Fluid…tere badan pe fisalti pani…oh meri rani

{{{Lets go, get up, get up…oh meri rani…teri jawani….get up get up}}}
[Translation: {{{Lets go, get up, get up…oh my Queen…young lady…get up get up}}}]

{{{{6:00 am, Monday}}}}

Just like any other day, today I woke up to that insufferable alarm tune blaring at my bedside: {{{Lets go…teri jawani…get up get up get up}}}

It’s one of Honey Singh’s songs and I, many months back, had even enjoyed dancing to its beats in any number of house-parties and nightclubs before I decided to set it as my alarm tune and thus rendered it utterly irritating. But, something about today made me feel curiously different about the song, about myself, and I actually felt like I could groove to that beat all over again.

“Good morning, World!” I uttered, half-asleep yet uncannily upbeat, trying to heave myself off the bed. It was still pretty dark in the room as the early morning winter rays were too weak to penetrate the thick, layered curtains of my ornate bedroom. Standing on the cold hard floor on my bare legs I shuffled the rug about to spot my phone which was still playing the muffled *get up get up get up* song. After a good thirty seconds of shuffling and shoving the rug about cautiously (so as not to send my iPhone 6 crashing helplessly to the floor), I managed to locate it and put the alarm to rest. But, by then the beat of the song had percolated deep into my brain and it was gonna play on a loop in my head for the livelong day.  I didn’t mind one bit as I felt it was cool to be able to enjoy an alarm tune. It was a rare privilege. After all, all alarm tunes are insufferable but to listen to an ex-favorite song every day in the alarm-avatar is a daily tragedy. But, today was not one of those tragic days, I felt. The next moment, I was grooving and jiving  in the shower as I easily recalled the lyrics to the song which aptly went: *tere badan pe fisalta pani / kasam khuda ki aag lagati / oh meri rani, teri jawani / get up get up get up wooh* [Translation: *The water dripping and slipping over your body / By God, it’s flaming hot / Oh my Queen, young lady/ get up get up get up wooh*] My pet name being Rani (which means ‘Queen’), all of a sudden and all over again, I felt like the song was written about me. And, staring at myself in the large-sized bathroom mirror from under the hot shower, I couldn’t help appreciating my body and the lyrics *your round round booty / your lips so juicy / tere badan pe fisalta pani / kasam khuda ki aag lagati* “Wow, I actually embody the song, don’t I!” I thought with brimming pride.

After a prolonged shower, I rushed out back into the cold bedroom with only a towel wrapped around, turned the lights on, walked into the closet and out quickly with a dry-cleaned business suit. I am extra-careful about the colors I choose, the buttons, the lengths and the cuts. They all play a vital role in the outcome of a business meeting, more than even the graphs and  ideas splashed about on the projected screen, believe it or not. So, I picked out a pantsuit of a silvery grey hue, with a short-sleeved silk white sweater to go underneath, for today. My fashion sense is not all that great by real world standards but it is considered ‘high fashion’  at my conservative workplace. I was a regular nerd at college, with a brag-worthy GPA, unsocial social circle and rudimentary fashion sense. Just regular. Then I made a bunch of artsy female friends at the business school I went to after college and learnt a thing or two about functional fashion knowledge. Now I’m approaching thirty, embracing the 3 Fs – fashion, femininity and finance; and working in the finance industry, by the way. And you would’ve guessed by now, from all the clues I inadvertently dropped so far, the glaring fact that I am single. There’s no Prince Charming in my story; no Raja (meaning: King) sleeping next to this Rani in that ornate bedroom. I sleep single, shower single, and ride the metro to work and back single. And, what’s more, I’d like to keep it that way.

I jostled my way into my usual 7:10 metro train and got a standing spot among the sweaty, smelly office-going crowd. “May be the government should hand out free one-time-use deodorant sticks at every station like how they dispensed Nirodh condoms at one time. Yeah, that would actually fit into the ongoing ‘Clean India Campaign’!” I chuckled at my own idea. I could reach office right on time if there were no unexpected technical snags on the line today. “That’s the only thing that could fuck my day up – a technical snag on the metro line – god forbid,” I whispered to myself. At the next station, a good chunk of the sweaty mass moved out and created breathing space around me. There was still no place to sit though. Three more stations to go and twenty minutes to the meeting. At the next station, as the automatic doors of the metro swung open, a gust of cold breeze hit me right in my face and also swept in an irritating office colleague from a different department.

