Just As Sane (Harry/Luna Fanfic Oneshot)

*Character and Quote Credits- J.K. Rowling, Lewis Carroll.* *No attempt at copyright infringement. More like fan love.*

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“Things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the way we expect.”

“I think I’ll just go down and have some pudding and wait for it all to turn up – it always does in the end.” she smiled as she turned towards the Great Hall.

Harry watched her skip along till the end of the corridor before he realised he was smiling too.

“Hey, Luna!”

“Yes?” she peeked back around the corner.

“Do you, I dunno, want to go get some dessert and eat it by the Lake?” Harry mumbled. He didn’t even know where the random thought had come from. But Luna’s face lit up, almost as if she’d suddenly spotted a Crumple-Horned Snorkack. She waved at him to hurry up as she continued to skip along the passageway, and Harry broke into a half-run to catch up with her, his heart light for the first time since Sirius’ death.

“Meet me near the Birch tree. And bring your cloak.” She murmured before going ahead into the Great Hall towards the Ravenclaw table. Harry followed more slowly, thankful for the fact that Ron, Hermione and the rest of his year-mates seemed to have finished and left already. He sat down next to Natalie McDonald at the Gryffindor table, half-expecting a glance of fear and disgust. Instead she gave him a respectful nod as she cleared some space for him, and then continued her conversation with her friends.

In between courses, Harry snuck a glance at Luna who looked as serene as ever as she held a conversation with two tiny first years who seemed to be worried about something. She must have felt his gaze because she flashed a half-smile in his general direction before patting the first-year girl’s shoulder and rising from the table with her plate of pudding. Harry gave her five minutes before he followed, summoning his Cloak from the dormitory just outside the Great Hall, idly wondering why the spell hadn’t worked when Hermione had tried it.

There was no one under the birch tree when he reached. He was wondering if Luna had gone back to her dormitory when he heard a giggle. “Well, hello there.” Harry looked up at the slim pair of legs dangling from a branch. He laughed again, wondering why it was suddenly so easy. “You remind me of the Cheshire Cat.” He exclaimed, before remembering that Luna was a Pureblood. “Well the Cheshire Cat is -”

“…a character from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. And I’ll take that as a compliment. After all, we are all mad here.” She answered as she jumped down from the branch, landing nimbly without her pudding so much as wobbling.

“Wait, you read Muggle literature?” Harry was surprised.

“Yes. Alice was one of my favourite stories as a child- I made Mummy read the book every night. And after she died, I’d read it myself.” Luna stated matter-of-factly. Harry gazed out at the Black Lake, still unsure of how to behave around the concept of death.

“Does it still hurt?” he asked abruptly.

“Oh yes, it does. Some days, when the sun shines really brightly, or the first day of snow, or on days when I get a spell right on the first try, or on days when they hide all my stuff at the same time and I have nothing left to wear. I miss her.” She said simply, as she sat down under the tree with her legs crossed, her bluish grey eyes vacantly staring for a moment before they turned to him, twinkling. “But I still have so much left. Daddy, and this pudding, and Alice, and you, Ginny, Ron, Hermione, Neville. I have friends now, don’t I, Harry ?” she looked up at him beaming.

Harry looked at her through his glasses, this being that was Luna Lovegood, not trusting his ability to speak in that moment. Instead he hung up the Cloak from a low-hanging branch like a canopy, making them invisible to everyone except each other, and sat down next to Luna. And they stayed there, for a very long time, staring at the stars shining on the surface of the Lake as they finished their pudding. And for the space of a few hours, at least, all was well.

On turning into my mother ( And how it’s fine, really )  

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At 18, in college, as I slowly grew into my “wild” side, casting away the demure facade I’d maintained all through high school, I gave my parents some cause for concern. Suddenly I transformed from having no social life to staying out late, going on trips with my friends, and discovering the phone and internet in ways that many of my peers would have already experimented with a few years earlier. In my headstrong, teenager mind, I decided that I would have a cool life, full of new experiences each day, as if to compensate for the stagnant calm of my life hitherto.

The one thing I utterly disliked was being compared to either of my parents, be it in terms of academic excellence or personality. I was especially determined to not resemble my mother in any fashion, and derived great pleasure in telling her how I was so totally “not her”. And yet, a mere five years later, living with a set- ranging from brilliant to not-so-great- of my own choices and actions, I find that I have, in a lot of ways, realised that very fear.

My Friday plans now include figuring out which clothes to wash on Saturdays. I can’t go to bed with dirty utensils in the sink. I don’t randomly say a yes to late night bike rides with friends I don’t know very well, even though I love bike rides. I don’t indulge in crying my eyes out for more than ten minutes at a time, choosing instead to do something practical, like cleaning the room or my cupboard. I still entertain the words of lovers, but don’t really believe them as willingly as I used to.

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Of course, I am also not my mother in many ways. We are two women with vastly different character quirks. She hates being alone. I love my solitude. She can laugh off many things with a careless ease that my twenty-three-year old over-thinking self envies at times. She moves on quickly, and I have never really moved on from anyone or anything.

