Friday, December 30, 2005
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
What is it that ties us? Why does this bond look like a bondage but the liberation look like a shackle? Why is it impossible to go and disturbing to stay?
These paradoxes of life - we stay when it is time to go away and go away when it is time to stay! Tears and laughter intermingle like a string of pearls. These moments, so precious, so demanding, so impossible, yet so true. This life, so long, yet so not enough, so painful yet so enticing.
This eternal dance.. so exciting, so exhausting, so much yours, yet it is so much mine.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Just a piece
That you can call
I smile and joke
And look away
As if to ignore
The plea in your eyes
You get angry
You snub me, shun me
Curse me, Leave me
And I stay behind
Counting our footprints
In the sand
How could I
Ever tell you
That what you ask of me
Is not mine
I have nothing left
Just an empty husk
And now with you
Even that husk
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Suddenly, I become aware of the silence around me and a nameless yearning fills my heart. I remember the song by Lonestar that had filled my car only moments ago:
I'm already there
Take a look around
I'm the sunshine in your hair
I'm the shadow on the ground
I'm the whisper in the wind
And I'll be there until the end
Now, there is nothing and I am alone. All I can hear is a haunting, incessant sound of crickets who hide somewhere in the garden.
It is a full moon night and the mountains across my house glow softly. The old Magnolia tree in the front yard stands serenely, bathing in the moonlight. The house looks like a wise elder, standing stoically, watching life go on. The flowers in the frontyard have created around themselves in a medley of heady fragrance. As I walk through the walkway, the fragrance engulfs me and the flowers make me their own.
Suddenly, the motion sensor light turns on and startles me. I remember, that I have to take the home key out of my purse to get inside. This is a difficult task as I have to balance all the things in my hand, free a couple of fingers to put in my purse, find and pull out the key and open the door. I don't like to keep things on the floor, hence the exercise. Finally, after much effort, I succeed and open the door.
The house is cold and dark but the moonlight streams in resolutely from one of the living room windows. I close the door behind me, put my things on the carpet and just stand there and try to merge in the darkness. Again, the nameless yearning pierces my heart.
Darkness, like death, is forgiving. It accepts, without question, whatever is offered to it. There are no frayed corners, no jagged edges, just a serene uniformity which exists beyond all doubts and analyses. However, I realize, I am not ready for darkness yet, just as I am not ready for death and I turn on the lights and embrace life.
I get in to take a shower but finish it quickly as I feel a pang of hunger in the pit of my stomach. Suddenly, I remember, I have to cook! I open the doors of the fridge reluctantly and I am stumped. I am so tired and hungry that I neither have the time nor energy to cook up an elaborate meal. I ignore the fruits, the vegetables and the meat and pick up a frozen entree and pop it in the microwave.
The board on the fridge screams back at me: 'Tuesday: Chicken curry, Chapatti, Rice, Raita' It is my own handwriting that says it. In the beginning of this week I had made a menu plan and wrote it on the board. The plan was to cook nutritionally balanced meals every day. But it is only second day of the week and I have already deviated. However, I am too tired to notice this and I pick up the now-cooked-then-frozen meal from the microwave, go to the living room, turn on the TV and get engrossed in the 'Sex and the City'.
Hubby arrives, and we share a few pleasantries. He, too, is tired and preoccupied. For him, I pop in the microwave another one of those frozen meals. Its ready by the time he takes a shower. He comes out, takes the food without question and plops besides me on the sofa.
The moment 'Sex and the City' is over, he changes channels. I stay for a few minutes, and get up, bored with the mindless action movie he is watching. He does not notice that I have left as, by this time, he is in his own world with the TV.
Again, the nameless yearning grips my heart. I turn on the computer and a sad, longing poem begins to well up in my heart. I close my eyes and savor it, then slowly, laboriously, type it down, tasting it along the way.
In a while, I shut down the machine and prepare to go to sleep. As I lay in the bed, hubby comes in and says,
"I love you, dear! I am so sorry I ignored you."
"It's okay, I am just so tired." I mumble, sleepily.
"Oh, my poor darling! You sleep, I will come in just a few minutes." He says, tucks me in bed, and runs his fingers through my hair, lovingly.
