What makes her pretend that she likes the uncle who insists that she sits on his lap while he tries to cup her delicate back surreptitiously? Why does she nod her head meekly when he says, “I’ll come home tomorrow!” and later curls herself into a protective ball, willing with all her heart to be invisible?
What makes her cross the road in wild abandon- with her bowed down;
Pretending deaf to the catcalls, wolf-whistles and the leery comments, that keeps ringing in her ears even after they’re long gone?
What makes her walk that extra mile in a circuitous route pretending to friends that it is her only workout, all the while watching out for that faceless face she wanted to avoid, all the while skittering like a frightened rabbit.
What makes her squeeze close to the ladies seat and stand even in a sparsely crowded bus, inching away discreetly to not show by her face or actions the acute violation that her body felt at being groped continuously and rubbed against.
What makes her hide the brutal bite marks with a high back blouse, stifle her wince while she splashes cold water on her womanhood and defeated pride, begging them to forget the hurtful violation of her husband’s inflated ego and erection.
What makes her delicately draw down the little gown of her infant girl, trying to protect the innocence and dignity; while her recurring nightmares strips her baby’s clothes, hope and dreams over and over;
What silences her palpable anger, her raw pain?
What suffocates her ability to breath freedom and break free?
What muffles her loud screams and her passionate dreams?
Is it the pertinent question “What would people think?”
Is it the thought that’s seeded in her mind – ” This would ruin your life!”?
Is it that one feeling that’s fed over and over to her by the many generations and layers of a cruel society?
Is it the manmade feeling call Shame?
She never screams, fights, retaliates, hopes, dreams, or dares…
I got hit by a sudden bout of darkness. One minute I was stepping outside of my home to visit my son’s residential construction site; the next I was slowly slipping into an unconscious sub-zone, where everything failed to exist. I tried grappling my way through the darkness to the faint streak of light that kept fading away. My left hand and leg obliged, but my right did not. Suddenly my muscles started going into a spasmodic dance that I couldn’t entirely control. My mouth twitched at an awkward angle. I felt like I split into half, my left fighting my right. And my right side fell defeated.
“Thaatha!” I heard a feeble tone from a distant tunnel.
“Wake up Appa!” I heard a familiar voice that sounded distressed. I could listen to the slow commotion that swirled around me; hear many distinct shouts, but the power that pulled me into the endless void was too strong to resist, and I surrendered.
I woke up with a pounding headache and a bitter taste in my throat. The smell of cheap hospital antiseptic filled my nostrils. The bright room left my senses dazzled, and my eyes shunned away clearly preferring comfortable darkness to the mind-prickling reality. The half-dead feeling refused to go away.
“Appa!” the familiar voice pulled me up from the anesthetic-induced fogginess. My mind cleared, so did my eyes.
“Sudhir!” I croaked gently trying to hold his hands with mine. My right side refused to respond to my command. A dreadful premonition settled in me, and I panicked.
“Sudhir…. Kanna! Am not able to move my hand!” I tried flailing my arms and legs in desperation. My son faced me with a solemn look pasted on his face. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I could register my left hand and leg moving about, and it was only my right that was giving me the trouble.
I finally understood the look on my son’s face. “What happened?” I whispered anyway.
“Stroke appa!” he said. “Your entire right side paralyzed” his voice sounded defeated.
“Where’s Suman and Suresh?” I asked, trying my best to look around.
“Suman just went to call the doctor.”
“And Suresh?” I asked, though I already knew the answer.
“He was here the night, appa!” my son said in an unconvincing tone. “He’s now at his place’s construction site.”
We exchanged silent glances, and the little interaction was cut short by the severe looking, plump doctor.
“How are you feeling Mr. Dhinagaraj?” the doctor asked in a gentle yet professional tone.
“I don’t think am well” I whispered looking at my right hand.
“Don’t give up hope sir!” The doctor said while he went about doing his professional examination of my half-useless body. “We could do some Physiotherapy for your father Mr. Suman and see how he responds to it and we’ll take it from there.”
My sons nodded their consent.
“His right side is not functional so he’s going to be bedridden. Please make sure he doesn’t become bed sore.” The doctor said, “I am authorizing to discharge him today. Please collect the medical summary and bills from his attending nurse”
Suman walked the doctor back talking to him rapidly, most probably about the insurance claims, medicine discounts, concessions and every possible way of shrinking his pocket spend. That was the core definition of my first son. His pockets never shelled an extra penny than the absolute minimum. The wife he chose was his perfect companion as she made money with whatever scrap they had at home. The empty milk packets exchanged for 1kg of garlic; Old clothes became plastic buckets and mugs. They lived frivolously, saving everything only not to lose the ego game called “Who’s the richest of us three?”
I sighed trying to control my wandering mind. Maybe that’s why your body shouldn’t be half-dead. The brain had too much space in it to think about absolute random crap. I turned to my second son Sudhir. “Did Indhu go to school?” I asked.
“Yes!” he said, quite visibly absent-minded. His eyes focused back to me as though he suddenly remembered my currently invalid situation. “Why don’t you take some rest appa. I’ll just see what Subathra has cooked and ask her to bring some food” he said and walked away.
“All three of us are here!” I could overhear Sudhir talking heatedly to his wife. I sighed as he closed the door behind me. I knew what was happening. Subathra was probably questi0ning about the invisible rule that kept her tied to the kitchen and why it was her responsibility to cook a meal for all of ‘them.'” I can’t blame her now, Can I? She was the kind of woman whose love and affection could easily get mistreated as slavery and living along with other two daughter-in-laws who came from a better economic background than she didn’t do any good. She developed a deep mistrust of everyone and commendable inferiority complex that came out in the form of sharp words. She lashed out on my son for everything possible, making a son who loved his family into a barren, no-man land torn between caring for everyone and leaving his earthly things away and finding a refuge in the deep vastness of Himalayas.
