Like a Scalene Triangle by Chitra Gopalakrishnan

Did my parents name me Laya hoping I’d exude an incorrigible love of life, a hunger for its cadences? Be New Delhi’s bonne vivante?

Laya, meter or tempo, and swar, notes, combine to make up Indian classical music. 

A steady flow of laya, be it vilambit (slow), madhya (medium) or drut (fast) is needed to join two successive swars, to connect rhythm to melody.

And then to bring on taal, the rhythmic cycle of a fixed number of beats. A beat structure, if you will, to which music is composed.

At sixty, milky-eyed, gunmetal-grayed, I am reminded daily of my inability to pull myself into that slipstream of pattern, into life’s flow, into my city’s efficient functionality.


The meter of my inner life, its laya, quivers in its lost measures and symmetries within amber pools of whiskey. 

My feelings are of different lengths and angles like a scalene triangle. While my mind is ragged and thorny as khikar shrubs that line my city’s boundaries.

Time is no longer about days and nights but free falls. Of beats that thrum out of nowhere, like my city’s rasping, mercurial, yellow-brown dust storms, only to fizzle into nothing.

My body is in a fold, like a bat within the hollows of a tomb’s latticed eave. Shying from my city’s corporate life, its hostile, charged tempo and timetables. 

And, my thoughts and language are off-key. I leave sentences mid-way, abandon intonations and they both run away from continuances like my city’s ever-melting tar roads.


People tell me life has only two options: rhythm and regularity or discordance and discontinuity.

 Why can’t life, as old as mine, be about erasures and abandonment? Why need I strive to bind things together, to thread myself into my life my city’s life, histories, its infinities? 

 I don’t want to hear of how Qutub Minar, the tall, red, sandstone victory tower, climbs untethered as if to say the sky is the limit. I want, instead, to curl into my exhaustion. 

 Did not a poet once say it wonderfully well, “Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings? Why should I mourn the vanished power of the usual reign?” 

Oh, why can’t my life be about sloughing off in the sweltering, swollen, May heat? Why need I make intersections meeting points and not separations?


With all the noise within, how am I to make music?

The arrhythmic beats of my life tong-tong my body like hot rods of harassment.

At dawn, at the centuries-old dargah of Matka Peer, I hang an earthen pot on a tree, filled with sugar balls, chickpeas and invocations to ask for faith. 

Purana Qila, the fort of the ancient Indian city of Indraprastha, stonily surveys the clusters of pot petitions on the trees, the skies are equally inscrutable in their cobwebby impressions.  

Then an orange fireball of a sun whirs light into my heart, gulmohars dance as dervishes of velvet sunshine and sprigs of baby pipals lilt me with new life chances.  

Chitra Gopalakrishnan, a New Delhi-based journalist and a social development communications consultant, uses her ardor for writing, wing to wing, to break firewalls between nonfiction and fiction, narratology and psychoanalysis, marginalia and manuscript and tree-ism and capitalism.