Put It There

hi. i wrote an essay about family, last summer, & The Beatles. It’s called “Put It There” & it’s been published in issue-9 of the fantastic The Teatles Book. you can get yourself a copy through @Teatlemania on twitter.

hope u like this. cheers. 

p.s. the title is inspired by the song “put it there” by paul mccartney. it’s lovely, & it pairs really well with this essay. you might want to check it out. have fun!

I was in a restaurant with my parents when I learned that my university was indefinitely sending us all back home due to the pandemic. It was the middle of March. I was home for the weekend. I read the email out to my parents over plates of spaghetti & chilled beer; & they were ecstatic. My mother ordered another plate of rice, & my father started calculating how many games of chess we could fit alongside my daily classes. 

March through June, I spent my days lolling about at home. Classes came to an end at the beginning of May. My hours were now filled with mangoes, ice-cream sundaes, cooking pizzas at home, & playing Ludo every evening (my mother had grown tired of watching me & my father play chess). I watched too many period dramas & didn’t listen to a single song. 

In July, I took a class called “Trauma and Event”. For one of our lectures, we were assigned Hideo Furukawa’s book Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure. In the beginning passage of his book, Furukawa writes, “What if there were this extraterrestrial, and they are in their UFO, and you could pick just one Beatles song for them to listen to, what would you pick? Younger brother answers immediately: “Strawberry Fields Forever”; the answer suggests no other possibility”. Strawberry Fields Forever — that was the first song I listened to in three months. I liked it.

I liked it enough that I decided that the most optimum use of my time would be to listen to the Beatles’ entire catalogue. & so, I spent the summer of 2020 writing poems about loss, re-reading Harry Potter, & sobbing to The Long and Winding Road. The speaker in my room would emit sounds of John & Paul harmonising all day long. My father loved my new-found obsession. He would repeatedly tell me stories of how when he was a kid, he & his cousins used to listen to classic rock, despite not understanding half the words. It was the cool thing to do. 

It’s easier now than it was then to imagine him as a teenager, gorging upon crime thrillers & his father’s collection of cassettes. When my grandfather died, my father & I divided all of his stuff amongst ourselves. I kept his iPod, he kept the pictures. My father could always read the stories written in the objects we choose to surround ourselves with. The first time I heard McCartney sing Junk, I was standing again besides my father emptying his drawers every eleventh Sunday, & still struggling to decide what to throw out. I opened his cupboard the other day & found two broken phones & faded pictures of my mum. 


He turned 53 last November. My mother fried potato bonda for breakfast & I burned my upper lip on my first bite. That month, I was working on a terrible short story titled The Walrus, whose main plot was an anxiety attack in an aeroplane & whose sub-plot was a sufficient sprinkling of Beatle references. I’ve never been very good at writing stories about others; therefore, I decided to create a character who was stuck, feeling anxious all the time, & constantly humming A Day in the Life. For the past month, I had been constantly feeling on-edge. I attributed my nerves to turning 20 next January; pinned beneath time, running head-first, & getting nowhere. On his birthday, we watched a film, ate cheesecake & drove back home.


It had not rained for a few days. The chill was seeping into the walls, & we were doubling up our blankets at night. Every morning, I would wake up & curl into my hoodies. My parents had just gifted me a new sweatshirt with Robin Scherbatsky’s face. I can’t remember the occasion. It does not matter. It never mattered. I grew up within a home where it was never uncommon for me to wake up to baked cookies or presents hidden in dusty nooks. I have been loved. I knew every night going to sleep that if I did not wake up, it would not be okay — because I’m loved. 

It was the first Sunday of December & I was gearing up to submit my class assignments. We had a delicious breakfast at home & my father flipped the channel to Aap ki Adalat. Muting the TV, he took my right hand in his palm & traced the calluses on my fingertips: “They still haven’t healed?” — “No, I keep typing & forget to bandage it”. He talked of Switzerland. & Italy. & New York & Vietnam & France & every place he had never seen but longed to. We made plans that morning of flying to Europe in the summer of 2023. He grinned at me, & turned up the volume. 


That night, I went to sleep envying Derek Shepherd his perfect hair. Next morning, I woke up. He didn’t.