A short, stubby fellow who seemed to have shrunk in height due to the winters. We interacted once or twice in the boardroom as representatives of our respective departments while updating the CEO about our key targets and achievements; and that was the length and breadth of our acquaintance. He was in my face already before I could rub my nose, wipe off the tears from my eyes and recover from the attack of the cold wave. He was what the ladies in his department called ‘a misogynist, male chauvinist swine’. “Hi, too sensitive to the cold, eh Boss?” said he seething with male pride, seeing that the cold breeze disheveled me but not him. (By the way, ‘boss’ was not to indicate that I was his superior at work but it was his way of saying ‘pal’ or ‘mate’ and that’s how he referred to all people in informal settings, from rickshaw-pullers to pizza delivery boys to air-hostesses to workplace colleagues. “Boss, how much for extra cheese and mayonnaise dip?”, “Boss, can you get me a glass of water when the flight takes off?” etc.) I swallowed a “Fuck off” and didn’t bother to respond. I instead focused on the song playing in my head.

He pursued the one-sided conversation with, “You are looking different today, Boss; not in a bad way certainly; there’s something different but I can’t quite put a finger on it,” stressing on ‘CAN’T QUITE PUT A FINGER ON IT’. I may have been imagining the lewd stress on the last part of his sentence, given his reputation. So, I flashed a brief courtesy smile in his direction, in the manner of acknowledging a compliment, and looked away. “The word ‘finger’ can be made to sound so sleazy”, I thought. ‘Finger’ is as smutty a word as it is innocent, if you think about it. ‘Digit’ takes the smut away. ‘Finger’, on the other hand (figuratively speaking), is crude and nasty. It’s an essential prop in all manner of pornography. More than lips, hips, sexual organs, it is the fingers that run the show. A ‘finger’ is a secondary pleasure center. It’s like a sex-wand almost, almost rival to..to..the penis..the phallus. Oh wait, of course, a finger is THE quintessential phallic symbol. It’s got the length, the texture, the colour, the sense of touch…it’s the closest possible mimic of the male member. Obviously. I came to the obvious in a roundabout way.” Another station passed by.

“Boss, water?” he asked, unscrewing the cap of his water bottle. “Boss, would you like some water?” he inquired, tapping on my shoulder with the tips of his fingers when I pretended to not hear him the first time. The short man removed his fingers off my suit when I seemed to turn towards him. I said, “No, I got my own water, thank you.” I didn’t feel thirsty was what I wanted to say but somehow I said “my own water”. The use of the words “my own water” was stupid. “How could anyone OWN water! That was an unsavory use of words, Rani. May be every drop of water becomes the property of the drinker of it and one can’t own it before drinking it. Argh! Own water, own air, own planet…ridiculous concepts. I should have said “my own bottle” or better, “not thirsty” instead of “my own water”. I can’t now turn back and eat my words, or undo history. May be, I can make up for my puerile use of words by saying a kind word or two, for my sake,” I decided.

Thinking thus I turned back towards him. He was drinking his “own water” from his “own water-bottle” without making contact between his mouth and the bottle, by raising the bottle high up above his head and letting the water pour out of the nozzle into the widened mouth of his upward-looking face, through the intervening medium of air, the way conservative Indian men and women are wont to do, for fear of religious defilement rather than fear of germs. I waited for him to put the bottle down in a moment and at that precise moment, there was a jerk and jolt in the metro, a sudden power shutdown, darkness, screeching halt, and a cold splash of water all over my suit from my work-colleague’s “own water-bottle”. “Shit! Shit! Shit! a technical snag!” I shouted in the dark. Light from mobile phone screens of co-passengers started flashing across the dark compartment and through the general commotion I could hear a voice directed towards me – my infamously sexist colleague asking me, “Did I just MAKE YOU WET, Boss?” It was clearly an unintended innuendo but it made me mad.

“I am definitely going to be late for the meeting today,” I surmised. “But hey, it’s hardly my fault,” or, so I justified my time management skills. The water was beginning to soak into the suit and drip down my body and I could feel every bead of water running down the front portion of my body, tracing the entire length from neck to lower abdomen. The song started in my head again *tere badan pe fisalti pani / oh meri rani* “Yes, the song itself  is accentuating the parody that my current ‘wet’ situation is to my early morning’s ‘hot’ shower scene,” I observed to myself. At the same time, as the water dripped down the skin beneath my silk sweater, I realized how water or any fluid stands for ‘continuity’. Continuous, yet separate, at the same time. Every drop magically merges into the next and yet it doesn’t hesitate to separate. Fluid, merging, separable, like the colors of a rainbow, like space and time, like human behavior, like gender itself. Well, we all know gender is fluid, right? Another station passed by, nobody entered or exited my coach.

