Good News

I sat up in bed,
for hours, to make up
for the tears shed
in vain, by drinking
water from little
bottles of different
colors and shapes,
on a cold night in
February, listening
to a late-night radio
phone-in programme,
letting the coldness
in the air
take over my mind
by penetrating the skin
to make me thought-free.

A song too many I bore,
with no promise
of relief
for an overburdened
mind and also, bladder,
until he called in
who said
he was prepared
to die exactly
two hours,
twenty minutes and
forty-two seconds later.
I pulled the rug over,
turned the volume up,
RJ cleared his throat,
the caller said,
“Hello, I wanna talk.”

Spurned in love,
voice weakened by
hunger and sorrow,
the caller told
his story of dejection,
the usual.
Thirty minutes of
negotiations later
the caller said,
“I think I still have to.”
The call got
disconnected there.
RJ said, “Uh-oh, well,
enjoy the next song.”
I drifted off to sleep.
The next two days
I checked
the papers
for the bad news
and somehow,
there was none.

P.S. The radio part actually happened two nights back. The good Samaritan RJ took the call offline while he played the song for the listeners.

Blind Belief

AS odd as it seemed to her children, Mrs Sharma strongly stood by the beliefs and traditions that were passed on to her by her parents (who in turn inherited the baggage from their predecessors), despite being experienced enough to not find any logic in such practices. Her children and most likely their offsprings hadn’t believed in any of that antiquated stuff even notwithstanding her continuing authority over them. For instance, Mrs Sharma’s kids have each gone through a couple of divorces at least, much to her dismay. Not to veer off entirely from what their mother desired them to follow when she inculcated to them through her moral stories, “One man, one wife, one marriage”, they had given a simple extension to the rule, thus turning it on its head, in actual implementation, “One man, one wife, one marriage. Repeat.”

Mrs Sharma was then a gentle old woman of seventy years. She missed her late husband. His existence was probably the only thing she appreciated about him while he was, well, extant, not because she hated him but because there was nothing much else she could identify in his being that commanded anything equal to her acknowledgement, leave alone appreciation. Similar were his affections towards her, except that at times, like when he was too drunk(he drank without her knowledge), he didn’t even remember she existed, or the fact that he was married. They both blindly believed that marriages were made in heaven, when actually they were only as bounded by marriage as two blind fish shuffling their chaffed limbs in a vortex of dirty water going down the toilet hole.

Such was her marriage of forty odd years that sort of lasted until his death did them farther apart. But, Mrs Sharma always maintained that she had had a splendid married life, though whenever she commented on her successful marriage she only thought of the well-settled kids, the prospect of having at least one more grandchild in the near future, her assessment of her expertise at child-rearing abilities, and the invaluable sense of freedom her husband’s death had given her when she was sixty. Since that death she lived independently in a house that was gifted by her eldest son who knew how much she wanted one that was her own all through her life.

While the older grandchildren politely declined every weekend her invitation to visit her at her suburban home, the youngest of the lot, twelve year old Lakshmi, would force her parents to send her over to granny’s in case the invite failed to be conveyed to her for some reason. Such was the fascination that Mrs Sharma’s curious ways held in Lakshmi’s innocent and inquisitive little mind.

Mrs Sharma still believed in Gods and ghosts that were introduced to her in the stories told by her grandparents when she was young. Mrs Sharma chanted verses to ward off evil spirits; she cut lemons in half at the threshold of every door of her house and assessed each half to see the imprints of ghostly spirits; she applied turmeric paste to the edges of every saree to bring good luck when she wore it the first time; she would tie amulets around Lakshmi’s arms and add charms to her necklace whenever she sensed an aura of danger around her loving granddaughter; she even had secret recipes for effective potions for every kind of ailment that Lakshmi suffered yet; she believed in arranged marriages; she believed in bad luck attached to black cats, crows, spiders, lizards, scissors, and whatever else; also, she had named every tiny article in the household after a god or a goddess from Indian mythology, so that when she couldn’t find, say, some piece of cutlery she would call out to it and it would make a clinking sound by some curiously natural accident. It all seemed quite magical to little Lakshmi and she absorbed all this mysticism that lived and breathed in Mrs Sharma’s secluded house in the luxuriant outskirts of the big city.

Time passed thus and Lakshmi grew to be a beautiful young girl of twenty-four years. Mrs Sharma was hale and hearty too but was growing blind in her left eye.

