I woke up this morning with a mishmash of dreams and a tangle of conversations in my head. Too many late nights and a boundary-less work from home schedule had confused me. Phew. I needed to unload. And then I realized that the National Poetry Writing Month began about a week ago. I know I am late to the party, but who cares about rules? So, here goes my first poem for NaPoWriMo 2020.

 

Can you be water for today?

So that I can wash my hands with you and have you on me for a few extra moments because hand washing is in vogue right now.

Before this, I would have asked you to be fire because we were setting fire to everything that even smelt a trifle anti-national.

And I would have loved more of you.

In fact, I can entreat you to be the earth, because at this point, it is not being trampled on too much.

And it would be a treat to lie down with you, enveloped in your embrace.

You can be the sky too actually, because it is a bluey nicey shade now, clear enough that I can see you without straining my eyes.

Indeed, in these pandemic days, you can even be a virus.

Because I wouldn’t mind catching you for a change.

 

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Scenario : Delhi shuts down due to COVID-19

 

“The salesmen are not willing to venture out due to the panic.”

“Madam, the police are cracking down on those who are violating the lockdown.”

Lockdown. FYI, this lockdown is not due to some curfew resulting from Sec 144. I mean, Section 144 had been imposed last month. Due to the riots that ripped apart the secular fabric of the famed capital of my country.

But we persevered. We managed to sell. By we, I mean, my team. My team of 100+ salesmen and fourteen channel partners and seven territory sales managers.

But this was different. Remarkedly different.

“Can Telescion take responsibility for the safety and protection of its salesmen?”

Of course, I had no answer to that when a salesman asked me this question out of the blue. I was willing to risk my life with them, yes. But I could not guarantee that the virus would not attack them. Or me, for that matter.  

There is a fine balance between business and safety. But I don’t know if I know that balance yet. I am supposed to be leading this team of 110+ people who rely on my judgment. But how sound is my judgment? Should I ask the team to pack up and sit home? Or ask them to stand tall in these tough times and provide the service that my company boasts so much about? (at the risk of sounding preachy)

And then there are the customers. Raging fuming customers breathing fire. Because their lives have been upended. Because their networks are down. Because they can’t go out and must stay in. And to stay in, they need the sophisticated arrangement of entertainment that humankind has striven to create over the past decade.

“I want the 499 plan.”

“Excuse me?” I said for the umpteenth time to the nth customer who had suddenly learnt to climb the elaborate escalation matrix we had so thoughtfully put together and reached right up from the salesman to channel partner to the TSM to the ZSM a la me.     

“Actually, there is no 499 plan. We only have plans starting from 799.” I rambled on, feeling like a frustrated salesgirl which I probably was. Just a few rungs up the corporate ladder.  

“Your team assured me that there is one. You cannot get away with making false commitments.

DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHO I AM?!

I can tweet about your service and ruin you! I can file a case against you! I will post on facebook! I will take this case to the CEO…”

The good thing about the call was that it came during a meeting. My manager was holding a video conference – it was my first work from home experience as a sales team member. Which was turning out to be a complete disaster, by the way.

Her voice emanated from the laptop microphone and enmeshed with the mad ranting of the customer determined to take away my job. Somehow, that mixture ensured that I didn’t understand much of anything and could manage to keep my temper in check.

 

But then there were my TSMs expecting me to provide some way forward and take a decision. Decision. Duh. When had I ever taken a sane decision in my life?

I ordered whichever liquor my finger pointed to. Smoked up with strangers. Decided courses based on how often I would get to travel. Chose jobs based on how pretty the office buildings looked… 

Yeah, my decision making skills were pretty effing amazing.

“What should we do, ma’am? Our teams want to know the way forward. We are connecting you on the call.”

And this is when I wished I knew what to say. This is what happens when people who have always been followers are suddenly crowned as leaders.

“Sure,” I grimaced, wondering how I would stammer my response and lose dignity in front of my reportees.

“They are all connected, ma’am,” my TSMs replied. They had taken everyone on a video call and were looking at me expectantly, waiting for me to say something intelligible and wise. I thought of how much I was about to disappoint them and decided to wing it.

“Umm, okay shoot your questions.”

“Madam, all entries are banned due to coronavirus. Shops have been locked down, section 144 has been imposed. How are we supposed to work in such dangerous conditions? Our families are not letting us come.”

“So,” I began uncertainly. “I know it’s too much to ask this of you. Therefore, I wouldn’t. I will not ask you to come on the field and sell.”

No. No. Do not give them free rein.

“All the same, I want to remind you that some people have to keep certain services up and running. For instance, the ones who take the garbage…”

Bad example. Couldn’t have thought of a more sophisticated one, could you?

“And those who ferry us from place to place. The transport guys, the chemists. The doctors.”

Aah yes, that noble profession. Good save.