The fluidity of genders is obvious to me as the fluidity of water. I didn’t have to take up gender studies at college or binge-read books like ‘Middlesex’ to get it. But, what escapes me is the hypocrisy of binary gender rules. There is a ‘He’ and a ‘She’ and every thing else is an inanimate ‘it’. There ought to be a range of ever-evolving pronouns to bridge the gap between the static poles of human pronouns. Just like irrational numbers between two whole numbers. Hell, even the number system is revealed to be fluid after Class 5 in school. What if irrational numbers, decimals and all such oddities which are not ‘natural’ numbers were excluded by the ‘men’ and ‘women’ of society, of science, when they came up with number systems. Why was it so natural for them to accept the unnatural numbers but not so to accept  supposedly ‘unnatural’ genders! Why haven’t the ‘natural’ genders agitated in all of history against the programmed inhuman exclusion of the ‘others’ who fill the gaps between the opposite poles..who provide the continuum between the violet and red ends of the rainbow of human gender! It’s a shame that the ‘other genders’ and ‘other sexualities’ are  all crammed into the innocuous-sounding umbrella term ‘third gender’ and double-shame that it is recognized in this part of the world in as late as 2014 A.D. It’s like saying we pledge to  accept all ‘irrational numbers’ as the Nth number from 2014 A.D. It’s a shameful reflection of the regressive attitudes of all the previous generations and the present one that such a conservative step towards inclusive growth in 2014 A.D. is looked upon as inclusivity or progress at all today. How could all the scientists, linguists, historians, writers, thinkers, philosophers, or anybody to do anything with the written word, be so blind and unmoved all these centuries by the ever-so-obvious and numerous gender anomalies, that they could deliberately exclude the fluidity of genders with the rigid adherence to ‘he’ and ‘she’ in language! What if I refuse to be a feminist and go beyond feminism and refuse to be a ‘he’ or a ‘she’ or an ‘it’. What if there is a Pronoun Revolution! Would that bring out the acknowledgement of fluidity of gender into common human discourse and collective conscience of the public? Would it? Would it?” The lights in the train came back on.

The train started moving. Every body was at ease again in the compartment. It was all a matter of seven minutes but I was definitely going to be late for the meeting. My station was now just a minute away. I bent down towards my bag (which was resting against my leg on the floor of the compartment) and pulled out the water-bottle from it as I was beginning to feel thirsty. All of a sudden my colleague squealed in excitement: “Boss, I know what’s different! You are taller than usual today!” Having said that, he as well as I looked down at my footwear in unison, as if we were a detective-duo, like Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence, or if you prefer, Richard Castle and Kate Beckett, who’ve had the exact same brainwave at the exact same moment. Both of us kept staring at my gorgeous brown pumps for a good fifteen seconds. For a while, I did not realize what was odd. But my heart started pounding in my throat at the sight of the brown leather-work. I got it soon enough.

He looked up at me and then I at him. There was a medley of shock, confusion, disgust, hatred and condescension in the way he looked at me. I was petrified. All I could hear him say was, “Mr. Sen, you are…” and the next station was there already, the last station on the line, our station, and we both flowed out onto the platform in the direction of the moving crowd. I couldn’t spot him thereafter.

His “Mr. Sen…” kept ringing in my ears. I reached my office building which was just outside the station. I couldn’t see him there either, nowhere within my field of vision. I stood at the building gate as if I was forbidden by the natural law of the land to enter that building. Like an outcast. I looked down at my shoes again. I couldn’t dare to go inside the building. Standing there, I pictured my colleague telling every soul in office what he witnessed on the metro today. “Rani, just fucking go back to the apartment in an auto-rickshaw and call in sick today,” persuaded my inner voice. Just as I turned, an auto-rickshaw stopped near where I stood and the driver asked, “Where to, Sir?” I was tongue-tied. His “Sir” pierced my conscience. “M.G. Road, Street No. 4,” I said blankly and got in. I didn’t dare look down at my brown peep-toe pumps and the red nail colour peeping through them, for I was afraid the auto-driver would also look down and deny me a ride.