But look closely, and you can tell how related we are. It’s not even something we focus on most of the time, but it’s there. We both believe in six impossible things before breakfast, just that they differ in specifics. We both shut the world out when we read, and eat chocolate when someone is being indifferent to our feelings. We can finish a tissue box between us when we watch Lion King, but we also have the ability to step up to make all the logical decisions when necessary. Keeping my head when others about me are losing theirs, is something in which I’d rather take after her, than anyone else.

So yes, as I become more me, I am, in some ways, turning into my mother. And that isn’t really a bad thing.

Lipstick Dreams

The last scene of Lipstick Under My Burkha resonates, in a rather curious fashion, with the book I happen to be reading at present, Reading Lolita in Tehran. As the various men in power say their piece and move away, ostensibly to get a good night’s sleep, the women protagonists of the movie are left, quite literally, to pick up the shreds of their existence. They gather around the remains of the forbidden romance novel capturing the sexual fantasies of Rosie, in what is, on the face of it, an impromptu reading session, but in effect, captures the essence of what director Alankrita Shrivastava is trying to say throughout.

What makes Lipstick an engaging watch is that its women are feminist by the sheer dint of being real. The characters range from the college-going Rehana (trying to reconcile teenaged rebellion with her cultural identity) and Leela (the beautician whose dreams are bigger than an arranged marriage in a small town) to the older Shireen (a saleswoman struggling to carve a niche for herself within and outside her marriage) and middle-aged Usha (rediscovering her sexual identity through telephone sex). Each is flawed in her own way, and therein lies her perfection.

Perhaps it is the gift of a stellar cast at the hands of a female director, but Lipstick manages, for the most part, what movies claiming to be pro-women generally don’t — well-fleshed out female characters that make both appropriate and inappropriate choices, and have dynamic personalities extending beyond but not necessarily in alienation of the men in their lives. So, Usha Buaji (aunt)’s desire to read racy romance magazines is not at odds with her solid business sense, and Shireen’s success on the professional front does not erode her desire to keep her family intact at any cost.

Another stroke of brilliance that the script possesses is a fine sense of balance, be it in its portrayal of right and wrong, or in capturing a whole spectrum of sexual desire. So, on the one hand, where you find yourself rooting for the women taking the obligation of a Burkha and turning it around to live their dreams, you also find them facing up to the repercussions of some of their ill-thought out actions. The women of Lipstickknow that all is not well with the world, and thankfully, the director doesn’t sweep in with a magic wand to make the young swimming instructor fall for Usha, or for Shireen’s husband to suddenly realise how much potential his wife has, or for the police to let shoplifter Rehana off with a warning even as Leela’s nice fiancé comes back with a clichéd “Main thaamunga tumhara haath” (“I will take you back”, or some such shit). Lipstick Under My Burkhaconcludes the way such events in life usually do, with a lot of tears, an occasional giggle and a mountain of understanding, collapsing upon you all at once.

The best part isn’t even really obvious until you focus on what’s not happening in this movie. Halfway across the movie, it hits me that these women are, for the most part, all very non-judgemental of each other. In what is a refreshing change from the “A woman is another woman’s worst enemy” trope, we see Shireen helping Usha buy her bathing suit, and Leela acknowledging that Shireen’s need to be touched affectionately by her husband isn’t something she should be hiding. Even as Rehana’s classmate gets her arrested and lashes out at her in anger, we don’t really see the typical “You stole my boyfriend” scene. The anger is directed towards the legitimate recipient, the man who got one woman pregnant before leaving her for another. The final scene is a silent war cry and a flame of solidarity all at once, as the women read the end of the novel and share a cigarette. And as you watch, perhaps you would wonder, like I did, if the next day, Shireen would hand in a resignation at work, and the widowed Usha be sent away to Kashi (a city where abandoned widows live in India). Maybe Leela would choose to not run away to Delhi with her boyfriend, and Rehana would eventually complete her degree through distance-learning. And if you’re reading this, maybe you’re a woman who has the ability to make some, or all of these choices for yourself. The question is- If you aren’t wearing as much (or as little) lipstick as you want, who and what are you waiting for?

Dear Fellow Traveller,

Like me, do you sometimes sleep through

the safety demo on flights,

firm in your belief that your flight,

of them all, will never land on water,

because nothing ever happens to you anyway.

On other days, do you map out scenarios,

of potential seas and oceans along the way,

and what temperature the water will be,

and if, in the melee, you’ll choose

not to slip the life jacket on?

——–

 

Are you just as fascinated by red things-

tomatoes, boys in ragged capes,

Danger signs, life jacket tubes?

Do you check under the seat with your toes,

to see if they are telling you the truth-

and then laugh wondering if

your life-jacket lovers will ever be

this close when you feel the urge to jump?

——–

Sometimes, when your throat gets

a little too tight, do you reach for

the oxygen masks they aren’t dropping yet?

