A Hundred and Sixteen

It will come.

A quiet day under the banyan tree that flings its arms to the ground, and traps a murmuring cool breeze. Your toes will curl in their socks. The guava will surrender without resistance or seed. A stray kite will pull its strings along the corners of your lips, and your lips will give under.

It will come.

The words that you read in a book will be new words. The mirror will co-operate with you. Something that you, and only you could think of, will crackle the back of your neck. A little girl will tell you your house smells of freshly baked bread. The bartender will pour a beer with just the right head, and a few slippery bubbles will keel over and slide like giddy, greedy children at short break.

Your F# will sound like F#. The curls of your Gs will unfurl like the nostrils of your mildly irritated father. You will scramble in your sleep during a water-emergency and feel the unusual grooves of your mother’s feet in her slippers. An absolute stranger will speak to you with such connectivity that you never over-reach, and you will never write him back. Someone you know will inspire in you profound envy and awe. Your passport will swell. You will give advice that you wish someone had given you. 

You will dare to think a cello can sing a happy song. You will meet your best batch of Malana cream. One day the thought, “It’s happening, I’m finally happy” will not occur. A whole monsoon will come when rain moths won’t die at your verandah. Someday, someone in this day and age will touch you with an elaborate kindness. Someday, the ship’s rolling will stop bothering you. Someday, your surprise birthday party will surprise you.

Your pocket will fill with sunshine. You will absently dip your fingers in, and feel gold slip under your nails and course its way to a corner of your heart to wind and bump its way to your toes and to your head and to your fondest victories.

It will come.

A Hundred and Fifteen

I am 17. And I have found the words for my resentment.

I am not defined by what I want to be. I am defined by what I most don’t want to be. I do not want to be the image of my father. I hate our common dimples and the endless galaxy of moles on our bodies. It is fittingly ironic that it is a muscular defect and cellular malfunction that connects our dysfunctional family. I am odd and inarticulate, my mind froths with delicious young cynicism. I hate it when the bathroom floor is wet. I fling half-empty coffee tumblers to stain an inadequately scrubbed wash-basin. I snarl at my mother when she touches my things. I do not want to be like my father.

I am 7. I have short hair set in a side hair-parting. I look like a girl boy. My first permanent tooth has grown out fully – a gnarled incisor. It flashes when I smile. My mother hates it. She hates it when I wear my watch on my right hand. My father used to do wear his watch on his right hand with its face down, scratching it against every surface his hand met. The glass recovered with a thin white patina, a scab. He could only read the time at only one angle when it was only too late. My watch is digital because I cannot tell the difference between 7:30 and 8:30. I am weak in Maths. I am not like my father.

I am 38. I am at a holiday resort with my pregnant sister-in-law. My stomach is no longer contained by the drawstrings of my salwaar-kameez. I am aware I’m morphing from a woman into an ambivalent. I am losing control of my body and I have mixed feelings about having children. The women happily tell my sister-in-law this is the best decision she has made, her husband will become closer to her. Our eyes meet. Look where your closeness brought you, I think. She is afraid. I don’t hold her hand. Why would you bring something into this world, I think. Will you mother, and father, your child? I think. She looks away, and smiles at someone else.

I am 14. My belly button distends like a mouth in a self-conscious moan. My waist is thinning. I am becoming an hourglass. Memories of my father slip and leave from my bare feet. I am not my father. I am a woman. How can I be my father?

I am 72. I am dead. I come back as ashes to my motherland, but it’s my father’s name I bear.

I am 29. My mother smells cigarettes on my clothes, and confides to her maid, I love the smell of smoke. The maid pauses, phrasing something carefully in her head. I call her away to help me pack my boxes.

I am 50. My father has died. I hang up, and wash the dishes. My nails are peeling.

I am 5. I am sleepy, but my mother’s hands are too tired to carry me. Where is the smell of musk, and the feel of evening stubble against my cheek? I am about to cry, but my mother pinches me.