“And then there are those who connect all of us. Communication is something we cannot do without.”

Really? Doctors = telecommers? What bullshit.

“I mean, it’s not as essential but somewhat, yes. Life has to go on and to keep it moving, you need to maintain the services. So, I will not ask you for sales numbers or targets. All I ask you is to help keep the service up and running. If someone requires a connection, I would expect you as a responsible salesperson to go and provide it. With all protection, of course.”

Sigh. I don’t think that was very convincing but that’s the best I could do. For the time being.

As soon as I closed the call window, my phone began to ring.

“Yes?”

“When will my connection be installed?”

Aarrrghh!!! Another dumb customer! I have to find the idiot who gave them my contact.

This is when I need the ground teams working. Enough with the good boss behavior already.

 

Meanwhile, in another world…

“The rigor hasn’t dropped even in these times. The south zone has scored the highest ever numbers and is all set to make a record!”

Yeah, that was my boss, reminding us that after all is said and done, I have to ensure we get enough business rolling in day after day.

So much for working from home. I would choose a field visit any day. At least one gets to roam and have interesting food.   

image source : unsplash.com

Dear Seller of Fates,

 

You read the cards of my life and sold me fate. Of course, magic and unrealism were your more popular wares but your primary product was fate.  

And dreams. You peddled dreams packaged in hopes and expectations that grew in direct proportion to my clashes with reality.

In a world full of cracks, you peddled the light that crept in through the cracks.

You found a buyer in me because you knew who I was.

I was a settler, settling for scraps, for anything that even remotely resembled the dream you sold me.

Thinking that maybe this was what I had been striving for so long.

Maybe the settling, the compromises and the losses would build up to this. This explosion of happiness. This ending of a long wait because the fruits of long unending waits were supposed to be sweet.

But you, dream peddler, you didn’t tell me that long waits may end in bitterness too.

That the fruits may turn sour, the people may forget.

Sometimes, I wish you had sold me some fairy dust of forgetfulness.

Then I would have let my pride crumble, succumbed to lies and settled for less than what I deserved because I would have forgotten that you had sold me a larger-than-life fantasy.

 

Yours forever,

The Settler

Image Source : https://www.bu.edu/bpt/performances/absence/
Sometimes, I look at the light and wonder what if it was not light but dark. Pitch dark.
What if white was not white but black. Jet black.
If lies were not lies but truths.
If joys were not joys but sorrows.
In such a world and such a universe, would your absence not be an absence but your presence?
I dream of my tomorrows filled with our yesterdays.
Those light moments stolen from hefty realities that formed the constellations that I stare at. Night after night.
Hoping you stare at them too.
From wherever you are.
Right now.

I think I am a leaf.
Trying to attach myself to your tree even when I know that we were separated by the winds of time long ago.
I don’t know if I will ever realize that my forever just lasted for the moments that had you in them.

Lovers come with roses.
Roses and sweet words. 
But you?
You came to me with thorns.
Thorns and wars.
Thorns that you eased out of my bleeding surfaces.
The surfaces of my walls which were breached by sweet words and sweeter actions by those masquerading as lovers.
You came to me with war.
A war of words.
A war of words and thoughts and beliefs because you were a proponent of truth and would have chosen truth over me, had there been a choice.
And soon there did come a choice.
But then you chose me.
And I knew then that you were truth.
My truth.
I realized then that thorns are sweeter than roses and wars are better than words. Simply because they come from you.
    

I can tell you how I learnt to tie a shoelace.
Shoelaces are tricky.
Tricky little snips of fabric that untie themselves just to make you bend really low.
So that you stoop.
Low enough to make a mistake.
In that sense, shoelaces are like you and me.
Like people who flit in and out of our lives like flies through an open window.
And some of them untie themselves before you.
Just for the fleeting fun of seeing you try to figure them out.
To see you try to make out the tricks up their sleeves.
Like the wiles of a conman.
But the trick is to take them by the horns.
Avoid the fuggy world spinning past you and focus on the coils.
Take one of them and pull it in with the other.
And tighten.
So hard that not a single scream can escape.
And then you make a flower out of the repressed screams.
Out of all the asphyxiation and the garroting and the suffocation.
That is the trick.
You don’t tie a shoelace in knots, you make a flower out of it.

So, this trip happened in the midst of my work schedule. Like I am packing four hours prior to my flight, taking calls after checking-in to the airport, setting out-of-office mails, settling disputes and pacifying my boss. And then bam, the Delhi-to-Chennai flight takes me out of the work mode. I was wearing proper winterwear, replete with jacket and sweater and scarves and socks and the moment I landed at Meenambakkam airport, I fought with those fabrics and got them off in the midst of a call. A call from Madhouse, of course.

Madhouse trip 2019 was on.

