I finally publish

Monday, July 31, 2006

Center of the middle

Dear Mother,

This is a letter I won't post. For you aren't to know all this.

What do I say about him?

That he is kind? He brings me flowers for the remaining change that he has. Flowers of the season. Sometimes they smell good. Most often, they smell of my boredom.

That he is loving? The fan up there doesn't dispel the smell of our sweat. And love making. It makes me blush to write of such things. But that is what even you would call it, no mother? Making love? We all make love in the hope that it exists. Else we invent it. I do.

His smoke stained kisses... His pen holding fingers... When they touch me...mother, what did you feel when father touched you? I don't want to know, lest they confirm what I don't want to hear.

We live on the fifth floor. Higher than you can imagine. I feel like a queen sometimes. A queen in my loneliness. With no subjects and an abandoned kingdom.

Down below stay a family with a kid. The kid sometimes runs up to me. It smells of baby powder-fine, soft and warm. They speak a different language. Or maybe I forgot how to talk.

The streets are long and endless. I hold his hand when we walk. He likes it that way. I? I don't mind.

I broke some of the bangles we'd bought for the wedding. I'd saved them up for the parties, wrapping them up in old newspapers as I'd seen the bangle walla. And then yesterday, they broke. Now I don't have matching bangles for the carefully chosen silk sarees. What will I wear to the parties? There are no parties.

I am happy. For that is what I am supposed to be.

Your daughter

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

In the beginning of the middle

Train travel always does that. You carry unwanted smells from one place to another. The smell of rust and iron, of grime and dust, of sweat and boredom, of anticipation and tiredness.

She'd refused her early morning tea. She never drank it without brushing her teeth. He pretended to do the same. Slightly angry with her for his pretence, he bought the newspaper which he barely read.

"We get down at the next stop. Be ready.", her new husband said.

When the train pulled in at their station, she read the black letters on the yellow background. They spelt a new life.

Her silk saree in a state of great horror at being treated so- by the same woman who would take it out and sigh fondly into it, rebelled by crumpling some more.

She didn't have too much time to contemplate her first step. She always had a problem with right and left and in the fluster of embarking from a train, she lost which it was. It didn't matter too much anyway. Her mother of customs and traditions was almost one day and a night away.

What were those queer things? Those half-covered, rickety contraptions?

"We'll be taking a cycle rickshaw to get home", his pompous voice sounded again.

Ah, cycle rickshaws!

He couldn't bargain with the beedi smoking guy who pedaled the vehicle that would take them home. He didn't want to sound cheap in front of his new wife.

The pedals moved rhythmically. With each roll of the wheel she was taken a step ahead in her new world.

What were those things up there? High above every house?

He noticed her eyes look up. He read the unasked question in them.

"Do you know what they are?"

She nodded her head in the negative. And the new wife, remembering the request from the night before said, "No"

Pleased, he pointed to the television antennas and replied, "They hang clothes on them to dry."

His new wife nodded her head in understanding and wondered at how tall the people of the place must be to hang clothes so high up.

He laughed at her. She laughed with him.

It did something to him, that innocent laugh of hers. Taking her hand in his, he promised to himself that he will be kind to her.

Blushing at the act of her husband's, she thought, "Perhaps there will be swings"

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

New beginnings and old pasts

He'd just married her. Untouched still. They had been packed hurriedly to an almost stomping, impatient train. Rather it was his impatience, to be alone with her.

Summer months are dry. They kinda dry up conversations too. His carefully planned dialogues, ones that were to draw her out, impress her to how witty her husband was, tell her about the politics- just a little. They had all the time to discuss that in detail later. When she would rub his tired legs from doing nothing the whole day...

She sat, timid and terrified. This being her first journey anywhere. And especially into the unknown.

She hoped her husband would be kind. Not like Latha's or even Padma's. Rather like Annie's, the kind who would smuggle the strong smell of flowers in plastic bags and weave it onto her hair. Then they would hold hands and ....How childish were her thoughts, she scolded herself. She was married. And married women didn't think of flowers or swings or holding hands. What happened after that was quite vague, but her mother had promised her that all her answers were in the cookbook. That was her forte. Just the right amount of color, spice, salt and sugar. Concentrate on that and your life is almost made out. She clutched the stylish handbag her uncle had given her- as part of a present.

It had nothing except a comb, few lace handkerchiefs and a crushed rose. The crushed rose, being what she had picked up after her ex-lover had dramatically thrown it. Shhh... He was in the past. One mustn’t think of such sinful thoughts.

He bought her the rice and dal that was served in aluminum foiled packs. She wanted to save those shiny foils, but they were way too greasy and they would stain her handkerchiefs. She wouldn't use those lacy wonders even when she had a terrible cold. She'd take them out when they went out for the parties. Matching them with her new sarees. She hugged her dreams to herself.