He goes out to say his bedtime prayer, check the doors and turn off the lights. By the time he is back, I would be asleep. As sleep slowly takes me over, I realize that the nameless longing is gone and in my mind there is a warm feeling of belonging.
His being here and his loving touch had made me feel like I was finally home.
Monday, December 12, 2005
To be said
On icecream of
A dream tossed
And munched like
How small is
The time just
To say that
How few are
How many are
To know what
Friday, December 9, 2005
As a beggar
I came to you
As a fighter
I came to you
As a looser
I came to you
As a lover
I came to you
As a Master
In your arms
Now I come
As I have
And you have
Become the Master
Wednesday, December 7, 2005
"I don't know who you are..but I guess now you know," said I.
"It doesn't matter who I am, know thyself!"
That’s it. Then, it was sealed. Thirty years of development as an individual. The learning, the experiences, the vices, the virtues, the formation and deformation of spirit that has been happening ,perhaps, for numerous births, was suddenly categorized, packed neatly in an adjective "sadistic" and dispatched.
Now, I have pigeonhole of my own in this world! Sadistic, I am called. Some people are sensitive, some are funny, some are fearsome, but me? I am sadistic! Suddenly, my vices are magnified, my virtues, carefully wrapped and I am presented as a member of this category to which none other than Marques De Sade belonged!
You might ask me, what does it matter, what a stranger calls you? I would say, it doesn't! I am what I am, regardless of what anyone calls me. I do not need to explain myself or apologize for who I am, to anyone. But isn't it intriguing how fast we are ready to draw conclusions about people, based only on one facet that we see and which appeals, perhaps, only to us?
Is that how we think about individuals around us? Do we always think in terms of categories that they belong to, just so that we can device a strategy to behave with them? Rap the sadists, love the sensitive, don't take the funny seriously, bow before the fearsome - are these rules of life? Are these the rules of engagement? Is this a defense mechanism or is this a fundamental human flaw?
As individuals, we are all gray. Everyone has different qualities and different flaws. In fact, through our life, we go through so many phases - we make mistakes, we behave irrationally, we learn, we unlearn, we metamorphose into purer, and more complete human beings. By packaging people in adjectives, are we not stunting their growth, just as we are stunting our own? Why do we choose to harbor such myopic views about people, so quickly? Why don't we give them a benefit of doubt?
Point to ponder, Stranger?
Saturday, December 3, 2005
The wetlands beckon the hawk with a silent cry from the wild and she glides above them gracefully, effortlessly, alert, watching. The sky above her is bright, blue, beautiful and big. Below her stretches the silence - vast, resolute, infinite. Patches of water, interspersed with the patches of grass lay basking in the sun, soaking in the gentle warmth. The wind ripples the water creating a sparkling carpet of silver. It then takes the message to the grass, tickling it on the way.
A group of geese waddle on the grass and jump into the water, their timid little youngsters in tow. There are some ducks in the water already, and also a swan or two, living, loving, floating, eating. They all make way for the geese and the lake suddenly turns into a symphony.
A pair of squirrels chase each other in a jolly game of hide and seek as they take their food deep into the grass to bury. A Coyote watches them intently and then reconsiders her concentration as she has already had her meal. She then forgets about them and stretches in the sun, gently closes her eyes to snooze away in the warmth.
The hawk glides on. Her ears now begin to catch a distant, but incessant buzz. Far away she can see a wired mesh, stretched for miles, on the edge of the wetlands. Beyond that, is the world of the Man.
Wreathed in a miasma of smoke and dust, a freeway runs by the mesh, incessantly pouring in cars, more cars, bigger cars and noise, more noise, louder noise. The cars compete with each other ferociously, unforgivingly as they try to get ahead faster. The ground shakes with the force of eternal hunger and the ruthless chase of man.
The wired mesh is the only thing that separates the world of God from the world of Man, but that too is as fragile as the will of the Man. The hawk watches the two worlds, still trusting and loving, the world of the God.
Suddenly, an ugly, angry noise tears through the silence of the wetlands and the noise of the men. An enormous truck on the freeway has lost control and it comes hurtling towards the wired mesh. The sound of screeching tires and the stench of burning rubber fills up the atmosphere as the cars on the freeway scatter to avoid the juggernaut. The truck hurtles towards the mesh and creates a snag in it. It then enters the wetlands.
