Rider

He paused at the sidewalk
letting passers by pass
he’d play by the rules
wait for the signals
though no van was in sight
one foot on the ground
another fiddling the pedal
just a few seconds more
assuring himself he stood
the system took its time
before it gave the green
and off he went a sailing
though dedicated pathway
for those pedallers as he
he rode by crooked trees
old, bent, and dying to die
their barks stripped bare
their roots gone barren
recalling as he flew past
plush, browning blooms
from a month or two afore
vanished in a slice of time
not even shadows remained
yet unstopping on he went
seeking his ultimate destination
going through a mangled maze
waving at the greying florist
settled beside a fading future
smiling at her dimpled smile
what great love for life she had!
the town centre came by next
and he barely squeezed through
high-heeled boots, long leather jackets
classy wristwatches and poor diets
oof—coming to a screeching halt
catching his breath at another signal
so much was going on all around
buying and selling and exchanging
trading, wading, and sneaking about
puffing, blowing, messing it all up
for each their own way of living
and he rode on through his

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Alternative reality

“I’ll have a flat white with an extra shot and almond milk, please.”

For most of us, that’s just another coffee order. A custom drink unlike the regular rather milky beverage.

However, until recently, that was more than a luxury for me. Before I moved to Australia, I took my coffee black or with home-made oat milk, which I wasn’t a huge fan of anyway. I’m vegan, and so my only option back in India was to go black or go home. I didn’t mind much, because I’ve always felt that functional coffee should be strong, sugarless, and black.

Still, it would’ve been nice to blend a splash of almond milk in my coffee.

Sure, I could still get it off one of those niche supermarkets that almost no one goes to, where they stock about two or three cartons of alternative milk every six months. The reason—almond milk is an imported good. And so, naturally it was far too expensive for my lifestyle. It remained a rare and pricey trinket I could observe from a distance, without ever a hope of possession.

Coffee shops stood no chance of offering it.

Does that sound pathetic?

Because it is.

Now though, I have three cartons of almond milk in my pantry. Yes, it costs little more than regular milk, but it’s still abundant and accessible. That’s first-world privilege.

We don’t often realise that even the most negligible aspects of our everyday life is such a big deal for the rest of the world. Coming from the rest of the world, I am stunned at the level of eschewal in society. Of course, I don’t expect people to worship the alternative milk aisle, but instead, I realise I’ve become more grateful than I thought I could be. It’s a strange side of my character I didn’t know I had—a side that’s so conscious and appreciative of the little things in life.

But let’s talk about something more important.

A child from an average household in a developing country wouldn’t need or want alternative milk.

I didn’t until I went vegan. Although I didn’t grow up vegetarian, my family thrived on vegetable nutrition at least 6 days of the week. Sundays were special—lamb days. Or chicken. Or eating out. You get the idea. 

But, milk was the beverage staple, just as rice was for meals. It was a habit I grew into as I got older, because that’s the way we’ve always done things. No questions asked. It also helps that most Indian foods are largely plant-based. Alternatives weren’t part of the culture, and so weren’t an available option anywhere.

Someone once told me that health-conscious dietary practices are first-world problems. And the more I thought about it, the more I realised it’s true. A family that survives on gruel twice a day wouldn’t bargain or complain about not getting almond milk. Any milk is blessing. 

And when you’re growing up in such an environment, you don’t always know or listen to your body. You’ll just shrug off the bloat from gluten and the gas from milk as just another bad day. Because you’ve never experienced gluten-free, vegan, or raw food habits.

Lack of awareness leads to lack of wants. Which may seem like a good idea, but it also leads to unhealthy practices and lifestyles. Which is the disappointing reality in many of our so-called under-developed countries.