Let me introduce you to the cast that went to Sri Lanka. There were Pal, Slo, Ash, Jiggy, Sal, Saumi, Chan, Ag (also Silver, because Ag in the periodic table is the symbol for silver, so…yeah we are nerds of the highest order) and of course, yours truly.

To get you acquainted with the group:

(Namesake) Ash arranges trips and Pal accompanies him. Jiggy makes expert comments and Slo smiles at them. Sal has our back in case something runs out or someone runs away, or gets upset, especially Saumi, who has everyone’s back almost all the time. (Milo-lover) Chan finds strays to pet and ways to entertain Silver and me. And by entertain, I might also mean annoy, like the way he annoyed the hell out of me by first petting Betty (okay, she was a pretty sweet doggie) and then naming her after me. And scaring the hell out of both Silver and I at two in the night on a forest trail adjoining the two cottages in our Nuwara Eliya resort. But then, Ash is also a good contender for the annoyance award owing to his super weird songs.

Talking about annoyance, let me start from our first day in Kandy.

When Silver banged on my door for the nth time asking me to come out, I will honestly say that it got me a little miffed. I mean, I did ask her if she wanted to go first. She was happy enough to let me go and I told her I like to take my time…

So when I got out in my towel, I was even further bugged because the door was open. I asked Pal if she could close it and she looked at me as if I had just arrived from some other world.

“What?” I asked her.

“Why are you in a towel?”

“Because I just came from the shower? And umm I will get dressed if you close the door?”

“No, I meant why aren’t you packing? We got to leave this place.”

Wait what.

 

Poor Silver had been trying to tell me that the owners were shoving us out. So, it turned out that MMT had played us. It was a classic case of CID as Ash would happily tell us since he is from the hotel industry as well. And by CID, I did not mean Crime Investigation Department. It is short for ‘Check-In Denied’. Pretty cool, right?

No, it was not cool at all when I had to dress up hurriedly and re-pack my bags because the owner of the cute property with a cute terrace told us that he was renting it to some other group for the day and they were coming any moment so we had to leave. But at least, I got to bathe. Others had to take their lunches without a shower (I know, it’s a first world problem, but it is a legit problem when you have been traveling the entire night).

But wait, that’s not all the mishappenings. Not even the worst of it. Let me go in no particular order:

  • Pal goofed-up on her passport number on her visa.
  • We broke a bed.

Sorry, two beds.

Okay stop right there, dirty minds. I swear the ply just gave in the moment we climbed onto it. And it                              wasn’t me, duh.

  • We paid a whopping amount just to climb some 300 stairs.
  • Jiggy lost his specs in the waterfall (who asked him to wear it to the water in the first place, I will never be able to tell)
  • We ate at an attractively decorated restro in the midst of a carnival and had some atrociously bland food. (I know, a very Indian issue, but life without spices is not really life, is it?)
  • The boat that took us snorkeling in the middle of the Indian Ocean lost its anchor about thrice. And the constant right to left bobbing of the boat in the water got some of us pretty seasick. (One of them was yours truly.)
  • One of us couldn’t climb onto the boat. (Ummm, that wasn’t me. I was the one who kept freaking out when they put me in the water and refused to let go of my snorkeling trainer’s hand.)
  • One of us couldn’t see the water stuff too clearly because she did not wear lenses and specs weren’t allowed and she has an atrociously high power and yet she chose to snorkel. (This forever unprepared genius was doubtlessly me.)
  • The hotel guys were starting to charge us extra for overstaying because the water sports started late and we wanted to, of course, still do them, and one of us went in last to shower and spent an inordinately large amount of time to do so because she had to write her name on the sand five times before leaving Bentota. (You still wonder who this might be? It’s me, bro.)
  • We spent the final night standing in a never-ending queue and cracking slapstick comments and later rushing with a hasty dinner at 1:30 am to our respective flights to respective cities. One of us got delayed for about five hours and she got stuck with a bunch of kids who didn’t let her sleep a wink. And yes, that person was me.

So, that was that.

What were you expecting in the post? Some picturesque description of how beautiful Sri Lanka is and where all you should go and what you should experience in order to make it worth the while? If I tell you that, what will the tour operators and lonely planets of the world do?

But okay, let this not be a waste of your time. Let me run the places briefly by you. If you are into history and mythology, basically the culture of a place, then you can go to the Dambulla royal cave temple and the tooth relic of the Buddha. You will see a lot of Buddhist rituals, even some cultural dance. You can visit the legendary AshokVatika temple where ‘Mom Sita’ (no offence) was rumored to have been trapped by Ravana (I made it a point to read up on the Asura literature before visiting this place, but even if you know the basic Ramayana, it will do).