Is it only you feeling the pressure a little too deeply,

as you face the choice between being a cloud

and longing for solid ground?

When the shadows start getting larger,

and the bottom falls out from under your stomach,

do you, like me, always land a little more blurry

each time? Do you still manage to keep your head

amidst the clouds?

Memories of My Grandfather

My grandfather was an eccentric man. On Sundays, when he had the day off from work, he would get up quietly after finishing his morning newspaper, surreptitiously slipping a nail clipper into his pocket, and declare, “I’ll be back in a while.” My grandmother, long weary after years of marriage, would say nothing, only watch from the balcony as he strode out towards the lane that would lead him to the main road.

He had a fixed route; much like the newspaper boy or the milkman does, covering four to five houses. Each of those houses was owned by a particularly close friend of his, some considerably younger in age. Despite being direct to the point of bluntness, my grandfather had endeared himself to all sorts of people- shopkeepers, the local meat-seller, the affluent neighbourhood doctor and all the little children. It was for this last category of people that he took his long-winded route every Sunday. Upon reaching their houses, he would demand that the children line up in front of him, and one by one, he would carefully clip off their uneven, dirt-stained nails that had strayed to many a prohibited place in course of the week; the muddy school field and the fertilized pumpkin patch in the backyard, were, by far, the most civilized of those places. He would gently chide the ones who’d been exceptionally careless- his favourite epithet for them, and indeed, for careless people in general, was “Holder!” Three decades after his death, the closest explanation I have managed to find for this seemingly random phrase, is that sloppy people reminded him of the flickering tube-lights in our house, rendered vulnerable by their faulty holders.

After completing this ritual, Grandfather would on occasion, stop for a cup of tea and a long chat, most often at the home of his favourite friend, the Doctor. He would hold forth on diverse issues- the rising vegetable prices, the latest policy of the government, the war, the heat in Delhi, the children. Then, suddenly, he would rise from his chair, and in one sweeping motion, rip off the calendar page still displaying the previous month’s dates on the wall and mutter under his breath again, “Holder!” Whether he was referring to the caretaker’s inattention or man’s futile attempt to calibrate time in general, no one knew.

None of Grandfather’s friends and acquaintances minded this periodic imposition on their homes and families. Indeed, they had begun to look forward to the routine, and sometimes, when the sweetshop owner Kalika Babu’s wife forcibly chased her child down on a Friday to trim his nails, her husband would stop her and say, “Oho. Leave the child alone till Sunday. It’s the tradition after all.”

When he retired from his government job at the age of sixty, Grandfather made a few changes to his schedule, and his friends learnt to expect him on both Wednesdays and Sundays. He didn’t linger long on the weekday, but he always made sure to speak to every member of every family. He would listen with great attention even to the youngest child, all of two, who proudly showed off her latest attempt at learning a Bengali nursery rhyme. The lady of the house would say, with an exasperated sigh, “Dada, you must not spoil the children by bringing them something every week.” He would nod seriously, and then sneakily slip a few sweets into the children’s pockets once she’d turned her back. Children loved him as the adult who never ignored them in favour of seemingly important “adult business”.

On what was to be the last Wednesday of his life, Grandfather got up as usual at 5.30 a.m., ignoring the niggling feeling of a heavy stone tied to his chest. He put on his shoes slowly, taking a little more time to tie his laces. “I’m going”, he called out to my grandmother. He’d already stepped out by the time she noticed that he’d not said, “I’ll be back in a while.” He never came back. I think his last thought would have been a gentle regret as he touched the nail clippers in his pocket. For all the little fingers with dirty little nails as they rested on the gates- waiting.

Ode to consent

*Written in response to Nandini Varma (Airplane Poetry Movement)’s prompt “Shall I compare thee…”*

Shall I compare you
To a cup of tea?
And wait for his reply,
“But I only drink whiskey”
Or shall I liken you
To a monosyllable “No”
To be called arrogant or
Plain old boring, just so.

Shall I signal with my frantic eyes
Until he blindfolds himself between tries?
Or shall I scream, and shout, and claw my way,
Losing a familiar ally in an unlikely fray?

Shall I tell you
What you have sometimes meant?
I lie against his body bent,
And after a while, he does relent.
Then I get up to make a cup of tea,
And pen down clever thoughts of consent.

My Grandmother is still not dead

In my dream,

We’re still in the hospital.

There are more people coming,

To pay their respects to the last

Of my grandmother’s shallow breaths

They have enough of their own

To waste in platitudes

They insist that saying goodbye

Is the only proper thing to do,

(for closure)

I tremble as I touch a hand

That raised me to know sunlight

A touch I can remember now

When I hold snow for too long

In my dream,

She’s always alive as my hand meets

Her oxygen mask

And because I know how it has to end

I do it.

In my dream,

She dies.

Is it because I killed her?

 

It’s been seven years since she last breathed

And my grandmother is still not dead.