outside, hard on the inside—I contemplate it being a (cosmic?) hangover, but my head is perfectly lucid. Anyway, I consumed more dragon fruit than I did sake last night so if anything, there should be tons of sugar flowing through my bloodstream. I should be bouncing off the walls.
Except I’m not. I’m trying not to write down the overwhelming sense of glumness uncoiling itself from the base of my spine—such a heavy acknowledgement—even as I write this down, but I can’t stop what I can’t stop.
It usually rains on mornings like these but the sky outside is dry as a bone.
I’ve moved over to the couch where I’m waiting for my eggs to arrive (literally, they’re sprouting legs as we speak). Where’s Oscar? I need to remember to feel grateful for this.
I’ve turned on The Social Network while I eat, which makes it a grand total of two times that I’ve watched this movie . . . since Wednesday. In life, probably thirty times. I had loved it the first time I saw it, way back in 2010. Each time subsequently, I’ve only watched it to figure out why I love it so much.
What I don’t understand about why I love it:
– I’m not a techie. I’m what you’d call a laggard.
– I’m not fascinated by code, although when I see some, I think it could make for a nice acrostic poem or crossword puzzle.
What I understand about why I love it:
– It’s “set” in Boston. I used to live there.
– I have a crush on Stanford and dream about doing my PhD there, but then abandon the idea because I think it’s too far.
– Jesse Eisenberg’s mile-a-minute dialogue is how I feel my brain speaks to me privately. Except the accent’s a lot different.
Unlike anything else I watch/read/listen to, I never notice anything new in The Social Network that I haven’t already noticed before. (No offense to David Fincher/Aaron Sorkin’s craft, I’m clearly a fan.) Wait, I get it. It’s comforting because it’s a most stable interpretive experience. There’s no ongoing, parallel, internal conversation. The only other movie that makes me feel this way is Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Maybe I’ll squeeze that into my day to compare . . .
I realize this is why I often dislike going to movie theaters. Too much chit-chat.
[stray thought—12:38 p.m.—my philosophy professor once told me that as I step into the real world (of academia) I should be aware of what kind of voice/stand I have in my discipline. He described me as being “moderate” (but convincing all the same), as in having boundaries and respecting boundaries, as in sometimes wanting to overstep but not hardly doing it. That’s because I believe in many things at once. I don’t hate things or people, I only love what or who I love more . . . but I don’t play favorites.
How odd it is that one’s philosophy is moderate, but in the passions, one is extreme. I’ve never had a moderate mood, so I wonder how in ink I come across more benevolent than I accurately should.]
My phone is blowing up with news. Some more friends of mine are newly engaged. I’m texting groups of friends while I pick out clothes to wear. I’m thinking of jeans and a full-sleeved chiffon top because it’s hot and I also don’t want to catch the dengue that’s floating around. Damn all the mosquitos and lizards and cockroaches. Not so moderate now, am I?
Time to shower. HedKandi (#TB and #FTW) is connected and playing on the speakers via Bluetooth. I imagine them shaking hands. It sounds like a waterfall . . . and 2007.
Some nostalgia kicks in. I’m remembering the last time I remembered the last time I remembered the last time I remembered the first time I heard the album.
17.56 minutes clocks on the playlist. Oops, that was a long shower.
I finally open the bathroom door (Oscar is waiting outside, his adorable face nestled in his tiger paws) and out wafts a wave of blackberries, moringa flowers, milk, Chlöe and vitamin E. It quietly circulates the room and crashes into the patchouli smell from the incense sticks that have been burning for a while.
I sip my coconut water now, after freshly pouring it into a frozen glass from a recently beheaded set of coconuts off the street. I drink in the coolness primarily; the sweetness is an afterthought. Slowly my body temperature from the hot shower goes down. My skin normalizes.
[stray thought—1:32 p.m.—I’m still a little bit asleep inside even while my eyes are open. I look alert but on second glance, it’s just the white liner I’ve swooped on to my tear ducts. There’s lots of quiet rising inside me, which, okay, I do appreciate. But I’m struggling to relax. It’s tough to do nothing. Being idle makes me feel . . . small.