“Sir, if you don’t mind I’ll make a short stop at the Hanuman Temple, just for one minute, if you are not in a hurry?” he queried. I said, “I don’t, take your time.” He parked his black and yellow vehicle at the side of the road and all I could think of when he was away was that may be he went to bring some men along to beat me to my death; that may be the reason I didn’t have to call for an auto and the reason he stopped the auto-rickshaw was that he noticed a ‘Queen’ in ladies’ shoes in the middle of the road and decided to eliminate ‘it’; may be I should get down and escape; may be he really went to the temple and if I get down now he’d notice my shoes and call out to hooligans to beat this freak-show to death. Hearing the temple bells made me think that may be I should pray to God…may be it’s at times like these that one prays to God but then, those who pray to God do so everyday so that at times like this God actually comes to their aid even if they don’t pray to him at these times; so, by that logic, God wouldn’t give a shit to this irreligious prayer of mine, I concluded. I closed my eyes and appealed to the Universe, to the pure miracle of space and time and lucky coincidences and serendipity.

When I opened my eyes after a few minutes, the auto-driver was back in his seat, was adjusting his rear-view mirror and I felt enormously relieved to find that there were no hooligans or hockey-sticks. He asked, “Sir, hope I didn’t take too long?” I said, “No, but can we go a little faster..I am in a bit of a hurry.” I got down at my destination, paid him off hurriedly, hoping that no one should notice my attire mismatch. The elevator was all mine all the way up to my flat on the 23rd floor. The whole building was in fact wearing a deserted look. I unlocked my apartment, locked it behind me as I entered and dashed into my bedroom. It was still dark inside because of the curtains. I chose to keep the lights off. I took off my shoes – flung them into a corner with force – then my belt, then my masculine blazer, shirt and pants. I put on a gender-neutral set of T-shirt and shorts. I could recall the childhood jeers at school, “He is a fucking queen. Not Rajat or Raja, dude. He is Rani. Ha ha ha.” At home I was alternately called Raja and Rani, to make me feel accepted and loved and self-assured, given my propensity to be fluid. “Rani, come help me in the kitchen please if you’re done with homework,” my mother would say. My father, who secretly resented my fluidity, would playfully challenge, “Raja, I’ll get you a new makeup kit if you can beat me at chess today.” Home, sweet home.

Lying motionless on my bed, I could hear the mocking voices from past, present and future. “I was in a hurry, that’s all. I wore the wrong shoes to work. I picked out the correct suit, shirt and cologne too but I slipped up at the footwear. I picked my party shoes, by mistake, ’cause I was happy and absent-minded. It’s okay. It is not a sin or a crime.” Inside my apartment, just as at home, I was no more Mr. Rajat Sen; I am Rani, or maybe I am just ‘it’, or whoever or whatever I wanted to be from one day to the next, from one fluid moment to another, just flowing and ebbing between ostensible masculinity and ostensible femininity. “Even the ocean flows and ebbs. And every human being is 70% water. Nature is the best teacher, said H. W. Longfellow, for precisely this reason. The ocean is never still. It is continuously ebbing and flowing and tidal movement often brings up beautiful, mysterious treasures from deep within,” I thought. That thought propelled me to activity. I got out of bed and retrieved my phone from my gray blazer. I called my boss.

He picked the phone almost instantly as if he was awaiting my call. I told him that I had to stay home for the day due to a personal emergency.  He asked me firmly if I was under psychological stress. I said, “No, I am not. I’d come back to work tomorrow as usual.” After a moment of hesitation, my boss said, “Er, um, I heard from Mr. Mukherji that he spotted you on the train today on his way to work and you were dressed in female attire. If that’s true, we are worried if you may be under stress and, perhaps, would like to see a counselor about any psychological issues you may be facing. It’s fully covered by the company, let me assure you.” I said, “No, I am feeling perfectly normal.” My boss, in a sterner tone, asked, “Are you a cross-dresser, Rajat?” I said, “No, I am much more than that. I wouldn’t actually fit into that narrow terminology you invented to make sense of your own limited, confused, repressed worldview. Am I getting an off today? Shall I come back to work tomorrow?” He hung up without waiting one extra second. An hour or so later, the HR department called me and a morose female voice at the other end of the line said, “Mr. Rajat Sen? Hi, I am Meenakshi, the HR Head at XYZ. I would like to meet you tomorrow about your termination process with XYZ. Kindly come to Cabin Number 377, Tower 3 at 9 a.m.  Thank you for your time.” There went the job. It felt peculiarly liberating to let go of the job, to let go of the pretense, to let go of the exclusionists who were forever striving to shut the door on the ‘others’.