The first time I heard McCartney sing, it was 4:00 a.m. on a cool August night. It was the first week of my college & a group of us were sitting around a tiny speaker playing our favourite songs. I played A. R. Rahman’s Luka Chuppi. Someone else played Hey Jude. I sang along. Of course, I sang along. It’s surreal to remember that I knew the lyrics to that song, for I can’t remember ever having heard it before. There’s a picture on my Instagram of my parents & my mamu on a beach in Goa from October of 2019. The caption reads, “Hey Jude, don’t be afraid” but before that August night, I cannot remember ever having heard the song. It’s terrifying to look at my skin in the mirror and see faded outlines of leaves & scratches from trees when I have never been to a forest since I was four. It’s terrifying to think of all the conversations I don’t remember having & all the carnival posters I don’t remember seeing & waking up on a Wednesday to find one clinging to the back of my knee. 

When morning dawned on that cool August night, it did not matter that I could not remember listening to Hey Jude. We were drunk on the music & the conversations & the yawning blue sky. I heard “Hey Jude, don’t be afraid” — & I did not look back.


In If You Knew, poet Ellen Bass poses a question: “What if you knew you’d be the last / to touch someone?” I measure that December Sunday in his touches. His fingertips caressing mine, our hands stumbling into each other over a bowl of carrot halwa, our elbows knocking together as we sang & danced circles around my mum. Me touching his black & white Sherlock Holmes cufflinks as he dressed up to meet a friend. Him hugging me as we crossed paths in the kitchen at 12 a.m. Some mornings, I expect to wake up & find violets blooming everywhere his skin has touched mine. If I knew I would be the last person to touch him, I would have hugged him longer. If I knew this was the last time I was touching him, I would not have stopped.


The only Beatles album I was familiar with before last summer was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — & by familiarity I mean knowing its name. My favourite song has always been She’s Leaving Home. I could empathise. I yearned to run head-first & get nowhere; I never ran far enough in my mind to realise that I always ended back home. Yesterday, I was rummaging through my cupboards when I came across my father’s stamp collection. I spent the afternoon flipping through its yellowed pages.


In the streets of Switzerland in 2023, I feel the snow whisper across my socks. I hold my hand out. An old stamp falls into my palm. 

where i found love

Dear you, 

My mother tells me that the first word I ever uttered was ‘Tata’.
It knocked against the curve of my tongue until finally its tip could snake its way around my mouth & puff out a whoosh of sound, ‘Papa’. 

I first met love in a darkened alley where few dare venture of the fear of forgetting where love really belongs. I found love huddled up with a pack of nachos, watching reruns of F. R. I. E. N. D. S. & wondering how he ended up there. But, he did. I first met love in the angry verses of my mother, trying with all their might to pull me out of the dirty alley where they themselves had pushed me in, in throes of pain. I remember pretending that I hadn’t seen him dozing off in a corner, drooling; for a paralysing weakness exposed in a war is half the battle lost even, if the sword in front of you is the little warrior your hands themselves had built up, piece by piece.  

I found love in anger, but I never associated love with anger because every Sunday my father would play chess with me, & let me win; to give me a taste of what victory feels like, until I’m left wanting  for more. I found love in the way my mother would wake me up everyday- with a peck on the cheek & a cruel pulling away of the blanket shield from my tiny fists. I found love in the advice my best friend gave me when I was fifteen, saying that if something makes your heart clench & latch onto the self-doubt you have tried so hard to shove down your throat; clench your fists as tightly as you can, & breathe it out. I found love peeking out from behind the scribbles in my diary, wondering when I would finally let it breathe. I found love on the bridge my brother tried to build over the scars time had left on our family; & I let him. & once I got over the innumerable faces the oceans reflect everyday of what love looks like, I helped him.  

I found love in my best friends’ unannounced visit to my house on my birthday, twelve days after my grandfather had passed away. I found love in the words I write to him, & the music the words on the cards he gave me play, every year. I found love in the loudest scream & the first clap the day I won. & every single time I find love, huddled up, munching & giggling, still wondering how he ended up here, I win. & love claps. 

16 December, 2012

We used to kiss in empty corridors, empty classrooms, & empty spots in the school backyard. We used to spill giggles into each other’s mouths wherever we would find spaces empty of light until— ‘empty’ became associated with ‘unsafe.’ 16 December, 2012. ‘It’ used to be a shadow in the back of our minds, a chill down our spines whenever we would dare to think of it; but unimportant otherwise. ‘It’ was the fear of harassment. Unwanted touches, & unasked for stares. ‘It’ was the fear of not knowing what to do with your skin; how to shed it off. 16 December changed that; 16 December made sure that we would feel the ants crawling under our skin with every centimetre our bra’s strap fell. 16 December, 2012 changed a lot of things.