So far, whenever I’ve opened my mouth today, I’ve felt more tired. A small voice inside notices and says, ‘Best to declare a ban on outside-ness and cozy up under the covers.’]
Oh God, it’s lunch time. I dread the minutes leading up to this moment because I can never quickly and clearly decide on what I want to eat. It’s one of the hardest decisions I face because I have to make it every day.
The cook asks me about lunch. I say, ‘Up to you.’ He carries both a furrowed brow and a fervent smile because I’ve just entrusted him with the responsibility to figure out, for me, what my desire is. The result can be hit or miss. I smile politely—the situation is difficult for both of us.
I think a lot of times it’s because what I want to eat in the here and now is not available to me. Like, for truth, I specifically want to eat a goat’s cheese and sundried tomato sandwich from Café Mangal in Wellesley, with the side salad they give everyone but I take mine with extra dressing. Or eggs benedict from the Millennium Hotel in London, where my sister and I stayed together for a couple of weeks and ate them every day. Or the lamb kapsa from Wafi Gourmet in Dubai, by the fountains that dance to Bach.
I’ve long-forgotten the days I lived in New York and sometimes wished for nothing more than a home-cooked meal. Hmmm.
I’m on the phone with one of my closest friends, V., who lives in a different city. We laugh about a few things then quickly get to the point: schedules, plans for the day, how she’s doing her nails now and I’ll do mine shortly. I share some snippets from my week and she tells me how she’s just grounded her little brother.
We go back to some more idle talk. ‘That’s not how she feels, that’s just how you feel,’ she says, when we discuss a decision taken by somebody else.
Amongst the routine the deep things sweep in without trying, through perfectly shaped cracks in the conversation we took nine years to form, and I get off the phone realizing how close closeness can feel.
My mother and I have lunch together at the table, talking like two old ladies. My father sends word to say how his day is going. My sister drops a line from Mauritius, where she’s on vacation. Oscar’s at my feet, kissing the foot of the table. Everyone seems to collide at this same time every day, as if the afternoon were a beacon that alerts each of us to check in on the progress of the morning.
I wonder if it’s true that only a full stomach can bear a thoughtful mind.
We end up eating rice, chicken and dal. I’m full. I can tell by how I’ve left the last little bite on the plate.
Another close friend, also V., is leaving to go back to the US today, so I’m almost out the door to go and see her off when she messages to tell me that the rest of her family has got the viral bug she’s just recovering from. Because she doesn’t want me to catch the germs, I won’t get to see her. She’s been in and out all summer, so I know it’s silly to think that fifteen minutes of in-person face time is really going to encapsulate the ‘best summer ever’. But I like the idea of hugging and physical effort to demonstrate feelings like, ‘Hey, I’m coming all the way just to tell you that I’ll miss you. If visiting you was this easy, I’d come every day.’ She’s sad too. We’re going to have to settle for FaceTime while she packs.
I’m not stepping out for the next couple of hours, so I trade in my jeans for track pants. The only athleisure I plan to perform for the time being is shavasan on my ass. I remember I have to get started on the next book for my book club—Zadie Smith’s NW—so I pick my copy off the shelf.
I read the first line: ‘The fat sun stalls by the phone lamps.’
Then the next line: ‘Anti-climb paint turns sulphurous on school gates and lamp posts.’
Then the rest of the paragraph: ‘In Willesden people go barefoot, the streets turn European, there is a mania for eating outside. She keeps to the shade. Redheaded. On the radio: I am the sole author of the dictionary that defines me. A good line – write it out on the back of a magazine. In a hammock, in the garden of a basement flat. Fenced in, on all sides.’
I put the book down.
[stray thought—3:25 p.m.—I’m surfing on my phone because I don’t want to open my laptop, since these days my laptop only reminds me of work. I don’t feel like writing right now and I don’t want to open my home screen to find my manuscript minimized into a one-inch icon, screaming out at me in some boisterous baritone. I’ll write when I want to write, I think, and then secretly pray it will be a short wait, probably timed with the sun going down, as if it’s going to say, ‘Now your turn.’
For a split second I reminisce about when writing was just being and not something I had to get done.]
