Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The dusk of life

When the psychedelic colours of my glass bangles fade
When the mischievous twinkle in my eyes is lost
When the ebony of my hair no more cascades like a magical night
When the autumn leaves fall and the spring becomes my past

When my kohl lined eyes no more beckon with a whispered promise
When the swish of my silken skirt no more raises a desire
When my fragrance is no more of the earth awash with rain
When the darkness no more glows with embers of passionate fires

When my mind is wise and my being subdued
When the sun glows red and the shadows are cast
When the flitting fire flies glow and the lantern is lit
Will you still come home at dusk with wild flowers I ask

Monday, June 01, 2009

the house on the corner of the street

There is a frog floating in the puddle. But it is not skimming the water with its face turned towards the lukewarm sun, eyes blissfully closed. Its face is in the muddy, murky water, the legs splayed out, the little body bouncing softly. On the whole it looks pretty much dead, a goner. A frog without a hop, croak or kick. Do frogs die like this? Face down? I always thought they die and then swing over, floating leisurely with their white bellies basking in the sun. Like the softly expanding rich men floating in their Olympic sized swimming pools. And those are just the lucky ones. Most are just a weird stain on the road you pass by or rather side step. I pass the puddle with one last glance at the frog rebelling in its death and walk on in the drizzle. The gooey squelch of the mud, the dirty puddles, the brooding sky, the gossiping trees and the howling angry wind seem like an exaggeration as the sky spits in the world’s sordid face. It's like nature is adding the drama to make God's poorly written play, look good. I'm slightly annoyed with this indulgence on nature's part. Why is everyone always covering up each other's tracks and saving each other's ass? Nobody ever seems to stand up and shoulder the weight of the booing. Some one is always there in the wings to draw the curtains close. Quick, before the crowd gets mad enough to throw their foot ware and the person responsible lands up with rubber or leather in his mouth. I walk on. I'm walking towards that solemn house at the corner of the street. There is a death there too. But it’s not rebellious. It’s just a mundane death of illness and raspy breaths, of hallucinations and time warps. As death approaches the past, the present and the future come crowding in and spiral towards the climax when suddenly everything seems clear in that single moment of hot molten truth. Look at me. Talking like I have come back from the dead and know all about the land of the spirits. I laugh out loud which seems strange, even to me, under the circumstances. So to sum it up, it’s a normal death and the one dying has no plans of turning it into a rebellion of the misdirected belly.
I reach the soaring gates of the house. It's a house to be marvelled and photographed. To be treasured as a memory of something melancholy and beautiful that you took the time to stop and look at. But it's probably not a house you would want to live in. The gates stand wounded, with open red sores of rust eating away their strength. The sweeping driveway is bordered by tall Ashoka tress. Their shade might be a respite in the summer but right now the mulch of their leaves merely sticks to the soles of your shoes and makes the road even more slippery. I slip and slide my way towards the house. The mulch a constant reminder of my own sodden thoughts. I reach the door and press the little switch. I can't hear a bell. May be another branch fell on one of those wires, cutting off the power supply. So i hold the green-tinted, sea-sick brass knocker and knock on the door. Even the wood sounds hollow. Like the air. Like the wind. The thunder. And the storm.

The door opens slowly. It is our ancient driver. With cataracts in both eyes and reflexes that have moved beyond being merely slow, he doesn't really drive anything, anymore. However, the house would seem kind of incomplete without him so he hangs around. Collecting flowers for the morning pooja, making insipid tea in the cold mornings and lighting faintly glowing bulbs or flickering candles in the forlorn evenings according to the whims of the God of electricity. He beckons to me and reprimands- "Its about time you came back. Taking a walk at such a time! Madame's life seems to be fading with the daylight. You should be next to her. By her bed, holding her hand. Not out walking in the rain like a school girl. Come now. Quickly." I follow his slow shuffling, head nodding, mumbling grumbling footsteps up the flight of stairs. I run my fingers over the wooden balustrade and then rap my knuckles softly. It sounds hollow too. Like the 54 years, 6 months and 2 days of my life.
It has been a hollow life. Not sad, just hollow and unremarkable. A good childhood with average achievements. An adolescence of predictable mood swings. One stable relationship that ended in marriage. Two glowing children and a satisfactory life at home. There was an equally unremarkable job in the Human Resources department of an MNC for a while but as the story goes, the kids needed my undivided attention. They are grown up now and life is pretty much the same. No skeletons in the closet. I mirrored my parents and now the kids seem to have been born with the same hand-me-down gene of satisfaction. No rebels with their faces stuck in muddy water here. No sir. Not at all.
I walk into my mother's room and sit by her bed. She has lost all comprehension. She recognizes no one. Her eyes stare at the ceiling and her lips whisper softly to the past. The end seems near and yet I feel no sadness. It seems so natural. There is only peace and quite. And more than anything else she herself seems ready. I gently take her hand and look at her, unaware that this would be the single most remarkable moment in my otherwise plain life. She looks back. Her eyes seem to clear. She moves her hand over my face. Gently clearing the cobwebs of memories that have engulfed her mind. Brushing away the mist of time. Her eyes seem to recognize me as her daughter and she summons the energy to smile. I smile back. Her lips move and I lean closer. "Will you take me to him? I don't belong here. I must be next to him." I didn't understand the meaning f her words but I understood her need for an answer. And that is the understanding she saw in my eyes as I smiled and nodded while she lay back and slept her last sleep.
I was sitting outside on the old stone steps jabbing at my phone's keypad when I heard the familiar shuffling footsteps and turned to see him standing in the doorway. His frail body crushed by the weight of his sorrow. He held out a piece of paper. I took the fragile sheet and sat down. It was a letter in my mother's long, sloping hand. The handwriting was unmistakable and yet the pen had shaken with age and failing strength.
She wrote- I see the end now. It draws closer. But it seems like the right time to go. So I feel not scared, not afraid but at peace. But I must now say what I have muffled in silence. Though this is the house of my ancestors it is not my home. My grave shall not stand amidst the marble tombstones. Bury me in the plot I have put under my name. For that's where I belong.
I looked at the address written in tight block letters below the note and neatly folded the letter.
The burial was over. It was a graveyard for people who live in homes, not memory houses. Only a few yellowing marble tombstones stood there. The rest just stood humble and grey. I lay down the flowers. Her favourite, white lilies. Her words still rang in my ears as I gently brushed away the mud off his tombstone and lay a bouquet of flowers on his grave too.
It was a day for compliant lives ending in rebellious deaths.