Did we check if she could talk, he wondered frantically. He'd never heard her open her mouth all the while. Or if she did, it was in the louder noise of trumpets and relatives at the wedding. But his confidence in his tyrant of a mother was more than his fears. She must have checked to the last little digit!

"Aren't you sleepy?” he asked her.

She nodded in the negative. This was cause for concern. Maybe his mother slipped...

"Well, I am going to retire for the night", he sounded as pompous as he felt.

Her eyes widened in admiration. He sounded like the curled-greased-oiled-moustache hero in the only movie she'd seen. She remembered every frame of it. Especially the stolen kisses. Shhh... She banished the sins again.

Changing into checkered pajamas, he told her, "I'll see you in bed and only then sleep."

She waited not sure of what that meant.

"Do you have anything to change into? Something more comfortable perhaps?"

She clutched her silk saree tighter. There was no way she was removing that.

She nodded her head in the negative. This was cause for alarm. He pushed down the panic that seemed to rise with every passing monologue.

"Which berth do you wanna take? Would the middle one be too high for you?"

She smiled thinking of the number of trees of dizzying height that she'd climbed.

He caught her smile.

She nodded.

"No. Speak. Let me hear your voice” he insisted.

The train's rhythmic beat, conversations from neighboring coupes, the whir of the fan and the whoosh of the wind was all that hovered around his ears and in front of her lips for a few seconds.

Voice demure with fright and lack of use, she murmured, "I'll take the middle one. Thank you very much"

It felt like music to his ears. She could speak!

She hoped she sounded sophisticated. She hoped he heard the thank-you parts. She'd practiced them to almost Scarlett O'Hara perfection.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

3 lines of life

I made a mistake this morning.
Yet again,
I woke up alive.

I am charlatan.
I peddle false emotions.
Mine which I am too scared to call my own.

It happened to me.
But when I write, it only maybe happened.
I can be everything I am in my writing.

I can only laugh at my foolishness.
And yours.
But mostly at my own. Ha.

I am a feminist when in other people’s rights.
In my own,
I am a coward.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

For me with love and squalor

"It’s always about you", he said sulkily.

I usually shrug off his comments. Else they would mean too much. But this one refused to be. Shrugged off, I mean.

Is it now? Always about me?

Remember the time I stopped reading books at night because I was too tired? It was the exhaustion of entertaining you.

Remember the time I stopped cooking? It was of the taste that never was your mother's.

Remember the time I stopped talking long hours with my friends over the phone? It was of the time that never was there after you.

Remember the time I stopped writing? It was to squash your fear of being replaced.

Remember the times I refused to be hurt when you flirted with other women? It was to escape from hating you.

Yes. It’s always about me. It is the only way to stay on.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Meet the friends

I am charming. Witty. Smart of course. And pretty in an unconventional way.

I am the aunt that my cousins' children will whisper secrets to. I am the cousin that cousins hug at railway stations and hold hands when they cross the road. The fact that I am terrible at crossing roads is another story altogether. But you get the drift don't you? I am the girl that aunts always say nice things about. Uncles love talking to. Ah- I see you've got it.

No, not the angelic one. But the smart, witty- the first line things. Yeah- that's it.

So why the sudden attack of panic when he asks me to meet his friends, you might very well ask. Oh- is it natural and hence you aren't?

My hands shake nervously when I wear the eye liner. It looks like something my cousin's 3 year old son has drawn. This is the part where I should down a gulp of Scotch to steady my hands. I'll stock it up, I promise.

The dress feels too loose. The hair is better not talked about. I'm heading for the barber shop when this is over.

But I do look nice. Not as nice as the day before- but still. I wait for him to pick me up. He doesn’t say much. Maybe we should do this another day.

When we park the car, he points to the other car in the driveway saying it’s them. And adds unhelpfully, "You bet every eye out there is on you!"

The heels were too high. But thankfully the driveway wasn't too lit.

Here's the gist. My carefully planned conversations, suitable answers, and smart repartees weren't used. You can borrow them if you want.

They were a rowdy bunch, oh yes. Food was devoured at a pace I watched stunned. I’m never inviting them home.

And language. Well, I’m gonna make sure my mom never meets them.

And they so excluded me from there conversation. Half an hour later, I joined in lustily. I hate being left out.

If you thought I didn’t like it, well no. I quite enjoyed it. Well, I am always like this. I crib about everything I like.

But I am gonna pay him back for this. Coz I am a woman. More so, coz it’s just me!

He’s gonna meet my friends. And I’m picking the worst of the lot.

Let me see… there’s one who only talks about animals- her cats. He hates cats.

And there’s this one who talks about the latest book on the top charts. He never reads.

And my own favorite who talks about her Randle Patrick McMurphy in her psychiatry department. He hates cuckoos.