I’m washing my hands before I sit down to eat a random bowl of dessert. It is a flat, three-tier ice cream with a layer of sponge cake at the bottom.
I got hit by a coaster at the bar last night, when a friend was trying to demonstrate how one throws a boomerang, so my nose is blushing crimson, still, as I notice in the mirror. Ironically, I’d just finished eating a fortune cookie then.
I try to nap to some Spanish guitar, but unlike a few years ago, just about twenty minutes does the trick. I’m feeling ruffled, premature, even though I’m used to this sleep cycle. How I miss the effortlessness of light and frequent sleep.
I roll off the couch and shriek. There’s a cricket on the arm rest and I’ve been sleeping next to it without realizing. It’s dead, and out in daylight—both of which I find odd. I quickly Google it. Apparently, I’m in for some good luck.
My friend calls on FaceTime, the one who’s leaving. I tell her she looks bright and lively but she tells me it’s just the lighting. (I just love the faces of all whom I love.) I can barely hear her voice; it’s hoarse, a loud whisper. She tells me that I can use this time to talk while she just listens. I laugh. That’s our relationship, borderline laryngitis or not.
I check some emails. I’m in the process of updating my website, so I’ve got to approve some font faces and colors that my programmer has just sent in. I like blue for the headers—how calm and velvety it looks. But yellow—it’s like red, but calmed down. Or purple—it’s hot, it’s cold, so I guess that makes it the most balanced. I think I’ll go with yellow.
There are painters redoing the walls of my old bedroom, so I take my cup of coffee over and watch them apply the coats for a while.
They’ve broken down almost one-third of the ceiling that’s been damaged by seepage over the last few years, so there’s a gaping hole when you look up and all I can see is cement-colored bricks. It’s lacking that intoxicating smell, the kind that’s overpowering with its authentic essence, like freshly printed pages, freshly baked muffins, unused leather . . . you know. But they’ve just started on it. The new paint smell will come soon. Funny, how many times we’ve changed the orientation of this room.
[stray thought—6:39 p.m.—I wonder if pimples are your body’s way of telling you that more of you is coming to the surface; you’re growing, you’re shedding. Or you’re becoming something else, if not more. Yes, they’re gross, yes, it’s the body’s way of purging itself. But on the forehead, could it be a third eye? On the nose, could it be a warehouse for a favorite smell? On the cheek, an ‘X’ marks the spot for a kiss you’re longing to get?
I’m looking at some framed photos and I happen to catch my reflection in them.]
I’m more sprightly as the day’s passed, and that’s probably why it’s going a lot faster now. I think it’s because I’ve successfully given myself what I want, no, need today, which is to spend most of it alone, indulging in some good, old-fashioned, quasi-narcissistic ‘me’ time. I’m recharged.
I read my horoscope. I’m a Cancer. I’ve got a hard shell and a soft underbelly etcetera etcetera etcetera. I smile, taking it seriously only in part and I’m happy it doesn’t mean the world to me. It means that I’ve done something right today, because I feel good enough not knowing how my day is going to end.
Now, what Saturday night plans should I make?
In yoga. I’ve just completed a full serpent pose for the first time, touching the back of my head with my toes, just about grazing the tip of my ponytail but that’s enough for now to call it purna bhujangasana. Yes! Yet another full circle (so what if it’s just with my body). I can hear the AC cooing softly in the background, and I wonder how engineers knew what to make the air sound like. I stretch, shrink, slip and slide over my mat for the next thirty minutes or so. Finally my teacher calls it time to meditate.
We’ve finished our breathing exercises and swiftly move on to chanting om, which is how we end the class. Oscar, who usually rolls around the room while I’m practicing, reacts to the sound of om as if he was a bodhisattva himself. He’s electrified by it and once alerted to the first syllable he’s already coming undone, hopping and unraveling as it were, hair strand by hair strand. He’s just peed near one of the Persian carpets today and was told off for it, so instead of jumping on me, he slides down next to the mat, stuffing his wet nose under my knee.
I’m mostly still, just vibrating slightly. It’s the first proper time today that I’ve been outside my head.