I breathed slowly becoming angrier at myself for my condition. Though considered a burden after my wife’s death, my daughter-in-laws had tolerated me as I helped them with their chores as much as I could. I walked the kids to school, swept the house and occasionally cooked when one of them fell ill. I firmly believed in the concept of one family, and unlike my elder brother who had given different properties at different places to his sons, I had built a large, single house with a floor for each of my sons. Initially, things looked all happy and rosy, and the wisdom of my plan worked. And then it became disastrous. In the hopes of keeping my sons comfortable, I had foolishly forgotten to think about my wife and myself. As they got married one after the other, we moved from one bachelor son to other and then we found ourselves living with each of the family for a turn of four months each. It had become impractical and intolerable after a point that my first son had taken another house giving his floor for us to live. And things changed once again when my wife died. I had still managed to live with whatever I could cook and with the meagre savings that I had. But it looks like I had much more troubles and humiliations to bear; Here I am, reduced to a state where I had to depend on someone for every second of my physical survival. I wanted to kill myself at that moment, and the harsh reality that I cannot do it by myself hit me like a boulder. A hot, wayward tear of frustration trickled down my cheek.
“Thaatha!” a little voice called, followed by a creak of the door. My youngest granddaughter tip-toed into my room followed by Menagha, my youngest daughter-in-law.
“Come Sweetheart!” I signaled her to my left, craving for the love and warmth of her innocent little fingers.
“How are you feeling now?” came an automated question from her mother.
“Yeah! Am okay!” I answered as I signaled my granddaughter to sit beside me. The little one kissed me on my forehead and excitedly asked: “When are you coming home thaatha?” I smiled at her and said “Today da Kanna!”
Her face dawned with a genuine happiness”Then we’ll play hide and seek this evening.”
That hit a raw nerve in me, and I turned my face away so that she couldn’t see my tears. “Kithu!come here, don’t disturb thaatha” Menagha commanded her daughter in a stern tone. There was an awkward silence that short-lived thanks to the kind little nurse who asked everyone to move out so that she could give me a sponge bath.
Things after that were a blur. I heard that my sons split the bill amongst them. Three ward boys transferred me from my bed to stretcher and then placed me inside the ambulance. My son Sudhir and his wife travelled in the ambulance along with me, and the other sons arrived in their respective vehicles. The ambulance stopped in front of my house, and all my sons along with it and I knew right at that moment they were all at the brink of the most significant decision and burden of their life.
“We should keep him in surrounding he’s familiar with!” my eldest son said in a tone that implied that his house was out of the option. The other two reluctantly agreed.
“We might not be able available all the time” Suresh piped in, “you know, because of the construction!” That left Sudhir with the only dialogue.
“Subathra! Can you clear up the guest room, We’ll have it set up for Appa,” he said in a resigned tone.
We could all hear Subathra’s anger with the many accidental clashes of things and the slow murmur of her seething voice.
I sighed. It was everything I feared.
Days moved in a painful routine. Sudhir tried to give me a sponge bath once every day. Subathra was kind enough to provide me with some hot porridge three times a day. My other sons visited, and my other daughter-in-laws advised Subathra on how to do a better job in taking care of me.
Within ten days, they had had enough. A huge fight ensued, where each fought over about my situation with Subathra refusing to make me a meal. The arguments then passed on through the things that were building up inside them for years about several things that they had wanted to tell each other but had restrained so far.
“You have always been about the money!” Sudhir spat at his elder brother.
“And you have always been about being the model son, aren’t you?” Suresh hurled at his second brother. “Since both of us have our properties now, you’re looking to claim this house being the good son.”
“So, what’s wrong with doing that?”Subathra interfered. “You people used us to build extensively. While my husband struggled with taking care of the old baggage and I slogged in the kitchen cooking feasts for you royals, three times a day, you walked all over the two of us, and built yourselves comfortable lives.”
The argument ensued, each painful word turning kith and kin to strangers. I let the bitter words wash over me, as I began to crumble and break inside. The words thrust my heart like spears, their sharpness searing through my arteries, cutting them harshly with blood spurting all over. My heart lay there slowly bleeding to death while my eyes refused to shed any tears. I lay there immobile; my mind vacuumed of all thoughts; All except for one.
“Sudhir!” I called. The argument outside instantly turned to hushed whispers. Sudhir came in quietly, trying to hide the anger and resentment that shone on his face.
“Shift me to the first floor. To my bed!” I commanded.
“But father…” he stopped at my stern look.
“Suman!” I called, motioning for my elder son to step in. “Hire me a day-nurse to take care of my needs!” Suman nodded his assent.
“Suresh!” I asked for my youngest son. “Hire me a night-nurse to sleep in the guest room on the first floor and take care of me during the nights.”
My sons looked at me dumb-founded. “Did I make myself clear?” I croaked.
“Yes Appa!” they nodded in unison.
“Inform your respective wives that it would be great if I can get one meal from them, just for the sake of good karma and I would pay them in kind when the time comes” I finished in a calm tone.
Two weeks later:
I got shifted to my bed, and I lay there drawing comfort from the familiar surroundings. My day-nurse Sugantha gave me a sponge bath once every couple of days never once losing her professional smile. The night nurse Kishor was a silent company who obliged my request to read few pages of Bhagavad Gita every night before I slept. It was one of these days that I started observing the spider on the corner wall. It lay there slowly spinning a web from its essence; it was relentless, slowly yet steadily spinning its home trying to lure its prey. I watched it work every day completely mesmerized.
“He hasn’t taken a dump for almost twenty days now” I could hear Sugantha talking to eldest son Suman.