I am 23. I visit the hills. The winter hasn’t turned yet. I am 23 only once. The bamboo shoots are 99 only once. They flower only once. The villagers are afraid of a plague. I scoff. They eye me wearily, the open mouthed, open shirt-collared, open minded woman. I walk till my breath stops misting. The sun warms a cold spot on my back. My hair smells of warmed shampoo. My shadow looks like a hunched man with puffy sweatshirt-sleeves. Is it like my father? Where is he now? Is he here now, because I am here now? A kitten runs, chased by two king-sized bandicoots. I smile and eat pork for lunch. The homestay’s mirror has speckled mercury spots. Maybe the villagers are right about the plague.

I am 66. My upper lip flourishes white with neglect. My voice deepens. But I don’t talk anymore. My mouth is set in firm discontent. The lines harden over my eyebrows, etching a graph of how life has panned out – a well-controlled flatline. My left eye has a veneer that I can never rid of, no matter how much I blink. I scrub at the windows of my house, willing the film of dust to go away. I polish the wine bottles with coiling creepers. I coax, then plead a shine out of my mother’s dulled steel plates. Every surface in my home frames my father.

I am 42. My mother climbs her first flight to tell me I have too many things. I tell her she never gave me enough. My mother says, I am sorry, I am not your father.

A Hundred and Fourteen

My hate smells of Vicks.

It fills that space you refuse to keep between you and me when you barge into my room that has been firmly shut. It swims up when I hear your bathroom door yawn at 3 AM, and I hear you piss loudly into the pot. It rushes at me in the long silences that happen behind your door, where I imagine you are crisply cutting your curly down-hairs. It wafts when your voice, rising to keep up with your dimming ears, caws my name, calling me for dinner that I no longer have appetite for.

My hate is the commitment my husband did not show either of us. My hate is as present as his absence.
Both of which you, and your thick plastic spectacles, are oblivious to.

Why do you insist I give you the title of my dead maa, when the most charitable thought I can spare you, is cyanide in that jar of Vicks, arsenic in the handkerchief you have hanging out your collar?

You, hunching to barely 5 feet, have skewed my 30×40 home. You, who made me throw away my baby crotons, because you don’t like colour. You, who are allergic to my cats, my bags, and my phone calls. You, the frail old mother who lost her son. I, the privileged ex-wife, bestowed with the follies of youth at a fast approaching forty, slim with my barely visible still-womb, licentious and loose with my null, dull red hair-parting.

How shall I conduct our obligation?

Where did you come from, why are you here, like the living appendix of a corpse marriage?

How many more tears shall I rend my crossed arms with, while I quietly listen to your babbling? How many lumps in my throat shall I shoulder like Atlas, never giving you the pleasure of buckling under? When will my incalculable, insurmountable, throbbing rage escape its reins, and snarl with shining incisors at your willow face crowned by your cotton hair?

Black clouds have gathered over my home. The lone coconut palm by our house jerks like a body electrified. The rain ravages its fronds, and whips our windows. Glass shivers when cracks of lightening split the sky. Coconuts fall in succession like limp bombs. The compound has ruptured, a side-long peephole has opened.

We are both huddled on the living room three seater. Two ellipses, with one missing in the between.

You have lit one lamp. And now, you light another.

We look at each other, and say nothing.

A Hundred and Thirteen

“Sulu, one inch coffee kudiye? Little. Not much.”

“Aiyyo, Bhavani, please don’t make anything. We have to go home and have a bath. If Ashi’s Appa hears of this, we’re both going to get it.”

“Shh. Nobody’s telling him. Ashi, does Amma let you drink coffee?”

“Aha. Tell her Ashi, tell Atte how nobody in the house lets you go for pictures on Sunday, or go for, yenadu– stay ups-a?”

“Stayovers ma.”

“Haan, stayovers anthey kane Bhavani. They’ll do combined studies it seems.”

“Paapa. You should let him go Sulu. It’s educative in one way or another.”

“Bhavani, if you talk like that I’ll never bring Ashi to your house again.”

“I’m joking kane. You take sugar in your coffee no Sulu?”