Fan of tea plantations and strawberry farms? Well, you are at the right place. We had some amazing strawberry ice cream and shakes in a strawberry farm in Nuwara Eliya. Ramboda Falls and Gregory Park are other cute places that will make you love the destination you chose even more. Then you have the oldest post office in Sri Lanka with a beautiful colonial façade. Post a letter from there. Stare out at the aquamarine blue lake. Try and figure out whether the sky is turquoise or teal. Maybe the gem museum will help you with that. Sal almost paid with his kidney buying jewels for his wife in Colombo. (True story!)

 

Okay if I have been all about slip-ups and goof-ups on this entire trip, perhaps I haven’t learnt to count my blessings yet. Because, of course, there were the good things…

 

  • We received a warm welcome to Sri Lanka what with orchid garlands and all.
  • I got a fab dress and shorts in a steal deal. (Yeah, I am girly to the core sometimes. Totally middle-class girly.)
  • We did some jigs and funny dances in a cute street in Galle.
  • Watched a club match in Galle International Cricket Stadium.
  • Played cricket with the locals.
  • Had some rich and tempting dark chocolate, hazelnut, raspberry and blue bubblegum ice cream at a place called Carnival Café in Colombo.
  • Had ice lollies in Galle.
  • Had some more ice cream in Nuwara Eliya.
  • Had ice cream at every chance we got.
  • Watched people betting on horses and matches with the intensity of investment bankers.
  • Played Suspense (that’s a card game) to death. Played ‘Contact’ and Monopoly (GoT themed). Pictionary. Twenty Questions. Atlas. Pretty much all sorts of games you can devise. Of course, volleyball and throwball on the beach count as well. We guys do play a lot.
  • Karaoke-ed to our favorite songs. Sang along tunelessly and shamelessly and happily to all sorts of lyrics.
  • Chilled with cocktails and desserts at the beachfront (did I mention we were at a beach front hotel?) and at the swimming pool.
  • Oh wait, did I mention the duvet fight at 3 am? It was Silver and I vs Chan. There was one duvet kept on Chan’s bed (Chan, Silver and I were sharing the same room- can you imagine our superb luck? :for the uninitiated- that was sarcasm: ). And Silver and I wanted it. I remember telling Chan that there was another duvet kept in the closet, but then where would the fun be in that? Instead, we had a neat little tug-of-war where he naturally lost the battle after totally upending the bed and the carefully arranged sheets. Kudos, Ag! We make a nice little team.

 

So, when it was time to head back to the Colombo airport, my eyes were droopy and the news bits of Delhi hitting 1-2 degrees during the day already had me in its grip. Gone were the hours in the swimsuit- beachfront lazing, cocktail sipping and sunbathing. It was time to head back into the grind and collect enough moolah for the next adventure!

He saw life looking at him with beady eyes and turned away. 
He knew that life wore a monocle and knew how to lock its target on him. 
He knew that it would take him by the horns and play with his deepest fears. 
He knew how judgmental it was and realized that he didn’t have an extraction plan. 
That this mission had been ordered by him and was being carried out by him and there just was no one to get him out if things got out of hand. 
And things were never pretty much in hand in the first place.

Because he was under a curse. 
The most terrible one of all. 
He was cursed with love. 
Not just falling in love. 
But drowning in it. 
Gasping, floundering, hurting in love. 
Like Calypso, who was destined to lose her lovers. 
Because love is genuinely the wretchedest curse of all.  

Sure, he had stories in him. 
A bag full of heavy-duty scary stories about himself. 
And even some good ones. 
The ones that may make some laugh. 
And some others weep.

Because most of those stories were about birthdays. 
Birthdays that were celebrated with love-shaped cakes. 
Love-shaped cakes of two kinds- the tastier one to be eaten and the creamier one to be smeared on the face. 
Because smeared faces reminded him of a handsomer visage and a sweeter time. 
When birthdays were never forgotten and didn’t have to be revived through Facebook reminders. 
When empty conversations and comfortable silences over countless cups of coffee felt richer and meant more than fancy wishes and elaborate presents sent through fedex.

He saw life looking at him with beady eyes and turned away. 
He knew that he was cursed. 
He was still very much in love. 
With what had been and what now could never be.    

 

She is not a round peg in a square hole. She is a shapeless mass looking for a fixture that would fit her or change as she does with each passing moment.
Her thoughts are bombs that can blast you out of your comfort zone.
Her words are poisoned barbs that can sting you with their truth and then stay in and infect your life.
Her love is a minefield. One wrong move and you may be destroyed.
Her love is a microscope searching for a spirit like hers among the parasites that hound her life.
Her love is a lie detector test. I fail at it everyday.
Her love is an active volcano situated right above my peak. The magic lies in her fire.
Her love is a balm that can soothe all my worries away.
Her love, you know, can take you places like the deep seas, the highest peaks, the hottest hells.
Her love is the light at the end of the tunnel, to reach which I can die a thousand deaths.