“Is that why he stinks?” asked Suresh.
“Yes!” Sugantha said. This accumulation of excretion in his body is not good. We might lose him sooner than we think.
“Oh!” Suresh sounded worried. “I should hurry up the construction works then and arrange for a house-warming session in the next ten days or so.”
“That is not the most important thing to do now!”Sudhir chided.
“Well, it is for me!” Suresh retorted. “I want my father’s blessing for the new house.” “So stop fussing about things and let me mind my own business!” he stormed out.
All the words swished past like a passing breeze. I couldn’t recognize one voice from the other. They all sounded the same to me. All needy, all desperate, all lost it in the miserable circus called life. Nothing existed in my life beyond the spider. He had become my silent companion spinning his web diligently, working without other thoughts.
Sudhir padded over to me quietly and touched my hand gently. He let out a heavy sigh. “I don’t know where things headed,” he said; “younger one is hell-bent on finishing his site, and the elder one is running out of reasons to delay payments for the nurse” I kept watching the spider, entirely unwilling to respond.
“Sorry, we couldn’t bring the kids to visit you, the doctor said it might cause some infections to the children” he droned on. I still couldn’t find the energy in me to answer.
“Your daughter-in-laws are already making plans for mother’s jewelry. I think Subathra wants the Kaasimaala” he hinted. Somehow none of it fascinated as much as the spider.
Sudhir lost his patience “What are you staring at?” he asked looking at the direction of my sight. His keen eyes narrowed down to the insignificant spider building a big nuisance of a web.
“I should have a word with that bloody maid” Sudhir murmured as he picked up the broom. He walked towards the corner wall with purpose. My slurred mind slowly picked up what he was about to do.
“No!” my voice came out as an anguished cry. Sudhir froze in place, slowly dropping the broom. He was instantly beside me.
“What happened Appa?” he asked in a concerned tone.
“Let it be there!” I said pointing at the wall with my strong hand. “Don’t disturb it!” I pleaded. Sudhir dropped my hand in disgust.
“I’m talking some critical matters” Sudhir fumed, “And you’re worried about a stupid spider.”
I just looked at him with pleading eyes. “Fine! Have it your bloody way!” he murmured and turned to leave.
“Ask my nephew Kumar to come and meet me” I whispered. A frown crossed Sudhir’s face as he nodded. I dismissed him without a second glance turning all my focus back to the spider.
The next day when Kumar visited me, I discussed with him at length about the necessary details and precautions. He came back by the end of the week with the things that I had asked him to prepare, I gave him my final seal of approval.
Memories started fading away slowly. One of my sons had visited me asking for my blessing for new home. He said he was holding a house-warming ceremony the next week. Sugantha came and fed me a glass of glucose. She changed my wet adult diaper and gave me a sponge bath. The three ladies who used to visit me occasionally had stopped their visits as they couldn’t bear my stink. There were some distant memories of the past that blurred with a light which carried a familiar voice “Come to me soon!” it said. I could feel my life slowly seeping away from me, running towards that sound. I looked at the spider again, trying to memorize it.
I just realized it was old and quite near its twilight period. It had struggled to move in the last few days, it’s usually spindly, agile legs buckling underneath it. It got trapped in its web unable to move. Its life force slowly sucked out by the very source that sustained it. I watched as it crumbled down to the floor, not being suffered by its own home, and I could feel my life force finding a kindred soul in it, and I joined it with a heaving sigh.
Sixteen days later:
Kumar opened the will in front of the waiting family. His mind raced back to the day where the withering old man had formulated his dying will and wish. “Ask them to bury the spider along with me dead or alive!” he had murmured. His family didn’t understand the strange request back then. They would learn it now. He took a deep breath and read the will.
“My request might have been strange for many of you!” the will read, “But reflecting back, I think it’s the way of life. We’re all spiders, building our webs called life, dancing around it consciously, building it over and over with many complex emotions that string from us. We make a prey of some people and dance around that complex web, thinking that we own it; without realizing that it is the other way round.” Kumar paused and looked around the grieving family. He continued after a deep breath. “I was a spider in a way. This family and this home was my web. As long I thought I was in control, I juggle around all of you, managing to keep this home intact; and like every spider that died in its web, I didn’t realize my fatal flaw. I got trapped in my web as I started firmly sitting on my web, cementing myself with emotions, instead of waltzing through it as I should have. The spider that you buried with me was a reminder of this important lessons. You’re all spiders with your webs, and it’s not my place to tell you how to manage it, but I do want to do my best to make sure you stay alert on your feet instead of cementing down” the will read.
“So, with this, I leave this house equally divided amongst my grandsons who would get equal portions of this property as cash after selling it. They would receive it when they are 25 years old with my second son Sudhir being the guardian of it till then. Sell this property when my eldest grandson turns 25.
I leave all the jewels of my wife and also my meager savings for my granddaughters. The gold is to be melted and cast as coins and distributed weight wise amongst my granddaughters equally. They would receive it when they turn 23 or when the eldest granddaughter gets married whichever is the earliest. I do so they don’t have the discrimination and inequalities their mothers had.
As for you my sons and daughter-in-laws’, I’ve cut down the webs that you hoped to sustain. Please build your own webs, and don’t forget to waltz and not settle.”
Kumar closed the will and looked at the family who were in various stages of shock, denial, and resignation. He sighed and looked at the photo of the old man that hung near the window.
A small spider moved to the picture frame, and started a methodical dance with its dwindling legs, slowly building its web.
They told me about the rosy things that I had to feel,
they said it’ll be a joyful event, a moment of completeness and the soothing medicine for my pains to heal.
And they left me at that, alone, to fend for myself.
I was scared to hold your wobbly head, and held you gingerly like a piece of glass,
mentally cursing my MBA Professors, for not teaching this in class.