One Saturday, Lakshmi visited grandma as usual but there was something conspicuously unusual about her manner, her appearance, and her behaviour. Mrs Sharma inquired into the evidently positive change but couldn’t get any satisfactory answers. So she left the matter at that and appeared to have not been bothered at all by it for the rest of the day. Not being able to bear such complete indifference in Mrs Sharma’s attitude, the following day Lakshmi came out with the truth that she was in love with a certain young man. Mrs Sharma was taken aback by such a drastic aberration, something she imagined would never happen to Lakshmi after all happened, love, such a poisonous idea!

Mrs Sharma felt deceived by Nature. She cursed every known God. She upset Lakshmi by waving her hands in all directions hysterically and chanting some new prayers. Lakshmi was equally surprised by Mrs Sharma’s reaction and said helplessly, “At least, won’t you ask me who this Daniel is?” She received no answer. She continued, “Daniel is the writer whose stories I read to you last month, remember? You said you liked them very much. He is a lovely person, Grandma, won’t you please listen to me.” Mrs Sharma refused to listen by shaking her head sideways and all the time praying under her breath. The last thing Mrs Sharma said to her in the midst of this frenetic upheaval, “You are young and foolish. So is the young fellow who lured you into this abominal scheme of things. Either that or this man must be struck by your money and beauty. You utterly disappointed me.”

Lakshmi left instantly after promising to return with the young man the following weekend to seek Mrs Sharma’s approval for marriage. Lakshmi hoped that her granny might like the lad after all if she met him in person.

The next weekend Mrs Sharma stood at her bedroom window overlooking the frontyard, waiting for Lakshmi to arrive alone. Very soon Lakshmi’s car appeared and from it emerged a strikingly handsome young man followed by Lakshmi. Mrs Sharma could see through her blurring vision that they both glowed with joy as they walked towards her door, hand-in-hand, and she muttered to herself, “I spoilt her. It’s all my fault. I was blinded by my love for her; I could’ve taught her better.” She didn’t budge from her bedroom. Unable to get the door to open, they returned to their car holding hands lovingly and left.

Lakshmi called her granny many times on phone, wrote scores of letters, visited her unforgiving front door several times, sent people over to talk to her, but nothing helped. The wedding took place eventually in a month’s time with the approval and good wishes and gracious presence of every member of the family except Lakshmi’s most beloved grandma. The young couple
relocated to the United States soon after.

After some weeks the old lady thought back in time to see if there were any omens that she carelessly ignored. She could remember the crow cawing interminably at her window the day that wicked boy came here with Lakshmi. She remembered the scissors lying on the table with its blades open when Lakshmi first told her about her love. She also remembered that it was a Friday when Lakshmi read out a story from his book – the story was about a man who cheats on a woman. So many bad omens that she was too careless to notice. They all invariably pointed towards the young man’s ill-will, she thought. A bad marriage. They gave into physical attraction and nothing better. But she regretted not having opened her door to Lakshmi that day.

In a couple of months, news arrived back home that the couple died in a tragic plane accident. The whole family was distraught. News was conveyed to Mrs Sharma too. Mrs Sharma lost perspective. She just couldn’t believe that Lakshmi was never going to come knocking on her door again. She had been waiting for her to come back after all. When the shock of this news subsided a little, Mrs Sharma made a transition into a different state of mind where she held herself responsible for Lakshmi’s death. She thought that it was her curses, her bad wishes that brought about this accident.

Some weeks later, she wished she could hug her grandkid for one last time, though she still disapproved of her marrying Daniel. She knew it was he who brought bad luck upon her baby despite all her efforts to protect her in every way possible over the years.

When Mrs Sharma recovered enough to recount all the happy moments she shared with Lakshmi, she got reminded of the letters Lakshmi had written her pleading for her approval. The first letter that she opened was written the day Lakshmi left her house promising to come back with Daniel. It went like this: “Dear Grandma, I know you’re angry with me because you always told me
how inauspicious and foolish love marriages are. I respect your beliefs and know you speak from experience. But I want you to know that I’m confident it is nothing like what you think. And, it hurt me when you said that he loved me for money and beauty. Daniel is a great guy who loves me very much.  I have been his lawyer all these years. I love him a lot too. I want you to meet him next week.  Now that you’re going to meet him next week when I bring him over, I want you to know beforehand, so that Daniel is spared from hearing any hurtful words, and also since Daniel will never come upto saying it himself, that Daniel is a very rich man himself, apart from being the son of one of the richest persons of the world, and also, Daniel is born blind…..”

The letter dropped to the floor from a loosened grip, along with the old woman’s traditional beliefs. She forgot all the bad omens that she diligently listed out earlier, as if she did not believe in any of them or known them before. All she could recollect now with tears blinding her eyes completely, was a blurring vision of how the beautiful couple walked upto her door one morning, glowing like angels, holding hands lovingly. She wished for nothing more anymore.