Two pairs of tire marks create a black, ugly gash in the grass. Splinters of glass and plastic lay strewn over the land and in the water. The mesh lies twisted, like a breach of trust.
The Coyote gets up, startled, and runs for her life. The squirrels, terrified, drop their food and hide deep into the grass, trembling. The geese round up their young ones and waddle away, cackling. The ducks and the swans fly away, in disgust.
The hawk, waits, watches and turns away, hungry and alone.
Sunday, November 27, 2005
Saturday, November 26, 2005
Monday, November 21, 2005
Sunday, November 20, 2005
When things are supposed to be ripe?
How did this glimmer of sunshine
Escape the tranquil night?
This is not the way of the world
For night is supposed to be night
And you don’t bloom with flowers
When fruits are going to be ripe
How easily does the mind
Just shun the rules of this world
A twinkle in the eyes
Escapes the guarding mould!
one of my own, had published it somewhere else, but
revisiting it now - funny, that I felt like revisiting it!
Friday, November 18, 2005
Romancing the Monsoon
It was raining yesterday - the usual North Californian rain - calculated and cold. There is no such thing as enjoying the rains here. We walk out of our little boxes at work and hurry to another box, the car, and then to the last box, our apartment, hating the rains along the way. Rains and cold has now become such a fixed pair in my mind! Sometimes I feel so sad that I have lost the association with the Monsoons.
Not too long back (or was it?) I would have been on a two wheeler with my dearest friend, Mukta, heading for Sinhagad – an ancient fort near my city - right in the hardest of the Monsoon rains. We would have gone up there amidst the fog and mist and peered down to see, if anything, of the valley below. It would not have mattered that we could see nothing at all. The fog itself would have offered infinite possibilities. The sheer uniformity of it would set us free take any direction we liked. It would make way as we moved ahead; creating a cozy, private enclosure, hiding all that was unpleasant. What a walk in the clouds it would have been!
The fog, though, is treacherous thing, they say. It beckons you to test yourselves beyond the limits of sanity. So much so, that I have heard tale of a young man who, mesmerized by the fog, jumped straight to his death in the valley below. Once you surrounded by the fog, this story does not seem as insane. Anything seems possible there. You are so incredibly close to yourself that the boundaries between the mind and matter, the inside and out get blurred, to the extent that you don't know what is truth and what is imagination. Life seems to have no beginning or end, just ‘middle’, stretched to infinity on both sides; so much like the fog.
I happened to be in Konkan- a region in the coastal
In the hiatus, the Earth bursts with life. Thousands of species of plants begin their journey at this time with an infinite promise of life. It is green everywhere, but the greenery is not ephemeral. It does not consist of grass that grows in the Monsoons and dies with it. The plants are as passionate for life as their mother. They reach into the depths of her for nutrition and soon learn to thrive on their own. Nothing is left untouched by this magic; no patch of soil, no corner of a home, no stack of hay. It is like the Earth is making a statement against all that is sullied and impure, displaying, in full force, its capacity to create life.
I have always found the fragrance of wet soil maddening. Every time I fill my lungs with the delicious breath, my heart begins to beat a tad faster and my mind is filled with a curious anticipation. A nameless passion, a sense of unbounded creativity and infinite hope, suffuse my being and my life becomes a beautiful symphony. Everything seems possible at this time and every dream seems more vibrant than ever. Is that how the Earth feels when it soaks in the first drops of rain?
The Monsoons are the harbingers of a new beginning. They teach you to leave behind all that needs to be left behind, and to move ahead with a pure heart and indefatigable spirit. They beckon you to renew yourselves, to rejuvenate your dreams and to redefine the boundaries of your existence. When it rains in torrents, there is no time for regret, no place for sorrow. Everything is washed away with the sheer force of life and a new way is paved for the future. The Monsoons remind you of the wheel of existence which turns and moves on, not paying heed to any obstacles that might cross its path.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
I just like to be
If you still think its a problem
Go back into the world
Fill yourself with pain
And steep yourself in pleasure
Until enough is enough
At last you begin to seek
Then come back to me
To learn how just to be
Come a little closer
And I will set you free
Monday, November 14, 2005
I replied, "If I feel likewise, I will become silent, if I don't, I will lash out at you for thinking about love. Meanwhile, let me flirt without fear!"