Then the doorbell rang. I shuddered. I tip-toed to the peephole and saw that it was the watchman. “Did the watchman notice too?”, “What if he complained to the landlord and the landlord decided to evict me?”, “What if the whole building looked empty earlier because all the men and women were in a meeting with the landlord, discussing about my secret fluidity?”, “Would I be homeless too by the end of the day?” I opened the door determined to face my fears. The indolent watchman slipped an envelope into my hands and without saying a word, left. I tore the envelope open and unfolded the piece of paper in it feverishly. It read: “Water Bill”. A poetic touch and a perfect finish to this amusing anecdote. “Water Bill” made me laugh so hard and I am still laughing while typing out this hilarious account of my curiously upbeat day.

* Tere badan pe fisalta pani / Oh meri rani, teri jawani / Lets go, get up get up get up *

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Tweet-sized

The last time I was prompted to write 16-word stories was in 2007/8 for a website. They came in a flood and I did not record them on this blog.  The website was pulled down sometime between then and now and today, I feel nostalgic about the spurt in creativity I experienced around that time at IIT-K and I long to revisit the stories to learn what I was like back in 2007/8 as seen from 2014. Sigh!

So, I’m now recording a tiny collection of tweet-sized stories that I enjoyed writing today on being prompted by Miss U, one of my favorite kiddos:

1. He wrote her a love letter in blood. She relished every word of it…before she could read it. She’s a vampire, now hungry for more.

2. Sex bored her. She prayed to Satan to revive her libido. Her libido improved, and appetite too, when he turned her into a black widow spider.

3. She sat a little away from her crush daily. He is her Sun and she, the Earth. Their separation is necessary, and distance sufficient.

4. He begged her, “Stop it!”

She lit the candle a minute and blew off the flame. Lit it again and blew again. His pleading waned as the candle melted. She had turned him into a candle at his, “Hey bitch, blow me!”

[^Couldn’t cut this down to tweet-size]

5. “So long, and thanks for all the fish,” said the female fish to the male fish with a long penis, after a satisfying session of copulation towards procreation.

Olivia’s husband

Part I

Olivia left home for work at the usual time that day.  Onir stood at the threshold of the house every day to look upon Olivia’s lovely frame till she disappeared around the corner. That day, she walked away from home slowly and without looking back, and paused only to pluck flowers along the way. Gently she plucked them – the magenta flowers of early spring – off the shrubs along the blue-gray road – to feel the softness of their petals against her cheeks and eyes – then softly blew them off into space – watching them as they landed delicately on the grass carpet below. They did not bear the fragrance that she had expected. They had no smell at all. She walked away, the flowers forgotten and wilting fast.

Not far behind, Onir walked and paused too, to pick flowers. He picked them off the grass blades, those magenta flowers that he wouldn’t leave lying there for the insects to feed upon. He remembered to take them back home and put them in a vase. Every day. He remembered to breathe life into them, to slacken the wilting, even if it was just for a couple of hours more. The way the flowers tumbled towards the ground – alighting on the blades of fresh green grass that then brushed against Olivia’s dark blue stockings as she walked off – that… he wished to remember forever.

The flowers had wilted in the vase, by sunset, before Olivia returned home from work each day. They fought that night too, husband and wife. This time over bills and payments. He dragged her by her arm, into the bedroom – latched the door, to be unheard by curious neighbors – slapped her across her face – she cried – their argument ended there. Olivia  stopped crying and Onir was on the verge of a breakdown outside the bedroom. The screams that night were the worst by far. The flowers drooped dead by now.

After concluding the fight, Olivia and her husband emerged from their bedroom, for dinner. Olivia’s tired eyes fell on the faded magenta flowers in the dining room but maybe she didn’t recognize them from that morning. She didn’t seem to try anyway. Morning and evening were like parts of two different lifetimes for her – she couldn’t recall one when she was in the other. She blew her nose into a handkerchief, ran her hands through her long, black hair to set it straight. Husband and wife sat themselves at either end of the dining table. Onir, the butler, looked at her helplessly as he began to serve dinner to the couple.