“Hoon pa. No sugar complaint and all. Not like poor Nara Mama. Such a sweet man he was.”

“Alwa? I kept telling Rajiv also the same thing. But he’s so skeptical. So sad and alone he died.”

“Don’t bother about Anna so much. If you leave it up to him, he’ll claim even Harischandra was a scoundrel.
Ashi, yen maadtidya? Why are you picking at your nails? Sit straight.”

“Here Ashi, bis-bisi coffee. Look at how big your Amma’s eyes have become!”

“Bhavani, tell him no? Too much coffee and snacks are not good for his skin. Full pimples. I told him to put sandalwood paste, he just doesn’t listen.”

“Sulu. He’s Shani Mava’s grandson. Obviously he’ll be stubborn no?”

“You’re right. He has Appa’s nose, ditto, alla?”

“Atte, why is thatha called Shani? Amma! Oww! Stop pinching me!”

“Bega mugsu coffee na.”

“But it’s hot.”

“Sulu, tell me.. Is it true that Nara Mama had attacked Shani Mava?”

“I think so. Even I have heard. Apparently on Amma’s insistence Appa had consulted with some doctors about Mama’s thyroid problem. The doctors said, if Nara Mama got married, it could well and truly kill him.”

“What? That doesn’t even make scientific sense.”

“Ashi!”

“So Mama attacked Shani Mava?”

“Hoon! He was angry, so he tried to strangle Appa in his sleep! Amma was so livid, she disowned her brother. But Appa forgave him. But still.. You know how it is.”

“Cheh. Paapa. What a sad way to go.”

“Umm.. Atte, where shall I leave my tumbler?”

“Give it to me raja. Come for a stayover here no? Send him no, Sulu? You also come? Just like summer holidays?”

“If Amma’s coming, I’m not coming pa.”

Swishwiiiiishhswiiishhhhhhwshiii

“Heeheehee, funny right?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Funny. The wind is chopping my cap.”

“I– Uh.. Oh, yes, that sound. Yes, it’s funny.”

“Hmm! Pa- Pavan! You’ve come a long way from Bandra.”

“How di-.. Oh shit, forgot to take it off.”

“You need a light, Pavan?”

“No, I have a matchbox. Thanks.”

“Matchboxes are useless at a seaface, Pavan. Hehehe.”

“Hmm.”

“Pavan?
What time is it?”

“Quarter to ten.”

“Would you like some?”

“No, I don’t have a cough. Thanks.”

“My name is Latha.”

“Hmm.”

“Tumhaare Mummy-Pappa Madras mein hain Pavan?”

“Ji.”

“Mine are nowhere. If that were written, it could be read as ‘now here’ or ‘nowhere’. Like that Jesus SMS forward. Hehehehe.”

“Heh. Umm.. I’m going to go.. buy smokes.”

“Ok darling. Only B&H Lights for me, ok? Anything else makes me wheeze. Thanks.”

“Hey, you here?
Ashi?
Why had amma called in the morning? All ok?”

“loser… nw u respnd to ask if evrythn’s ok?
loser..”

“I’m sorry kano. I was in a meeting, and I just got busy after that.
Now tell me. What happened?”

“u rmr nara thatha? shani thatha’s brothr?”

“Huh?”

“tht short thatha man.. smelly ol guy?
he wnt to an ashrama rmr/..”

“Haan, yes yes! What happened to him?”

“amma calld to tell u he popped it..”

“Ashi, where is your decency?”

“shut up.. listn to hw he died!
i ovrheard rajiv mama tellin karti chikappa
its gross
our famlys wierd man.”

“You’re gossiping about the dead?”

“no bt dis s v odd… listen no..
so t guys at t ashrm found his body
naked..
..
n guess wat?
his mattress was full of holes..
n his dick ws in one”

“Oh..
That’s terrible!
Poor man.
What a sad way to go.”

“SAD?!!!
he ws a creep!
n a crookd perv!
pavan dont u rmr anythin at all!?
u rmr chintu tol us he kissd hr cheeks n her ears
thn hre nose
mn her chin
n if chikki hadn interupted…
yuk!

any ways..
wht did u do? went to t beach?”