You shrugged your shoulders, "Women!" You complained, "Bah!" You sighed. And, I laughed at your befuddlement, at my heart's content.
But you did not understand the mystery of my laughter, and also of my statement. I would not explain too much about the thrashing part. The society has given me a right to do that to anyone who makes an unwanted overture. But silence? Yes, that deserves an explanation!
What would my silence mean, if and when that happens? Is it a defense mechanism? Is it a way of acting coy, to increase the mystery surrounding me, just so that you pursue me? Or, is it something far beyond the realms of words and also, perhaps, beyond the realms of expression?
It probably is, all of the above. It is my way of going into a cocoon - a way of hiding myself into the warm, cozy nook of that wonderful feeling of being in love and being loved back - away from the ravages of the right and the wrong, the duties and the responsibilities, the fears and the prejudices, the what ifs and the how comes; and more importantly, away from the big question - What Next?
This silence would let me shut down the noises of the world and listen to my inner voice crying out your name. It will let me feel that bittersweet longing for you seeping into me, nourishing me, suffusing and enriching my being. It will let me close my eyes and feel your presence within me, around me, beyond me. It will let me see that I am not me, and you are not you anymore, neither am I yours. But, I am you and you are me; we are indivisible, in this world and beyond.
This silence would let me be free!
Do you see now, why the laws of fidelity don't bother me? It is only where love rests on the altar of my life, that lets me maintain my integrity. It is impossible for just anyone to climb those heights. For you, or for anyone to climb there, I will have to be incredibly lucky and so will you.
So, till then, my dear, lets laugh and cry, share and tease, dream and believe, together, in shared spaces, until it lasts, for with or without the silence, I will have to go away from you, one day.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
Monday, November 7, 2005
Good thing that she died; had to die anyway. She had lived a little too long in this world of adults. Fatuous, caring, dreaming, positive, she had looked at this world with wide trusting eyes, full of wonder. Those eyes had to be closed, as soon as possible, else they would have reflected the truth of this world and the truth, no one likes.
She was stupid for she had believed that the world belongs to the God and good begets good. She had actually believed that brothers are brothers and friends are friends, and that someone you have helped does not hurt you.
She had never calculated; had never weighed the good and the evil, the God and Devil on different scales, in different circumstances, according to what is convenient at the time. Funny, she used to think that doing things for a good of many was an advantage, far beyond her own. How inane! How selfish she had been!
Anyway, good riddance. We don't want this pollution amongst us anyway! Right? Ours is a world where we calculate and trade, fear and suspect, use and forget.
Ours is a world we bury such girls, alive, if possible, as deep as possible, so that even their trace does not tarnish our lives and so that, no one like them ever gets born again.
Join me in raising the funeral toast, in the honor of the world of adults!
Wednesday, November 2, 2005
Ambu fidgeted a little and tried to move her legs which were numb from squatting. Her back ached and her spine made the crackling noise as she tried to straighten slightly from her precarious position. It is almost done, she thought, looking with some satisfaction at the neat line of shining vessels of all shapes and sizes that sat drying on the white muslin cloth. She eyed the few remaining pots and pans and sighed. Taking in a deep breath, she attacked them ferociously, making loud clanking noises.
"Ambuuuu!" her sister called out from inside the house. "Stop that noise right now!" she hollered. "Don't you know the clangor of pots and pans brings bad luck?"
Ambu flushed and started washing the vessels slowly and put them back on the muslin cloth as gently as she could. Once the chore was done, she got up with some difficulty and went to the well to draw some water to wash her hands and feet.
Once more, she lustily eyed the well. Once more, the long suppressed thought scratched her placid mind - what if she just let herself slip....
Ambu shuddered involuntarily. She shrugged her shoulders as if to ward off that thought and slowly drew out the bucket that hung down with a rope.