And came those long sleepless nights, when you decided to play,
and your father decided to snore away.
For a person who turned down jobs with a night shift,
my dear son, this thing felt like a nasty whiff.
The permutation and combination of diapers I changed while it was dripping,
it smelt bad, and who am I kidding!
The hours I spent in the bathroom, almost giving up, crying till my eyes turned red,
those days my dear son, I yearned and ached and craved, for a good cup of tea and breakfast in my bed…
So what made me grit my teeth and walked through it all,
I am not sure but am betting it’s the smile you smiled every time you played with the red sponge ball.
Or the thrill that ran through my spine the first time you said “mama!”
Anyways I learnt, it’s a phase of my life, where you were the King of my drama.
But, Oh! My dear son, don’t get so cute, I still have my revenge planned for you
guess who’s got the weekend diaper duty for your baby sister?
Haha, the joke’s on you!
Ages and ages on, men have called women “the bright moon”, “a glittering star”, and “a fluttering angel”;
And pretty much everything celestial, ethereal and probably unreal.
But just like you, oh! men, we live and breath, we are just women;
As much blood, as much lust- and just as much human.
We are called the weaker sex, Isn’t that a gorgeous misconception ?
If you claim to be physically strong, then why did the nature make us carry, and let you stop with impregnation ?
You term your ships, your cars and continents a “she”, Is it to pay us your respect ?
If yes, then why can’t you let us sail it or drive it or rule it, why oh, why do you suspect ?
Is it possible to understand the fact, that we -the women, also lust ?
That we can be loud, dirty, and wild – and even for us, the F word is a must ?
Then, why do we have to be violated, raped, acid attacked- like lab rats, when we firmly say a No ?
We are still out there fighting on the roads and begging for our rights to live, and our right to say “Yes, So?”
We can wear spacesuits and coat suits and tracksuits and swimsuits all with equal grace,
Yet we are killed even before we’re born and never valued more than just a pretty face;
Depression, oppression, aggression, criticism, cynicism we face them all as much as you do,
Just don’t think, it stops there, we have the postpartum too.
We know it’s difficult to wrap your head around this, but it’s really a simple thing we ask you to do;
Stop obejectifying, mummfying and angelizing us, we’re sick of it all; Just equalize us to all of you, that- just that would do…
For we are just women;
As much blood, as much lust- and just as much human.
I rested my head back on the bus seat feeling nervous. I fidgeted with my wedding ring, trying to calm my nerves. I shook my head in exasperation. Jeez! What was wrong with me? I am married to this lovely woman for twelve years, but today I felt like I was sixteen. I don’t remember much of what happened in my Sixteen. How would I? It was a long time back. Nithya came into my life twelve years back and turned my life upside down. I closed my eyes still fidgeting my ring thinking back on that beautiful day when I met her.
She sat there with rigid formality reflecting my stance. We were apprehensive, uncomfortable and filled with self-doubts and second thoughts.
“Am not sure how this would work out!” she said looking at me over her cup of coffee. Surprisingly both of us ordered Latte.
“I don’t know what our kids were thinking!” I murmured. I mentally chided Varun for this mess up. He had signed me up to some forum, and that’s how I came to Nithya. Am pretty sure, she was in the same situation and that kindred a warm friendship.
“Adolescent kids, they tend to romanticise everything” She smiled.
“I know!” I sighed. “You should see Aarika’s room. She just twelve and her bedroom is already a shrine for Surya. She laughed, and I must admit it was beautiful. It started from her full lips, created a cute little dimple on her cheek and spread to its magnificence in her eyes that crinkled ever so gently. That moment the cozy café we turned on their music. The lilting tones of Harris Jayaraj’s “She is a mystery….” sprung to life and it was perfect.
“I quite like this song” she mused. “Riju plays this in his stereo everyday.”
“Either love or he’s covering up some other noise” I smirked.
“What?” she chuckled with shock “Should I be snooping?”
“I could you help you in that line. I have… ah, let’s say experience in that area” we laughed.
“Aarika is on the cusp. Should I be getting, you know… sanitary napkins now?” I asked her hesitantly. Somehow asking that question to Nithya felt very natural.
“Maybe I could talk to her!” she offered, instantly abating all my apprehension.
“That would be great!” I smiled the conversation then flowed into a comfortable silence as the song switched to “Kaadhalai yaaradi mudhalil solvadhu…” and it sent a jolt of shock into my system. How could Songs of the present still evoke these sensations in me? Or is it because of the woman sitting in front of me? There was no answer. The emotions that I thought were dead or dormant stirred awake inside me ever so gently.
The next time we decided to meet with our kids. We said it was to embarrass and mock them, but I knew we were assessing each other for the next step. We met in the next two weeks, by then we made sure both of us knew everything about the four kids. The conversations lasted to wee hours of the night, and we texted each other concerns, past and recipes on how to make cookies.
The meeting that we dreaded turned out to be one of the most beautiful days of our lives. The kids took to each other instantly, and I fell instantly in love with Riju and Roshni. Varun immediately took to Riju as his cool bro and off they went talking whatever guys talk when they are together. I know its games and girls, coz, unlike women we men like to stick to the same topic for centuries. I could see Aarika slowly bubbling and blossoming in the warmth of the two women who spoke to her. Later while Roshni joined the guys, I saw Nithya gently touching my daughter’s head while she ardently listened to whatever Aarika spoke. She listened and murmured something back to my little girl. I was stunned to see my ever so rigid daughter get back hug Nithya and shed silent tears. I knew it was the moment I fell completely in love with Nithya.It felt like a dream. As if on cue the café filled with the tunes of “Kanave kalaiyadhe” I watched her with content, hoping the lyrics told her what I wanted to tell her.