Part II

With the tip of her index finger she flicked off a tear that had flown over her cheek from one corner of her right eye. That made her suddenly remember the tenderness of the flaring magenta flowers on her cheeks, and her eyes, that morning. She recognized the faded flowers now. She shot a glance in Onir’s direction; he was nervously pouring water out of a jug into her glass.

Her glance persisted and quietly pressed Onir to look into her eyes. He gathered up all his courage, peeled his diligent eyes off the jug to look into her watery eyes – eyes that posed a question.  Onir briefly swept his deep blue eyes across her tear-stained face – her eyes, her cheeks, her nose, her lips – and in that fraction of time he effectively communicated the answer she sought and more. Onir proceeded to the other edge of the table and poured out another glass of water for the husband who was busy gulping down the contents of his plate to leave the table as soon as possible. Olivia smiled at her husband who was not even looking in her direction; she smiled at the dead flowers on the table; she smiled at the plate of food and the glass of water in front of her. Dinner was done in a few minutes after that. Onir cleaned the table for the couple’s breakfast of next morning. She slept peacefully that night.

Part III

The next day, after breakfast they wanted red roses for their bedroom. Olivia walked down to the flower-beds in the backyard to pick some. Onir, who at long last gathered the guts and got rid of his lover’s abusive husband the previous night, set the table for lunch. He forgot to remove the jug of poisoned water the previous night. He replaced that jug with a fine bottle of wine to celebrate. Olivia’s husband turned in his grave below the chrysanthemums in the garden.

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!

Unspoken

Simi rushed upstairs, in a fit of anger and agitation, and fainted all of a sudden as she reached the upper landing in front  of her bedroom door.

After twenty minutes…

“How do you feel now?” asked Kevin, placing a pillow under her head.

“I’m feeling fine. Thank you,” said Simi, with a weak smile. She felt extremely delighted by his earnest gestures and concern but was careful not to show it on her face.

“Okay, sleep and I’ll come back tomorrow. Same time,” said Kevin and left the house. Within no time Simi dozed off to sleep under the effect of her sleeping pills.

Simi woke up after a few hours expecting to see Kevin reading a book in the living room, or fixing something in the garden. But he wasn’t there. She then remembered that he had left in the morning and had promised to be there the next day. She bit her lip in disappointment. She looked around at the room, the empty couch, the piano, the recliner that he bought her, and the soft beige carpet under her feet. The emptiness was overpowering. For her, like many, loneliness was something she could never get used to no matter how many years she lived with it. But, unlike many, she could not even get used to simple human interactions such as social visits from friends or family;  solitude was  precious. She watered the houseplants and cooked some  pasta for dinner.

After eating, she picked the phone to call Kevin but declined on second thoughts. She wondered where he was. She went upstairs to her bedroom, sat by her writing table and tried to add a chapter to her new novel. It was snowing outside her window and there were cars passing on the street below. She noticed snow flakes randomly choosing to settle on her window sill, one by one, accumulating, as if to bury her alive in an icy grave, unnoticed by the world outside. She pondered some  more and it made her dizzy. She could hardly add a sentence to her book; she was too tired that day to meet the demands – of  high wit, active dialogue, new emotions – of the characters she herself created so fondly for her novel. She switched the lights off  and slipped under the warm quilt.

The next day Kevin appeared at her front door as he promised, looking dashing as ever. She could smell the cologne that she was getting addicted to. He got her flowers too. Yellow and white roses, her favorite. Simi felt suddenly conscious of her disheveled hair, her puffy eyes and her shabby appearance. She excused herself to freshen up and get dressed. She put on a  nice new cardigan and jeans; they had breakfast together.

He asked, “How is the novel coming along?”.

“Fine,” she said, looking at the collar of his white cotton shirt.

“You deserve a better, bigger publisher this time.” She didn’t respond to his suggestion. Her face started showing signs of worry.

“I found one to save you the trouble. He agrees to all your terms too. Talk to him when he calls,” said Kevin with a warm smile, as always solving all her problems as his own.

Her face brightened at once. She looked towards him and before she could thank him he nodded his head sideways and said, “I’m your friend, darling. Eat your breakfast in peace now.” After breakfast he cleared the table and she went upstairs to get her writing pad and ink.