Winter trees by the Lake Ginninderra

Winter walks

Wandering by the lake
on a warm winter afternoon
the ground still reeking of dew
last night’s mist lost for good
taking one step after another
the sun burning my face
and shivering breeze
nuzzling my neck, ruffling hair
from its designated place
I saw
what I’d never seen
trees
as yesterday, they stood
leaves now browner,
falling faster
shedding
as though a snake its skin
showing off
whimsically their ashy limbs
once hidden behind gravy barks
sticking up oddly in angles
as a dead mosquito victim of spite
like chartered children
unwanted they stood
pale, shaken, deprived
still housing burgundy leaves
under their bosom,
the protective shell,
a new home on the ground
for those fallen from above
awaiting another home
down under this time
again
to rise high as green as ever
circling back
I retraced my steps homeward
just like nature


Photo: Winter trees by the Lake Ginninderra

The police

“Holy shit!”

Geraud rose from his chair as the voice relayed grisly details over the receiver. It’d happened so fast that it was all over before the cops could even get to the scene.

Teenagers are stupid. Worse, drunk.

He’d seen a lot. In his twenty years in the force, he’d seen over thirty kids, plus his own son, who should’ve never cleared the driving test. How they’d gotten their licenses was beyond him. And yet, here he was again, looking down at the unseeing beetle eyes of an eighteen-year-old.

Spurting out from the vessels in her temple, think blood was creeping over her naturally blonde hair, now almost burgundy. He stood unflinching as the liquid flowed towards his feet. Forensics was late again.

Not that he needed them to explain what’d occurred. Surely, the lack of an airbag, the cracked old flip phone by the corpse, and the empty bottle of Shiraz, now resting against her lifeless libs, could only mean that she was a victim of heartbreak and lax parenting.

He signed, preparing himself for the inevitable dramatic tantrums the parents would throw.

Oh, well.

Same ol’, same ol’. Thoughout the years, nothing ever changed.

And so it was when he met the parents three hours later. Windswept and panting, they scampered into his office, tears and perspiration mangled together in the mother’s face. Just as he’d expected. The father remained stony—a look Geraud knew only too well. They all looked courageous at first. He’ll break down soon enough.

It was an intense sixty minutes. Not that Geraud wasn’t used to it. He listened without interrupting, as the mother wailed and eventually moved on to a muffled moan. Rebekkah had been the perfect daughter, Geraud learnt. She’d never had a drug problem, no boyfriends, and no late-night parties. In fact, her mother whimpered through sobs, she’d thought her daughter was at a study group that evening.

Geraud nodded sympathetically. He knew. Noting surprised him anymore.

Though he was looking at the mother, as she spoke, Geraud saw from the corner of his eye what he’d been expecting all along—the father’s gaze weakening.

He was good at this. People at the office had thought Geraud would leave the force after his son crashed a motorcycle into a moving truck. They’d thought dealing with his son’s split scull had been too much for Geraud to return to work.

But he did. And as he sat in his rocking chair at home that night, sipping his whiskey neat and straight, Geraud knew he’d never retire. He’d seen empty sockets, crushed bones, broken sculls, and overflowing brains. He’d seen mangled manes, twisted arms, and cracked ribs. He’d seen so much.

Not enough.

Perhaps, tea

whee
eeeeee
eeeeeeeee
eeeeeeeeeeee

the boiling teapot brought back memories
arm in hand they’d walked down the aisle
best man and bridesmaid of best friends
it had all started at the rehearsal dinner

when he arrived late and flustered
though she’d been on time, awaiting
her mascara was on before his coat
yet she’d had to wait up for him to suit up

couldn’t bear to see him in the face, anger
brimming on the surface, so threatening
she glanced aside to set her mind at ease
for tardiness was as good as neediness

a cup of tea she’d had as she waited

whee
eeeeee
eeeeeeeee
eeeeeeeeeeee

the boiling teapot jerked her to reality
sitting at home, the mighty housewife
cleaning, washing, washing, and cleaning
everyday household chores multiplying

she’d woken up early that morning
way before he’d even stifled a yawn
yet she stayed in bed for him to rise
for her beloved had to dress, to work

man of the house he was breadwinner,
and she bread maker, just a part-timer
she had much time, she needn’t rush
wasn’t like she had a wedding to blush

perhaps first, she’d have a cup of tea