” Yeah. Went to Lokhandwala today.
Too many couples at Bandstand.”

“haha..so y u changd ur spot?
y u grosd out
derr busy na”

“I don’t know.
Chumma.
So how was your day?”

“fine da. urs?”

“Fine kano.
Same old.”

A Hundred and Twelve

Opposite the man with the pen, hung the man who watched his penis.

This man with the pen assumed that was the case, anyway. That man had his back turned, and was clad in a jibba, and nothing else. What else would a man with a pen and an imagination deduce?

This man with the pen, he liked to call himself a work in progress. His maker had bestowed him with a pen that he may complete himself whenever, and in whichever way he pleased. His maker had been the most partial to him – the man with the pen was the least obese of all those who hung on this wall, the least walrus-like. All of them were unsteady assemblages of rolls of fat, skins the texture of millions and millions of dot-penned fractals. There was one woman, buxom, in a Marathi saree. But any of her body parts could be described buxom, and it’s sort of hard to admire a bai with a man’s voice. She was four frames away, and it’s also hard to admire someone far beyond your peripheral vision.

So, this man with the pen was stuck finding a muse in that man with the penis, a mostly blank wall, and his own half-empty self.

A younger he would’ve named that other man other things. Man in a jibba. Or man looking behind his painting. Or man cross with his lover. Or man looking for his pants.

But the man with the pen had overheard some visitors discuss Freud. And he was convinced that in projecting that man as a pervert, he had satisfied his own destiny as a pervert.

So what would he complete the lower half of his body with? A koi fish tail? A throbbing snake? A ladder? An upended anthill? Eagle talons? A lateral inversion of his self so far, like he was the King of Clovers in a deck of cards? Given he had the option, would he have liked to be a freak? Would he give himself robot legs, tree roots, or a vagina?

What was his purpose as art? To be deformed? To reform? To perform? To conform?

He mused as he drew his thighs. Were they too thin to belong to his body? He eyed the man across and shuddered. He wouldn’t forget his bottoms in a hurry. He sighed and filled in the folds of his dhoti. Why had his maker made his top half a corpulent Brahmin with the janeyu? Was he doomed to believe in god? Why was he condemned to a diet of rice, lentils and ghee? Why hadn’t he thought of drawing pants? Or those comfortable drawstring pajamas the gallery keeper wore?

Once he was done with himself, what would he draw in his surroundings? Fat volumes of Literature? The Upanishads, Dostoyevsky, Don Quixote? A temptress Apsara trying to distract him from meaningful penance? More chest hair? Perhaps write something witty addressing the gallery visitors, “What exactly becomes more apparent when you tilt your head like that?”

A gaggle of young female giggles interrupted his meditation. He eyed the facedown, brown papered rectangles in the far corner. New neighbours, he grinned. They awaited a grand opening the next morning.

He’d be a work of art by then.

The man with the pen worked through the night. All that was left to finish, was his left foot. He reached around his thick thighs and shins, grunted, strained, and drew a shaky outline: artfully hidden heel, arched-eyebrow instep, toe after painful toe. Spent with effort, his heavy arms drooped with exhaustion and he dozed off.

The next morning, clinking glasses and escalating polite laughter woke him up. A dense crowd milled about, throwing phrases at each other: “up and coming”, “coming of age”, “marginalized voice”, “dynamic movements”, “fluid strokes”, “stream of consciousness”, “conflicted sexuality”. Through the shifting curtains of people, their swaying hands and sashaying saree pallus, their haloes and sheets of hair, he tried catching a glimpse of his new neighbours.

And then, he saw her.

The blackened-face beauty. Tresses, a moonless night’s tempest. Temptingly married to someone else. Contoured like a complicated, torrid affair. Dimple naveled. Shined-apple shouldered. Ripe breasts, glowing nipples.

Stunned, he dropped his pen. And became the man without much of a left foot.

Something fun I wrote in workshop.