We exchanged rings in a quiet ceremony after a month. Life was a magic of quiet joy and comfort after that. We had four kids who needed their parents more than ever. We watched them grow together. Aarika’s first period did not turn out to be a major disaster as I had dreaded it would be and Riju’s first ever heart-break did not get as dramatic as Nithya feared it would be. We were a happy family, filled with laughter and slowly our kids turned into adults, things became a blur after Roshni got married and Aarika stepped out for her masters to the US. I realised it was just Nithya and me after this.
Thinking back, I realised I’ve never really told her any of the emotions I’ve felt for her. We made us available all the time for our kids, and there was not much time left for us. There were some fleeting moments of passion, few stolen kisses, but mostly it was a warm friendship founded on mutual respect and love for our kids. It felt like the right time to notch things up a bit. And that’s how I fell into the grasp of Valentine’s Day drama. I cooked up a plan with my ever romantic sons and came up with the official theme of rose, wine and cake. My daughters sighed with exasperation.
“Make a gift for her daddy” Roshni suggested.
“Make as in, buy my glitter paper and wrap things up?” I asked her
“No dad!” piped in Aarika, “Make as in, sit whole day in front of a pottery wheel, make a vase and then wrap it in glitter paper.”
“Don’t create a ruckus!” I said, partly to escape from that dreaded plan “Your mom might hear!”
“We are in a conference call, and there’s no way she’ll hear us” Varun added quietly.
“Daddy make a gift” they started chorusing in the phone, I slammed it shut as they laughed, but making Nithya a gift made absolute sense and my mind fixated on an idea.
“Sir! Your stop.” The conductor gently nudged me; I woke up from my rewind wheel and picked up my heavy shopping bag.
“Where did you go?” Nithya asked as I entered my home.
“Some shopping” I replied.
“I’ll be back in a couple of hours!” Nithya said as she left, “Need to pick up some reports from my assistant… and” she hesitated. I looked up at her. “Can we go for dinner somewhere? I know it’s sappy but it Valentine’s day and I realised that we’ve never actually celebrated one” she blurted.
“Yeah, sure!” I grinned at her.
I had everything ready by the time Nithya came back home. The Chardonnay filled our glasses, the dinner I cooked perfectly in place, lights down and me in my wedding tux.
She opened the doors and stood stunned. She slowly absorbed her surroundings as a slow smile of surprise and disbelief worked her face.
“Whoa!” she breathed. I walked towards her and handed her a bouquet of pale pink roses.
“Are you ready for our date?” I asked as I led her to the dining room.
“I… I have a gift for you” she said as I pulled her chair for her.
“Oh!” I was surprised. She took out a beautiful Tissot box from her handbag.
“I have a gift for you too!” I whispered. She gave me a radiant smile. I handed her the Pen drive
“I made a mixtape for you!” I grinned. She burst out laughing.
“Oh! Raghu I love you” she said through her smile.
“Let me see if it still says the same way after you’ve heard the songs,” I said as I led her to our Hall for a cozy dance on our first ever valentine’s day.
To know what was on the mix tape Please read Sylvian’s blog here 😉
This post is written for the ‘love theme’ contest by The chennai bloggers club( insert url – chennaibloggers.in) in association with woodooz http://www.woodooz.com/ and Indian Superheroes http://indiansuperheroes.com/
It was hot. It was hotter than the milk my mommy gave me every evening. My big brother used to play matchstick game, and my mother scolded saying the fire was dangerous, it’ll burn the skin. So, why did this uncle not know it? He poured petrol on me and lighted a match stick. I remembered my father scolding saying it was dangerous. The uncle threw the hot stick on me. The fire started spreading all over my dress. My favourite pink gown was slowly becoming black. I started crying. I wanted to tell the uncle to stop, but I couldn’t speak. He had gagged mouth and tied my hands and legs. I couldn’t move. The fire started running all over me. It touched my skin, and I winced. I looked at the uncle with pleading eyes; he just saw me for a moment and ran away. I closed my eyes as the unbearable pain started building in my body, the girl parts the uncle touched were already in bad pain, but this was too much. My mommy’s beatings were never this painful. I wanted to tell my mommy that I would be a good girl. I wanted my daddy to come take me out from the fire. A foul smell started filling my nose. I couldn’t bear it. I closed my eyes shut.
Suddenly it felt good. I felt like I was floating around. I could still see the fire, but I could see other images. I could see my mommy packing lunch for me, I could see daddy searching for his socks, and I could see my brother hiding daddy’s socks. Mommy can always find where my brother hides the socks. I could see my birthday celebrations in the big hotel and the blue Barbie my friend Rithika gifted me. I was playing with that evening. Suddenly the evening came to my view. I watched it all happen right in front of me once more.
I was playing with my Barbie in the portico, wearing my favourite pink gown. My mommy was making my sandwich in the kitchen. I saw a shadow and looked up. It was the uncle on the third floor. He was a friendly uncle who sometimes moved like he was dancing. He smelt terrible. He smiled at me, and I smiled back.
“Want to play with me?” he asked after looking at me for a long time.
“No Uncle! I’ll play all by myself” I said to him smiling
“Come on, kid! Let’s play!” he leered
I panicked and opened my mouth to call my mommy. He jumped on me suddenly closed my mouth with his one hand and carried me with the other. He ran up the staircase, unlocked his door, threw me on the floor and closed the door behind him. He scooped me up again, and I screamed. He closed my mouth with his hand and pinched me hard. He carried me to the other room and took a smelly handkerchief from his pant pocket. He thrust it in my mouth. I tried to spit it out, but he threw me on the bed and quickly tied a cloth around my mouth. I tried to control my tears as my breathing became suffocated. He pulled my wrists together and tied it close with a rope. He did the same with my ankles. I was petrified; I couldn’t move.