I was in grade iv & in love with the boy. That morning, there was a heavy pall over the school. He asked me if I had watched the news. We were eleven & in grade iv & news at that time was associated with ‘politics’ & ‘politics’ with something that happened to other people, something boring. We were privileged & oblivious & he asked me if I had seen the news & I said- no. He laughed, & called me a fool. I asked him if he had; he said, “Who wouldn’t, when the news was so scandalous.” 16 December, 2012 completely changed how we viewed empty corridors, empty classrooms, closed curtains on school buses— & the boy called it “scandalous”. A tabloid headline: something that caught eyes & left you with dry mouths & dilated pupils— “scandalous”, meaning “interesting”. 

It happened before that, & it happened after that, but now we knew. Every eleven year old & their teachers & their parents & extended families knew that it could happen to one of us. Boys knew what they could do to one of us. It wasn’t ‘interesting’; it was terrifying. I was requested & threatened & bribed by my parents to not step into another empty corridor ever again. It changed us.

Fast-forward to grade viii & we knew about crushes & love & boys & how those things come together. We knew of sex as magazines snuck into school bags & code words & something that happened to adults. We were fifteen, & we all wanted to be adults. So we lied. We lied to our teachers about where we were during Maths class; & we lied to our parents about who was calling at 21:00 on the landline on a school night. 


Looking back to grade viiii through grade xii; it’s disconcerting. Our parents did good with the hand they were dealt. How do you explain to a child that, baby, I want you to have the world, but unfortunately the world is not good enough for you? How do you explain to an eleven year old, a fifteen year old, the sheer expanse of your fear? Where do you find words soft enough for their tiny mouths to swallow? 


I was xvi when the boy I liked called me a slut, & I hit him. His father was called to the school, & he proudly declared that it didn’t matter what his son might have called me; I hit him. How dare I hit his son. He went away scotch free, & the next time I saw him, he winked at me. I was xvi when I realised that hitting someone is always wrong; but sometimes, words can hurt much worse. But, no one cares about wounds that don’t spill blood. We are a breed of animals who learnt how to use numbers & our words; but at the end of the day, we are animals, & we love spilt blood. 


Grades xi through xii were all about spilt blood. Girls sashaying around in two-third buttoned white shirts, & collarbones framed with grey-striped loosely tied ties— as the Head Girl, I could never decide whether to report them to the teacher in-charge, or ask them out for coffee. Most often than not, I did neither. We spent our teenage years in an age dominated by cat-fights won through Instagram followers, & scales of coolness broken through Snapchat views. I think it was both harder & easier to grow as a queer kid in India in these times— we knew watching girl x girl porn is not unholy, but in an age where crushes are whimsical & chosen on the basis of mutuals, how do you tell the girl she is holy? 

& so, we spilt blood at the altar of choice.


It’s grade xii, & we have known of sex for four years now. The coolest ones among us have chosen to sneak behind washrooms & to blind spots, & spill giggles into each other’s mouths. (God, I hope you laughed when you chose to make love. I hope you laughed & smiled & crashed & flailed— I hope you didn’t let the monotony of choosing to make love over & over & over again overwhelm you.) We were eighteen, & we were on the edge of falling face-first into the golden light, or something, that looked a lot like golden light. So we lied. We lied to our girlfriends about where we were last night, & we lied to our best friends about not being in love with them. We lied, & held onto our truth tighter.


16 December, 2012 changed how we viewed ‘choice’. & ‘choice’ became associated with ‘consent’, & ‘consent’ became associated with a thousand-new definitions of no, but not one that spelt it the same way ever again— Don’t try to fix something that’s not broken, dear. We scribbled a thounsad new definition of “no” until no” became replaceable with “she didn’t say no.”, which became further replaceable with “yes”. When I walked through the gates of my school as a student of that institution for the last time, I knew I would be walking out into a world where the act of consent & the privilege of choice are forest-fires & at-the-edge-of-my-fingertips & holy; not because they are the truth, but because we have digressed back to an era where only the men in power hold them in their lungs. They know it to be true in their every breath, & their every utterance. 

Today, I’m xviii, & in love with the boy & the girl. That’s my truth, & that’s the altar on which I choose to spill blood.