He sat at the piano by the time she came down. He started playing music on the instrument; a song she hadn’t heard before.

His music filled her with new emotions, new sentiments, new character. She fulfilled the demands of all her characters, effortlessly. Her pen danced on the paper to the tune of his passionate song. She penned down a good number of pages before he reached the end of his musical exercise.

“Read it out for us, please…” she requested, blushing her cheeks as he took the sheets of paper from her. He abided. Her freshly concocted love scene, being read in his melodious voice, was like a lullaby to her…she drifted into a dreamless sleep. By the time she had woken up, he was making lunch and on the table beside her was a chocolate box. She had opened it quickly as she felt quite hungry. There were no chocolates, only a diamond ring.

She slowly walked into the kitchen, with  the ring in one hand, and stood before him with tears in her eyes. He got down on his knees, held her right hand and asked her the question, for the third time, guessing her answer. This time, unlike the last two times, she hadn’t fainted at his proposal. She pulled her hand back as she was too shy of his touch, she just dropped the ring in his pocket, and said, “Don’t.” He understood her, he understood everything then; he just needed to hear her speak – anything – when she was calm, unagitated. He said, “I know what you want. Preserve the ring.  It belongs to you, only you…” , showing that he understood her. Her heart leapt in joy but she only smiled at him and took the ring from him.

After lunch Kevin left. Both of them were at ease again, after the awkwardness that prevailed in varying degrees over the last two months – ever since he first popped the question.

She eventually finished her book, and many other books in the subsequent years, and dedicated all of them to Kevin. Kevin had her at all his concerts as the chief guest. They often talked of love, but only in the context of characters in books and films. They attended weddings, parties, award ceremonies together. The ring was safe in her possession all those years. They spent even more time together in their old age. She wrote him short stories, love stories, bedtime stories…while he sang to her in his beautiful voice everyday.

She wished to be buried with the ring when her time came.  He was laid to rest next to her. They were devoted to each other. He loved her and she loved him, in popular language. Their love was unspoken, not unrequited.

(Photo courtesy: http://fourlettersword.blogspot.com/2010/04/why.html)

How I Met A Corporate Bitch And Puked All Over Him

If you are one of those subspecies of Canis lupus appropriately self-domesticated for the purpose of corporate breeding then it is all the better for you to refrain from perusal of my blogposts at this very instant or you might aggravate your rabies  (which is not necessarily good for your career though it might work well with your poor driver or domestic aid).

Well, it is tough to be funny in these trying times. But I manage to squeeze out my daily dose of humor from incidental interactions (an instance of which I will narrate shortly) with members of the corporate community. I can’t help running into at least one of these social parasites every time I step out of my apartment. I swear they are omnipresent,  gracing every space on the earth with their ubiquitous obnoxiousness. I’ll save the subject of management business for another day and for the present I will talk about the more noxious entities of the corporate world – Managers. While most of  them are injected with the virus and are chronic hosts of this affliction, the rest are just wannabes as opposed to ‘aspiring  managers’. FYI, there are aspiring doctors, aspiring engineers, even (as preposterous as it may sound) aspiring  scientists…but there is no such thing as an Aspiring Manager. Yes, yes, (thanks to our highly regarded IIMs and the multitudes that strive for admission into these worshiped temples of education that) it may not be a commonly acknowledged fact as of now but it’ll be very soon. At least as soon as India sees its first openly gay, if not lesbian, President. Anyway,  here it is – the rungs of the ladder (bottom-to-top) one has to climb to get to be a top-level manager are represented here fyi:

wannabe manager–>

desperately wannabe manager–>

cocksucking manager stage1–>

cocksucking manager stage2–>

cocksucking manager stage3–>

…50 years later…

–>blowjob mongering manager (goes home every day to  see his wife  fucking her driver and contemplates  suicide on a daily basis but lacks the fucking bit of nerve)

Besides the front desk receptionists in other departments/offices, English language is one of the items in the long list of things heavily abused  with impunity by these airheads. Don’t get it? Sample this: Management education is one thing and management as an occupation is an “entirely different ball game altogether“. “Ring any bells?”, “Think out of the the box, guys”,  “Well then, let’s cut to the chase“.