For two hours, the man paced to and fro while I watched him with fear. Downstairs I could hear my mommy and daddy shouting out my name. I wanted to call back to my mommy asking her to come up, but I couldn’t do it. He hurried his pace. I could hear my brother and Sarala Aunty shout my name. After some time somebody knocked at the door. The uncle threw a blanket on me and went to answer the door. I could hear Sarala Aunty talking to him, asking about me, I slid a little and reached the corner of the bed, but the uncle shut the door and came back in.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he asked in a scary tone.
“I raised my pinky finger and showed him” my eyes pleading. The uncle was so scary that I wanted to pee.
“Come!” he carried me to the bathroom and put me on the toilet seat. I looked down at my tied up hands and looked back at him.
“Oh, what the fuck” he muttered and reached up throw my skirt. I panicked and started struggling. He was going to touch my girl part. It was a bad touch. I shook my head vigorously. He smiled then. He smiled a cruel that was scarier than the other things that he had done. I cried as he carried me back to the bed. He lifted me into a sitting position and removed my gown. He tore my teddy bear panties and stared at me.
“Oh, my!” he smacked his lips and smiled.
He pushed me down and bit me hard everywhere he could reach. He touched and tasted all the places my mommy had said as wrong in the “bad touch” game. Finally, he removed his clothes and cut down the rope that bound my ankles. I tried to kick him down, but he slapped me hard across my face. I broke down with fear. But the pain across my face was numbed by the terrible pain that suddenly spiked up in my girl part and my stomach. I could see the uncle doing something, and the pain kept coming every time he came closer, suddenly he went down and started putting his mouth in my girl part, I fought hard not to pee as my mother had said not pee on the bed and it was bad manners. But I couldn’t stop myself as the uncle kept licking there. I kicked my legs as the salty pale liquid started flowing and the uncle once again moved up and kept pushing. The pain started building to agony, and soon everything blacked out.
I woke up wishing it was all a nightmare, but the pain between my legs told me a different. The bed was wet and smelly with urine, blood. My body had something white and sticky like glue all over me. I wanted to throw up. The uncle was dressed up, and he looked at me with shock when I woke up.
“So, you’re not dead!” he murmured as he came near me. He smelt awful.
I kicked him with my leg, and the action made him furious. He grabbed my neck and started squeezing hard. I struggled for my breath trying to move my hands. He tightened his grip, and suddenly everything became dark.
I saw it all as I floated about, but I didn’t feel a thing. I saw that my body was completely burnt and lay there as a terrible mess. I felt wise; maybe it was a thing. I could see the stars clearly, and an angel with white wings that looked like my mommy opened her hands wide open to receive me.
“It is like going to bed” she whispered gently.
“I am supposed to pray before I go to bed” I smiled back
“Yes, dear!” she smiled kindly. “Say your prayers!”
“Dear God!” I whispered “Please don’t let this happen to any of the girls,” I said.
“Or any of the boys!” I finished and walked on.
Chellama was playing with my five-year-old daughter while I entered my home. They heard my footsteps and looked up. My little Kithi came running towards while Chellama got up and headed towards the kitchen. Five minutes later I was served some hot ginger chai and onion pakora. It was a routine that started four years back. I sat down on the little-cemented corridor of my single bedroom house and watched my two beautiful angels play. Tears kissed my eyes as I watched them play, my mind drifting back to that rainy day, four years back
Four years before:
I stood at the bus stop holding my little one close to my bosom. She snuggled up to me as I tried to infuse all the warmth left in me. There was nothing much left. I stood shivering as the cool breeze showered me with an occasional drizzle. Maybe the chillness was within me. I waited at the bus stop with nowhere to go, looking at the buses, trying to figure out my destination; and that’s when I met her. She looked at me with a curious smile. Her unkempt white hair looked sticky and caked with portraying years of abandon. Her skin looked parched, and the wrinkles were pronounced. She wore a dirty striped white shirt that hung about her knees. It had hidden most of the soiled and torn yellow cotton saree. She had an equally dirty little bundle of what I assumed were clothes. There was small hand pouch tied around her waist.
I looked away from her. My daughter kept sneezing now and then, and each time it happened, the old lady’s tuft white eyebrows rose up in concern. I moved a little away from her with apprehension. Her shoulders drooped down a little. My daughter started shivering, and her coughs became incessant. All I had on me was my little girl and a hundred rupees note. Taking my daughter along with me to the pharmacy without an umbrella would be suicidal for my baby. Hot tears trickled down my cheek
“Paapa!” I heard a hoarse old voice near me. I turned around and froze in shock as the old lady stood beside me. My hands tightened around my baby convulsively.
“Am not going to take away your child!” the old woman said. “I bet I can’t run as fast as you” she chuckled. A tentative smile touched my lips. Common decency made me respond.
“Tell me, um… amma “I replied. The old woman’s stance changed when I uttered the last word. She turned away from and wiped a tear.
“Looks like your baby is ill!” she said.
“Yes,” I replied, “I can’t go to the pharmacy now; not carrying her along with me!” I murmured.
“If you don’t mind” she hesitated. “Can I give some medicine to your baby?” she asked
“I …ah… I don’t know” I equivocated. She gently touched my hands.
“Trust me!” she said and gently nudged me forward.
She fumbled with her hand-string pouch and produced a tiny bottle that had a murky looking dark green liquid. She opened the stopper, drank a little from it and looked at me. Had she made some gesture I would have run away. She just kept looking and waited patiently. I gently handed her my baby.
“She shifted my daughter to her lap in a swift yet delicate motion. She started murmured sweet nothings as she gently tipped my daughter’s head down and poured the liquid down her throat.