The cool water felt good on her cracked feet. They were burning by staying too long in dirt. She washed her hands and splashed some more water on her face. She threw the remaining water at the base of the banana plant and smiled, noticing that the plant had begun to bear fruit. Little bunches of bananas clung to the plant, snugly hidden under the lustrous fronds. The Jasmine had blossomed too and Ambu watched a few bees humming lazily around the plant, intoxicated by its perfume.
"Ambuuuuu, what are you doing outside? Hurry up; there is so much to do. It is almost time for the guests to arrive." her sister called out again and Ambu hustled in through the short backyard door to enter the gloomily lit kitchen. There was no electricity in their town yet and whatever light came into the kitchen came from little glass windows on the roof. Ambu's day in the kitchen would begin at daybreak when the first rays of sunlight would stream in from the back door as lustrous beams on the wall and she would be engaged in chores until, at sundown, the kitchen fire would be put out after the oil lamps were lit around the house.
The kitchen had been Ambu's abode for almost fifteen years since she arrived at her sister's place. She had rarely gone out of the house, except for going to the temple occasionally. Then too, she was required to have someone accompanying her and had to be dressed in the most sedate of clothes. Her whole world comprised of the back yard where she had planted numerous varieties of plants and this gloomy kitchen.
Ambu was the last amongst her parent's nine daughters and three sons. Her parents were worried if they could ever find a groom for their dark and simple minded daughter. In the house of Bramhins from Konkan, being dark and dull was like a mortal sin. Beauty was defined by the color of the skin and the community took pride in the intelligence of its members. Ambu’s fair, light eyed sisters had found a match in a jiffy, but she had turned sixteen and was already growing past the marriageable age. Unlike her sisters, Ambu was neither beautiful nor did she possess any home making skill. Knitting, sewing, cooking, embroidery, she could do none of these up to the mark. Her parents thought that she was scatterbrained and clumsy. Constantly preoccupied with thoughts, Ambu was an incorrigible dreamer.
Ambu’s parents feared that she would turn into an old maid unless she was married off soon. Finally, after much scouting, they found her a match. Ambu was married off hurriedly to a middle aged widower who lived in a nearby village. During her brief married life, Ambu never really found out what love really was. She was always quite terrified of her husband and before she knew, he died of pneumonia. Ambu's dreams for a blissful life ended with him. She was only eighteen then.
There was no place for Ambu in her husband’s house after he died. Her parents were too old and her brothers were too far away to take her in. That was when Ambu’s oldest sister and brother in law offered to take her to their house. Ambu’s brother in law was a lawyer and made enough money to maintain a well to do household.
Her sister was a kind woman. Being more then fifteen years older, she loved Ambu with motherly affection. Still, she was obliged by the rules of the society and had to put all kinds of restrictions on Ambu. Widows were still treated unfairly in those days and Ambu was no exception. In a few years, her brother in law, who had once been a successful lawyer, had been bedridden due to a stroke. The stroke had crippled his mind more than his body and, with time, he had become more and more cranky and irritable. His bed had been set up in the front room and he kept a strict eye on people coming and going into the house. He would watch Ambu and would taunt her if she wore a new sari or tied her hair differently from the usual bun. As her children grew up and one by one moved out of the house to seek better jobs or education, Ambu’s sister became busy serving her whimsical husband and Ambu was relegated to taking care of the kitchen.
“Ambuuu, what’s wrong with you today? They will be coming any time and you have not even put the rice on the stove yet! Hurry up, now.” Her sister was annoyed but too busy to say anything more to Ambu. She threw a reproving glance at Ambu and hurried away to watch the servants. Ambu snapped out of her reverie and began washing the rice to prepare for cooking.
By the time the first of the guests began to arrive, on foot or in horse drawn carts, Ambu was finished with her cooking and came out to welcome them. While her sister fussed over her sons and daughters and welcomed the other guests with a broad grin and merry chit chat, Ambu was busy making sure there was enough water for them to wash their feet before coming in. She followed the servants who carried the guests’ luggage and made sure it was put in proper place. The guests would keep arriving for a couple of days more until the ceremony and it was Ambu’s responsibility to make sure that they were comfortable.
