A Hundred and Eighteen

I was self-consciously wiping the corners of my mouth when I saw the balloon man.

The Masala Puri had been disappointing, with chickpeas instead of green peas. Perhaps I had been lured into the shop by the throng of corpulent newlyweds with piles of red bangles and honeymoon-sweet smiles. Or maybe it was the kitsch misspelling of Calcutta. I had gone in looking for chaat (not flat-a chat), but had received a slap in my South Indian face.

The balloon man was a shrewd businessman, skulking along the road, instead of on the footpath; keeping his wares in people’s lines of sight. Heart-shaped Helium balloons in belated Valentine red, platonic yellow, and It’s Complicated white. Children threw tantrums around the balloon man, and mothers threatened them in different languages. Girlfriends threw longing glances over their shoulders, while boyfriends looked at cricket reruns on large LCDs in the electronics store.

I squealed and got a white one for ten rupees.

Winding the string round my finger, I held the balloon to my face to smell the distended rubber. The balloon didn’t urgently resist being held below its station; it just bobbed with an obvious sense of entitlement. Like a patiently restless bird.

I imagined what a bored balloon it could be – tethered by an improvised umbilical cord, seeing only hair partings and areas inaccessible to hair-dye. And yet, wherever I walked, the balloon hopped happily, perfectly pleased to be the heart I strung along. I watched its shadow like that of a stranger who becomes familiar with every footstep taken in the same direction. A heart-shaped thought cloud that drifted around my overworking head, pausing and hovering before I jumped over potholes and gaping gutters.

People either took notice of me, a fully grown person skipping along, tugging a heart; or of the balloon, one that they too wanted.

What are balloons, but bursts of optimism twisted into our favourite shapes? That even in this world that binds us to the ground and locks our feet, a simple balloon has the ability to escape the most possessive clutch in the known universe.

I strung the balloon to the scooter’s hook beneath my seat. The air churned over my legs and pushed the balloon down. Barred by my legs, the balloon rattled like a caged spirit, buffeted on all sides by a turncoat ally. On other scooters, sleepy boys perched under their fathers’ chins stared at how the balloon behaved so differently. So aggressively. The hardest they had ever seen a balloon fight for its flight.

At a signal, I put a foot down, and opened the balloon’s enclosure. As if on cue, the balloon unhooked itself, and floated up.

I was unsure if the breeze carried it, or if the balloon just knew where it was going.

It ascended unhurriedly. The naked Jacarandas waited to pierce its flight, but the balloon absently slipped itself between their gnarled fingers and glided into the black sky where nothing awaited.

Although my heart had lifted, I felt my heart grow heavy.

A Hundred and Seventeen

I know, I know, not an imaginatively titled story.

So, as with all my PDF-filed posts, here’s a mandatory premumble.

I’ve always been a little inclined toward reading women’s perspective in Literature. And lately, I have gone quite overboard with it. I’ve been stuffing my head with an assortment of girl-stories, ranging from flippant chick-lit, to some dark, serious, matter of gravitas kind of writing.

Of course, as with any personal type (is there any other?) of Literature, a favourite kind of narrative is the Coming of Age one. This narrative, in the prism of women’s perspective, contains a large, and I mean LARGE, volume of stories dealing in some token themes: insecurities with the male figures in our lives, the realization of social inequality, the onset of menses, negotiating sexuality, being appraised as a prospective bride (I *loathe* this theme), a time of bidai, singlehood, motherhood, renewed singlehood, loss of a child, old age, beauty.

No, sillies, I am not quashing the validity of these themes.

These themes will forever hold water, because these experiences are recurrent. And interesting stories are born here everyday, because everyday, these experiences are morphing in our ever-changing world. MMS will mess with our sexuality. FB will make us feel ugly. LinkedIn won’t break the glass ceiling. But, Pinterest might help us setup a baking business.

If you’re still with me, this is the better part of my observation: that very little Women’s Literature deals with the softer things that make us Come of Age. Urban loneliness. Pride. Friendship. Forgiveness. Our idea of personal space. Our intelligence and our kindness being the source of our self-worth. The difficulties in a sphere where gender is irrelevant – you know, un-uterine stuff, but still about us women.

Off hand, I can only recall Zoe Heller’s brilliant, brilliant Notes on a Scandal that deals strongly with the theme of friendship in a woman’s world. (You there, thinking of Hunger Games, no, wrong example.)

My point being, I think there is much on the fringes of our bodies and our XX chromosome – namely our minds – that begs for more storytelling.

Enough blade I have put. Now please go read A Room with a View. A (sorta) short story that seeks to mishmash my concerns upstairs. A piece that is actually far outside my comfort zone (I *loathe* this term), but I have had fun foraying there.

I hope you enjoy it.

Peace, potatoes… you know the drill.

Oh, and the shortlink said “eV”. Evey. You know. Never mind.

Psst, thank you N. You know why.