Laugh Out Loud. Seriously. Are they serious! This corporate language started evolving  way back in the primitive ages in America, I agree, but why are these Indian monkeys aping it! I hope they are not trying to challenge the notion that Mathematics is the only true universal language… Anyway, coming back to the incident I promised to narrate, here is an everyday regular conversation I overheard between two wannabe managers while traveling in the city bus today morning and standing adjacent to their seats:

wannabe 1: “Good Morning. How are you feeling today?” <shakes hand firmly with wannabe 2, gives him a warm smile, offers the seat next to him>

wannabe 2: “Good Morning. Real good, thanks. How about you?” <with a wide smile, seating himself next to 1>

(An innocuous exchange of greetings as it seemed but may have led some uninitiated onlookers to believe they were homosexual friends who had casual sex last night. It’s just the beginning…)

wannabe 1: “So how was the job?” <maintaining steady eye contact while lowering his head>

(Only for a second I presumed it was blowjob, from the way the line was delivered, but I continued to listen to the chat in that assumption for kicks. To add to my kicks my friend who was traveling with me and standing next to me really believed  what I only assumed, and I didn’t bother to give her any perspective because for all I knew they might’ve really been homosexual, casual sex partners who were wannabes too. So we continued listening to their conversation.)

wannabe 2: “I just went with the flow, dude. My performance was appreciated thoroughly by one and all in the department. I can’t thank you enough for that opportunity.”

(Not much innuendo there…?)

wannabe 1: “You should thank my boss for it. It’s his call dude, not mine really.”

wannabe 2: “Hmm. I liked the job and I’m sticking with it.”

wannabe 1: “Great. Now it’s a win-win situation for you as well as our company, eh?”

wannabe 2: “Maybe. But it is hard to get my arms around it, if you know what I mean. I think I need more teammates for better performance and delivery.”

(Ewww…)

wannabe 1: “The ball is in your court, dude. You are free to take the ball and run with it. But first you should meet my boss.”

wannabe 2: “My previous boss threw me under the bus last week over a project I gave my sweat and blood to. So I had to quit. Hope the new boss is different.”

(My poor friend wondered if he was tossed under the same bus we were traveling in and how in heaven’s name this guy was out  of the hospital so soon.)

wannabe 1: “Definitely. But with our boss you should really mind your Ps and Qs.”

wannabe 2: “Anything else?”

wannabe 1: “You got to keep a stiff upper lip while dealing with boss’s fancies sometimes. And be on your toes. You should always make it happen but not take in more than you can chew.”

(At this point I couldn’t control my laughter any longer, I had to laugh out loud and so I let it out. Unfortunately, the  last dialogue I heard about chewing changed my laughter into puke and I puked all over wannabe 1)

wannabe 1: “Lady, is something wrong with you?” <with the nastiest face in the world, raised his voice, clenched his fist>

(My friend apologized and said that I wasn’t well. I laughed my heart out this time. No more puke. She explained I was delirious because of an overdose of medicines. He, being a pussy as expected, loosened his fist and tried to wipe puke out of his shirt. Meanwhile…)

wannabe 2: “You and your friend may take our seats, please, we can stand, we are close to our station.” <He prompted 1 to  get up and offered the seats to us, with a corporate variety plastic smile plastered to his face>

wannabe 1: “Yes sure, be seated. We have to get down in a minute anyway.” <quite irritated>

(I was thoroughly enjoying it all. My friend was a little shaken by the sudden turn of events..)

wannabe 1: “Friend, please hold my cellphone and wallet. I’ll wipe my pants and put on my coat before we get down.” <handing over his phone and wallet to wannabe 2>

wannabe 2: “Cool phone. Oh, it’s vibrating. You are getting a call from……..from my previous boss?!?!” <utterly baffled,  confused, shocked>

wannabe 1: “What? Are you sure? Check the number again. Give it to me.”

wannabe 2: “Yes, I’m damn sure. It’s his number and his photo too flashing on your screen. To come to think of it he looks a lot like you too. Are you relatives?”

wannabe 1: “Wait, let me see…….Shit. Our boss. I mean my boss. He asked me to engage you in this project somehow.  So I did. You won’t quit now, will you? You signed the contract, remember. Come on now, beggars can’t be choosers, I say.” <Adding insult to injury. The bus stopped and it was their turn to get down>

(“Meet the new boss. Same as the Old boss,”my friend and I cried in unison and I laughed hysterically, till I slipped into delirium. They either don’t listen to music or they didn’t get the joke right then. How could they? Wannabe 2 was almost in tears and wannabe 1 was covered in my puke.)