——————————————————————————————–

(P.S. Dedicated to those people who are no more, including my grandfather and grandmother whose death anniversary falls on March 14 and March 15, respectively. I’m sorry if I’ve ever hurt them when they were there.)

My women, my everything!

I

That day, I saw her the first thing I woke up in the morning, like every single day, smiling at me but not expecting me to return it. I rubbed my eyes, reluctant to get out of bed so early in the morning, but got out unquestioning. Her reassuring smile told me that the day was going to be really good and even if it was not, she would say, I would still find her there at the end of the day, sitting right there smiling at me when I came back home from the world outside. She sent me off, out of her home, with a kiss strongly pressed on my forehead.

I got on the same blue bus as everyday and found a suitable seat after some deliberation. Like everyday, I was slightly perturbed by the sudden emergence of so many new faces, voices, and attitudes all around me. Same faces as the previous day, the day before and so on, but still new to me every day. At that point daily, she came and sat next to me, with a heart-warming smile, and all the new faces disappeared, submerged into the unintrusive background, and I was myself again. She held my hand as I got down the bus and helped me down so that I wouldn’t stumble and fall like I did the previous day. That day, as the bus left I realized that I forgot my water-bottle in it. I looked at the bus, I looked at her, I looked at the bus again, dumbfounded, not knowing what to do, not knowing what to say. She tapped me on my shoulder and I turned towards her again, while she waved the water-bottle at me and said with a knowing smile, “I got it.” I went inside the building, hand-in-hand with her. I reached the door to my room and she left me there with my water-bottle and my sweaty hands. I entered the room and there were new faces again, making noise, laughing, jeering, shouting, mocking – so much noise that I felt like rushing back to her, join my hand with hers, run back to the bus, sit next to her in my favorite seat and go back home.

I turned around towards the door, determined to leave at once but frozen in my place. I was counting the seconds in my head and she entered through the door, with a loud Good Morning that went ringing through the room, bringing everybody to silent attention. She walked briskly towards me and ushered me in, with her delicate but firm hands on my shoulders, and whispered “Good morning, sweetheart, had your breakfast?” in my ear. A special greeting just for me, everyday. I took my seat just in front of her. I shut my eyes, joined my hands for the morning prayer, and opened my mind again, and thought, “She looks absolutely smashing!”

II

At the end of the day, I went back home from school and found her running about the house, reading a book, cooking supper, talking on phone with her husband, watering plants, changing out of clothes she wore to work – all at once. She looked at me once in the middle of all this, the kind of look I was longing to get, and it satisfied me – I felt like a part of her life again, along with all her clothes, the bangles on her hands, the plants she took care of, the food she cooked, and so on. I thanked god for her – my mother.

Next, I picked the phone ringing in my room and I heard, “Sorry.” I knew who it was because every time I had ever walked up to that phone to answer a call I wished that very voice to say ‘Hello’ to me. I asked, “Why? What happened?” She said, “I was not in any hurry to leave but I left without saying goodbye in the evening…I’m so sorry.”  I saw her at the gate in the evening, waiting for me even though I got very late; she was worried for me; when she saw that I was alright, she left without saying goodbye. I forgot that I promised to meet her at the gate at 5 sharp. I broke my promise. I felt punished when she left without saying goodbye. “How could she know how to punish me?” I thought all along. Though I hated to accept it till then, I missed her goodbye all through. That phone call broke my ego and I said, “Sorry”, for the first time. We talked about the waterbottle, the bus ride to school, the promise I broke, among other things. I thanked god for her – my best friend.

Later, in the night, I pictured all the fairies, the princesses, the maids, the magic wands.. as my  mother narrated a bedtime story to put me to sleep. She kissed me goodnight and put off the lights. She went to her room and shut it close, perhaps knowing that I wasn’t really asleep. They shouted at each other for an hour or so, a daily routine, while I trembled in my bed, trying not to visualise how they fought, how they slapped each other, how my mother suffered the beatings – for my sake. I wished it could all stop. I hoped it wasn’t the same with my class teacher too, because every single day after the morning prayer she would say, particularly to the boys in my class, “Remember, treat women with respect, always, no matter what the circumstances are.” I hoped it wasn’t fights with her husband that made that beautiful young lady say so everyday. I hoped that her daily lesson would make better men out of the boys of my class. I thanked god for her – my teacher.

I thank god for these women – my mother, my friends, my teachers – and all other women in my life, that are protecting me, nurturing me, and helping me grow into a woman too, every day.

Happy Women’s Day to all!