“There…there,” she said, as miraculously made a spoonful of sugar appear before my daughter. She fed it to the little one while I watched it with ill-concealed fascination.
“First baby?” she enquired.
“Yes” I nodded my head
“I have handled many children in my lifetime,” she said with a small smile.
“You don’t have a place to stay?” she said
“I…ah… How?” I stammered
“Because no woman in her right mind would carry a little child outside without an umbrella in this weather and you were crying” she stated in a matter-of-fact tone. There was no condescending or judgmental octave note in her voice. I told her everything.
“It was a brave decision to walk out of your husband if you can call that bastard that” she spat “He bloody doesn’t have any rights to sell your body!” she said with passion.
I cried as watched my daughter nestle close to the old woman.
“Good riddance I say!” she said. “So what are you going to do now?” she asked
I gave her a hysterical laugh “I have no idea!” I whispered, and tears started flowing afresh.
“shhh…!” she commanded. “Crying isn’t gonna solve anything,” she said.
“Here!” she handed my daughter to me with gentle care and turned around and started rummaging her cloth bundle. A moment later she whirled back with a small green velvet case. She thrust it in my hands.
“What is this?” I questioned.
“Open it” she commanded
There was a thick gold chain of about ten sovereigns and two diamond studs. I looked at her taken aback.
“What is this?” I tried thrusting it back to her hands
“Take it!” she commanded. “They’re of no use to me. It has been sleeping in this bag for the last five years” she pushed it back to me fiercely.
“You could live a pretty decent life if you sell this!” I said, “Why are you living in the streets then?” I asked her in a harsh tone
She didn’t look intimidated. “I’ve lived all the life I could live,” she said in a firm tone.
“This child on the other hand” she gestured towards my daughter, “hasn’t even started her life; you have more need for this than I do!” she said. I was shell shocked; behind the mask of caked mud and carefully constructed negligence, I could see a woman of authority that usually came with money and power.
“Who are you?” I whispered
“Just another old lady!” she said curtly
“Who are you?” I asked again
“Am a woman who has lived her life, and knows when to stay away from other’s life when my need for them is over!” She said with emotion. She revealed so much about her in that one sentence, and it was the just the needed spark that ignited my rock solid decision.
I kept the jewel case safe in my blouse. I bent and picked her cloth bundle.
“What are you doing?” she asked with apprehension
“Come let’s go!” I said in a firm tone.
This time she was intimidated. “Are you doing this because I loaned you some stupid jewels?” she whimpered, her tone betraying her hurt
I turned around and gently took my hand “No!” I said “Am doing this because I need a mother” and I realised my voice ringed bright with sincerity.
The old woman’s skin turned moist with her tears “Will you promise me one thing?” she asked
“Anything!” I replied
“Please don’t ask me anything about my history,” she said.
“Oh, I know who you are,” I stated with a smile of absolute conviction.
“You are my Chellama!”
She sat on the edge of the large mattress, her finger gently tracing the rose trellis pattern of the pale blue lace curtain that covered hung from the ceiling of the large four poster bed. The mild scent of agarbathi nauseated her. The sickly sweet smell of jasmines woven around her long braid made her feel dizzy. She took a deep breath. She looked around without seeing, and her mind dismissed the tray of fruits and milk with dispassion. The door creaked, and she jumped. He stood there in a white Kurta looking uncertain. She curled herself into a fetal position closing her eyes shut as memories of the past began to flood her mind.
Three years back:
She sat in the middle of the master bed, waiting for her husband. The wedding had been a quick one as the groom had just fifteen days before he had to leave to Canada. Her parents had cross verified the social status of the groom’s family, micro-analyzed the horoscopes, cross consulted three astrologers, and everything said he was the perfect match. On her part, she was fascinated about living in a foreign country. One look at his unruly curly hair, straight nose and perfect white teeth, she fell for him like a piece of log. They didn’t have much of conversations in the fifteen days, just occasional greetings and tentative smiles. She thought it didn’t matter. Why would it matter? She had a lifetime to talk with him, didn’t she?
“What would happen tonight?” she murmured
“We would be talking, of course!” she replied to herself “The…uh… thing cannot happen so soon right? We barely know each other!” she voiced out her reasons. Maybe a handshake or a small peck on the cheek she trailed off as the doors opened.
He walked in from the adjacent room wearing only his briefs, with a drink in his hand. She gaped at him in shock. He sauntered over to her, raking her from head to toe with his eyes and a carnal, unsmiling grin spread across his face.
“You are wearing too many clothes” he rasped and dragged her up from the bed; before she could recover from the shock, he had deprived her of her saree. He started unhooking the buttons of her blouse with practised efficiency. His fingers made contact with her skin, and she snapped back to her senses. She stepped back away from him desperately shaking her head in the negative.
“Can’t this wait?” She pleaded as he stepped towards her with purpose.
“Why would I marry you, If all I wanted was to talk with you?” he replied in a mocking tone. Rishitha started stepping away from him, trying to run away. He caught her by the wrist and pulled her to him with brute force. She pushed her face up to his and grabbed her lower lip between his teeth in a vicious bite.
“You are my wife” he murmured in a cold tone as he bit her hard. “And you’ll obey me!” he said, pressing her closer to his length. “Say it back!” he commanded.
“I… I am your wife” she stuttered between her tears “I’ll obey you.”
“Good…” he said with a wolfish grin and captured her mouth in a punishing kiss.
Her clothes flew to the ground in a haphazard manner, and he pushed her down to the bed. His mouth grabbed her nipple in a cruel bite, and she yelped in pain; before she could recover from the agony, he spread her legs and pushed his arousal to her dry, unyielding warmth. The sharp pain she experienced nearly pushed her to the brink of death.