The little baby and his parents had already arrived and Ambu went to double check that they were properly ensconced in their room. As she hurried back to her post at the doorway, rather distractedly, she looked up and stopped in her tracks. He was sitting in the front room besides her brother in law’s bed, engaged in an intense conversation. He was wearing a cream colored silk kurta that enhanced his broad shoulders and a white cotton dhoti. There was just enough grey in his hair was giving him a mature, distinguished look. His tall body was slumped over and his dark, brooding eyes were intently focused. A dot of sandalwood paste on his forehead brought out his straight, sharp nose. His swarthy face was glistening with perspiration from walking in the hot summer day and his strong chin was covered in day old stubble.
Suddenly, Ambu felt as if her cheeks were turning hot. A nameless yearning filled her heart and her pulse quickened. As she stood entranced, watching him, she felt an intense urge to go out to the front room. But, then she became aware of her own shabby self and was mortified. She checked herself and turned back to go to the kitchen.
He was Ambu’s brother in law’s youngest brother. There had been a buzz in the house for the past few days that he was coming for the ceremony. This was indeed special because no one in the family had seen him for past three years. He had dedicated himself for the freedom struggle and would disappear on missions for long periods of time. The whole family was in awe of him as he was said to have traveled all over the country and taken part in many important protests against the British.
Ambu had seen the British only once in her lifetime. Her little town was not important enough for the British to have a white officer in charge, but an officer from the city had come with his battalion to Ambu’s town to inaugurate a missionary school. Like the rest of the town, Ambu had stood outside her sister’s house to watch in awe and great fascination, the group of white men with blue eyes, in their dapper red and white uniforms, trot away on horsebacks to the school. However, she was able to only catch a glimpse as she was promptly sent inside by her brother in law, who was also equally awestruck on his part.
When Ambu heard that he had been involved in a battle against the British she was quite fascinated. She had sensed that he commanded a great respect in the family and watched the entire household drawn towards him. But she felt shy and avoided being in the same room with him. Although she tried to keep herself busy in chores, her heart was far away from herself. She found herself thinking about him all the time and was secretly hoping that she would get to see him at the next corner.
In a while her silent prayers were answered for she did come face to face with him, albeit in an awkward situation. In the afternoon after lunch, Ambu was done cleaning up the kitchen and was fetching some fresh sheets to the baby’s room. Ambu was walking hurriedly as she had to get back to the backyard to fetch more water from the well for the evening. She was checking her stack of sheets as she went and that was when she bumped against him in a dimly lit corridor. Stupefied, she looked up to see him peering down at her with a smile on his face and a deep dimple on his cheek. Ambu stood frozen as the sheets fell down from her hands. For a few moments he looked once at her and once at the fallen sheets. Then he quietly gathered the sheets from the floor, put them in Ambu’s hands and walked away. Ambu did not know for how long she was standing there after that, but when she came to her senses, she felt as if she had been woken from a dream. For the rest of the day, Ambu was feeling lightheaded.
At night, the whole household gathered around him and he told the stories of the freedom struggle. Ambu sat as far away from him as possible, hidden behind the group of women. He spoke in a deep, lyrical voice about his missions and adventures, of the great leaders of the fight for freedom, of social reforms and education. He also talked a great deal about widow remarriage and women empowerment. Everyone was listening to him in rapt attention, entranced by his style of speaking and command on the subject. Ambu took this opportunity to watch him at her hearts content and drink in every word of what he said.
That night, Ambu lay on her bed, half awake, half asleep. The ceremony was on the next day and she was going to be busy in the kitchen. Would she be able to see him? She wondered, rather embarrassed with her eagerness.
The next day the household was in frenzy. The ceremony had begun early in the morning on the auspicious day as prescribed by the pundits. Everyone was dressed in their festive clothes and women were decked up in finest jewelry. Ambu was wearing her best possible sari and she had taken just a little extra care of her appearance. She wanted to look good today, but she was not allowed to wear any color or flowers. Jewelry was out of question. Still, she had tried to do what she could by changing her hairstyle a little and lining her large black eyes, her only good feature, just slightly with kohl which, she kept hidden in her trunk.
All through the day Ambu was whirling all around the house, overseeing everything from cooking to decoration to guests’ baths. She saw him fleetingly a couple of times. He was always surrounded by group of men and they were talking animatedly. Ambu did not have time to take a long look at him, but his thought never left her mind. He was constantly in the backdrop of her mind, no matter what she was thinking or doing on the foreground.