Friday, May 15, 2009

bitter coffee

She sat sipping coffee and flipping through the pages of an old newspaper, heavy with the weight of depressing news and the wetness of the moisture laden Bombay air. It was one of those privileged tables set near the window, in a private corner. The world was open to you but yet you could crouch back and put off the momentous decision of facing it. She had chosen to face the window looking towards the sea from the upper floor of the quaint little cafe. It also gave her a chance to turn her back towards the world. The sea wasn't calm. It was swelling, grey and dark, like sorrow in a turgid heart. Like thoughts in an agitated mind. Or forbidden desires in a soul going to waste. Her heart, her mind and once, her soul too. The sky was overcast with black clouds ready to burst. The faint flicker of distant lightning lit up the sky every once in a while. The dust seemed to have settled down on the road below and the world seemed to be moving at an uneasy, sluggish pace. It seemed as if the anticipation of rain had drugged the entire world into a lazy, hazy stupor. Unconsciously heartbeats had slowed down, feet were being dragged, eyelids had become heavy and ears awaited the sudden rumble of thunder. Rain. Like an awaited lover, like a comforting blanket at the end of a hard day, like Christmas, like happiness.

As she set her coffee cup down, the delicate clink of china was greeted by the boisterous uproar of the thundering skies. Like a single note played on stage can cause the crowd to erupt in tumultuous waves. She smiled as fat, hot drops of rain rushed down to meet the yearning, arching earth. Sins were being washed away, life was being nurtured and childhood seemed to burst forth from every heart. Even she started feeling lighter, like the weight of a lonely evening was being lifted from her shoulders. As if the raindrops were tears shed freely.

The rain grew fiercer and soon her table was drenched. She stood up and turned to move to another table. And in that one moment her mind seemed to go in to a state of complete turmoil. Had time gone back a few paces? Or had it stopped completely? Why on this particular afternoon was this man sitting in this off-beat cafe in Bombay and looking at her across the room? Shouldn't he be in another city, another country, another world, another time? Hadn't that been another life?

He smiled. It was a polite, gentle smile tinged with a sadness that would never go away in entirety. A sadness that probably she could be held responsible for. She forced herself to smile back. She forced herself to keep standing on her own two feet. She forced herself to be in the same room and in the same world as him. He pulled out a chair. She took reluctant steps towards the table and sat down.

"So how have you been?", he asked. "You used to always complain that I never asked." Lonely, overworked, not the way i thought I'd be. "Fine" She replied. He smiled his sad smile and it hurt more than any amount of anger he could have poured forth. Maybe he knew it had that power. He called the waiter and ordered a chocolate-something-coffee. She noticed his hand as he ran his finger down the menu. "Would you like something?" he asked. She unseeingly pointed at something in the menu, her eyes still fixed on his hand, and the waiter nodded. "You are married." She  said. Not a question. Just something she needed to say out loud to understand the significance of the words. "Yes. I got married a few years back. I had sent a card to your address in Bombay. I didn't really expect you to come but it was surprising that you didn't even reply. Didn't you get the card?" "Actually, no" I replied. Words straining past her slowly closing throat. "I changed my house. And most of my friends." She laughed awkwardly. "I never thought you'd write to me. Wow. So this news for me. I'm happy for you."

They sat like that. Sad and stunned. Looking back at the past through separate windows. Their long years together. Her foolish mistake, his incredible tolerance. Her wrong decision, his unbearable sorrow. Her arrogant defiance, his gentle compliance. Their parting. Her end and his too.

The waiter reappeared and set their cups on the table. He gulped down his coffee. She could never really gulp down hot drinks but she decided to give it a try. She wanted to make a quick escape. One small sip of it made it clear that it was the most bitter thing she had ever tasted. She set her cup down and made a face. He laughed "I knew you hadn't even seen what your were ordering. Now look, its too bitter." "Yeah",  she agreed "It was a mistake to order it. " 

He called the waiter and asked for the cheque. She reached for her bag but he said "Let me." He paid, gave me one last smile, shook her hand and left. She sat there with her coffee and smiled a bitter smile. It had always been like this. He had always paid for her mistakes.