Person, place, thing

A person who worked with me liked everything with tomato sauce. He would even eat curd rice with ketchup. Another person I know loves pillows, as if the bed is a nest and the pillows feather stacks to cushion from every side. One loves to pick her nose when no one’s watching and make little pellets of snot. One dislikes conversation when drinking tea. One writes poems to people who are dead. Such details will never make boldface headlines in newspapers. And as most conversations and material around, necessarily, focus on those headlines, one of my constant quests is for such whimsy.

The sort of whimsy I came across when I heard an interview of the dancer and choreographer Mark Morris, which was about answering three questions — tell me your person, place, and thing. (Pay particular attention to his place.) It was delightful, the sort of conversation you can only aspire to after years of knowing someone. It felt deeply personal, something I could share with those sitting around me, us stroked by the light of a dim lamp, with some bronze liquid lubricating all senses.

Recently, we had this conversation. Who is your person, place, and thing. And these were my answers. I tell them to you with the promise that if you ask me this in another setting, they will all change. As I am sure, will yours.

Person

The window in the hotel room faced an all-night Doner Kebab shop with a neon-lit board. As I switched off all the lights in the room, and crept onto the attic bed, the signboard spilled through the curtains, a bit confused. Finish a few pages and then droop off to sleep was my routine; with a biological clock on low-battery, one tries what one can. Except, that day I read this line on my newsfeed - ‘This is my last column, after a year that has scared and inspired me.’ It was by Elena Ferrante.

What does she mean last column? What is this column? And she has been writing for a year, and I didn’t know? I was irritated at myself, and with her — of course, it was also her fault for not letting me know. I have long conversations with Elena Ferrante, and every time I finish a book, it gets more heated.

This image is by Andrea Ucini. She illustrated all of Elena Ferrante’s columns, the images are as evocative as the text. You can read all of Elena’s columns for the Guardian here - https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/series/elena-ferrantes-weekend-column

Just after finishing the second of the ‘My brilliant friend’ trilogy, I went to a book release function. It was a collection of non-fiction, and many authors, including me, had contributed. I had to go catch a bus, so I was not part of the panel. There were many women on stage. And one man. All the women who had contributed were serious — they had spent effort, time, and thought, and their work shimmered through copious references and footnotes. They spoke, measuring each word, each answer — there was forethought and fact. The man played the schoolboy. Aadhar cards of great leaders was his contribution. What? I asked Elena. What after that? She asked back. He smiled; that was it. Aadhar cards of great leaders. It has a QR code too, he smirked, his salt and pepper forelock and curls mirroring the languid ease with which he stood. The women smiled.

I was enraged. Flippancy was power — his ability to not take something seriously, when all that the women on stage craved was for exactly that. Take me seriously — they seemed to be shouting with their writing, their research, their carefully constructed sentences, and the counterpoint of their apologetic decibels. Elena stomped her foot and wanted to tear his curly hair off. I imagined clumps of it coming off, and him continuing to laugh. Schoolboys will be schoolbois.

I wrote to N., typing away on the phone as I trudged toward the bus stand. She laughed. I told her I had just finished the second book. She laughed some more. She understood.

That night at the hotel, all thoughts of my schedule, my routine, and the next day’s appointments dissolved. I sat, reading with the Doner Kebab’s lights scattered around and caught up with all her columns. It was as if each column was a letter with my name on the envelope. She is the one whose calls I’ll always answer. And as the movie said, that’s true love.

Place

Balconies.

In a balcony, the outside comes in, and you stand there at the threshold, poised. There are possibilities. You could sit, stand, or jump.

G and S lived in a home whose balcony overlooked a tree with lilac flowers. The floor was perpetually cold, and the the couch was an island of comfort. They lived on the couch, and so could you — everything was an arms distance away, be it Zandu Balm or a bottle of water. The couch was where we chatted the nights away, we watched movies, I saw a whole cricket series (for the first and last time), and often, I just curled up for a small snooze. The balcony was where you went to pause awhile — you watched the lilac tree, the occasional vehicle, the fumes as the chai simmered.

One of the many balconies I made friends with

S’ home has a terrace, but that is like a balcony, if you know what I mean. She sits there with her morning chai, and we write journals together. We chat, and then she points to a bird, and before I can spot it, it usually flies away.

M’s home has a balcony, and somehow her house seems to be an extension of that space. Our playlist is called ‘Breezy Balcony’; it has Rahman songs, mostly. To know what other songs are there, you need to join us on that balcony someday.

Thing

And when you join us on that balcony, I’ll tell whisper to you about the Thing.