“Oooh! A Virgin” he echoed. He started a harsh and punishing rhythm and poured himself into her with a satisfying grunt. He rolled away from her and smirked.
“You are such a good wench in bed Rekha!” he said.
“My name is Rishitha” she murmured with affliction
“Whatever” he murmured and slept.
The red dot on the white bedsheet was appreciated greatly by her grandmother. Her nights became a painful routine. When he flew to Canada, she wept with joy. Three months later came the shocking news that he was already happily married in Canada. Three years since all that happened. She had married again thinking she had moved on, but the subtle hint of the night that lay ahead had brought back all the memories with crushing force.
“Rishitha?” she heard Gautham’s uncertain voice.
“Can I come in?” he asked
“It’s your bedroom” she shrugged.
“Our bedroom” he replied as he came and sat near her on the bed.
“Anyways am just here to borrow my pillow,” he said pointing to a fluffy blue pillow. “I can’t sleep without it. Am a creature of habit.”
She understood the opening he gave and grabbed it “What other habits do you have?” she asked.
“I always brush my teeth before having coffee in the morning “he grinned as his stance relaxed.
“Interesting “she smirked
“And I always snore when I sleep,” he said. She feigned a look of horror; he laughed. The night progressed peacefully expect for that one room that glowed brightly with her laughter
She stood frowning at her reflection in the mirror shaking her head in disapproval. I took a deep, exasperated breath. The red sheath gown looked stunning on her. The collar just dipped off her shoulders revealing a wheat-gold complexion and ended as long sleeves that ended near her wrist. The full-length gown gently hugged her curves and glided down her legs. She was simply ravishing; so much in contrast to the demure suits and the stiff cotton sarees that she usually chose. Her hands went automatically went to the pastel pink lipstick tube. I shook my head negative. She sighed with resignation.
“Let me dress you up today” I rubbed my hands together getting down to business; I was stunned by my result.
A dash of red lipstick, a filigree earring of sterling silver, a chic messy chignon, and a sexy pair of brown eyes that sparkled with wisdom and intelligence; I have seen her walk down to a conference in a demure grey suit and win arguments with calm, sophisticated nonchalance. This woman looking back at me in the mirror was the stark opposite of everything I’ve seen and known. She was a siren in bold red, a piece of crackling fire, a drop from the fiery red glow of the sun.
“Liking what you’re seeing?” she asked me with a smirk
“Loving it!” I breathed back.
I gave her a pair of matching stilettos to wear which she held it gingerly as if it was an infected animal.
“These things don’t look comfortable!” She whined
“Wear it!” I ordered.
She pursed her lips like a petulant teenager and wore the shoes. I handed her a red clutch. She gave me a nervous smile and walked towards the door.
She turned back, grabbed the nearest chair, put her head in her hands and started crying. I rushed towards her.
“You know I don’t want this!” she murmured as I held her.
“I have you and Rishi” she whimpered “I have Raghav and his wife” she gasped. “I’ll buy a cat!” she whispered through her tears.
“shhh…” I cooed, “Relax now!” I murmured in her hair.
I gently lifted her face to me and wiped the tears that trickled down her lovely cheeks.
“You have lived for my brother and me for twenty years,” I said “We have families of our own and brats to take care for the next few years. It’s time to go out and make a life for yourself.”
“Besides” I continued, “You hate cats!”
She let out a guffaw and gave me a tight hug. She did a little touch-up and walked towards the door.
“Mom” I called. She turned back
“All the best!” I grinned.
The fifty-year-old woman smiled back and stepped out for what was her first date in twenty years.
Velachery is an astounding amalgamation of people, culture, mosquitoes and concrete. Ten years ago we prided ourselves with the extraordinary amounts of trees and deer that inhabited the Checkpost area, today we boast about the marble marvel called Phoenix market city, sipping a cuppa from the Starbucks. One such prominent chrome and glass structures that dominate the Velachery area is the “Saravana Stores ” building (formerly a nameless, forgotten data centre that housed some poor IT folks)
“Saravana Stores ” is your go-to place when you have: 1) a mid-month bra crisis 2) your mother’s shopaholic alibi rears her head up with a vengeance 3) a dreary day and desperately in need some entertainment 4) All the above. I chose option 4.
The shop is everything you imagine it to be. From the vendors who milk your money with flashy pink teddy bear balloons to the cheap tasting popcorns.
I walked past the Golden fake archway that threatens to fall any time on you, the unsmiling woman with a faded white silk saree, the humongous crowd, the malfunctioning ACs that work surprisingly well only near the doors fascinated by the sheer amount of people
I dragged my fascinated mum through the crowd and paved my way towards the elevator. After ten futile minutes waiting for the elevator, we huffed and puffed through the stairs to reach the fifth floor. Ah! Our lingerie destination! Now, finding a decent bra in the huge silver trays among fellow female folks is a skill and right up my mother’s alley. She launched herself into the search with frenzy and came out with an array of black, blue, fluorescent, pale pink and God-knows-what colour bras. I chose the black one and resolutely shook my head in negative to the rest. As she went back to rummaging the bra tubs, I turned towards the panties tub, and my world tilted.
I howled with laughter. I howled like a lunatic werewolf on a full moon day. I never knew that women could wear panties of such variety, whether it was to humour the men who get to see it or to arouse them I would never know. There were Mauves, opalines, Cerulean, Crimsons and Canaries. There were laces, patterns, zig-zags and lions. I caught the eyes of one of the sales girl, and she started giggling along with me, It passed on to the kind looking lady nearby her, the stern looking aunty adjacent to her and together we rummaged the whole tub for thirty long minutes- laughing, smirking and of course, buying. It was a mind-boggling community event.
What am I trying to say by all this? I don’t know. Just take your mum to Saravana Stores