Some time in the afternoon, the ceremony was over and it was time for the special feast. As was the custom, the men and the children sat down on the floor in rows and the women lined up to serve them food. The women would be having lunch in the next batch. He was seated on the floor besides Ambu’s brother in law who was propped up on a chair with his plate on a little table in front of him. The first round of food was served by the married women to bring good luck to everyone. Ambu was given the task of watching people’s plates to see what was finished and to bring that item out again and ask if they wanted more of it.
Ambu’s heart was pounding as she was watched anxiously at his plate to see if she can bring something for him. That was when her brother in law shouted, “Will someone bring me daaal?” and Ambu was startled. She took the hot vessel containing daal and went gingerly to where her brother in law was sitting.
As she started to serve daal in her brother in law’s bowl, he looked up at her and frowned.
“Are you wearing kajal (kohl)?” he asked, frowning.
Ambu hung her head, and said nothing. “Is there any honor in this house?” He screamed.
“What are the women in this house doing? How could you let her walk shamelessly decked up like this?” He demanded to his wife. Ambu’s sister stood terrified looking at her husband but did not say anything.
Ambu’s eyes were brimming with tears. She could feel the seething gaze of everyone present searing her. Not in front of him, not in front of him, a little voice screamed in her head as she stood frozen fighting back tears, clutching the vessel in her hand.
“Ambu maushi are you trying to be a heroine or what?” one of her nephews taunted, sneering and the whole room broke into a snigger.
Ambu could not take this anymore. She had faced this before - the taunts, the unkindness, the mockery, the disgust. The way her brother in law was treating her was not was not new to her. She had always accepted everything without a question. She faced derision with a sheepish, self deprecating grin on her face. But now He was here. Not in front of him, not in front of him, the little voice screamed again. She whirled around, kept the vessel and went inside half walking, half running. She could hear the room still tittering behind her as she went. Either they had completely forgotten about her or were still enjoying their jokes about her but he was with them. Ambu felt a gnawing pit in her stomach as she walked to the backyard - the only place where she could feel safe.
She did not know how long she was sitting under the Mango tree to the far end of the back yard, clutching her knees and looking far away into space. She did not have many tears left. They were spent long ago. So, her eyes were dry and empty. She was feeling as if she was floating in the air and was slowly being sucked into a vacuum. Worst, she did not want to struggle. She just wanted to let go and sink into the abyss.
A rustle of leaves behind her startled her and she turned around and saw him standing there, looking at her. There was concern on his face, but he did not say anything and she did not respond and just stared vacantly at him. He came closer and sat down besides Ambu.
For a while none of them spoke. They just sat side by side looking far away.
“I am sorry” He said suddenly, breaking the silence. Ambu did not respond.
“I am really sorry about what happened inside. It was not right, not right.” He said, facing Ambu. She hunched down and buried her face in her knees.
“Look what they have done to you!” He said and came a little closer and gently touched her shoulder. Ambu shuddered as if a shock went through her body but still did not look up.
“I wish I could do something for you. I wish I could…I wish we could….But I can’t. My life is not mine you see, not mine….at least not this one. For this life I am bound to my Motherland. But if and when there will be another birth, if some where some time we could meet each other free from all these shackles, I hope God gives us a chance to come together. Till then, remember, whatever they say or do to you, don’t be hurt. Because, some where, someone is thinking about you...”
For a moment, he tightened his grip on Ambu’s shoulder. She was still hunched down but was now sobbing softly. He looked at her for a while, slowly released his hand and got up. As he walked away from her towards the house, Ambu finally looked up. She saw his tall, erect silhouette going far away from her and felt the eternal longing grip her, once again. Only now, Ambu had found her tears back. She let them flow freely until her vision was hazy again.
The next day, he was leaving. The whole household had gathered to see their beloved uncle off. Once again, Ambu was standing behind the group of women. As the servants brought out his luggage, he bid farewell to the young by giving them money for toys and sweets and old by touching their feet. After he touched his brother’s feet he came towards the women to touch his sister in law’s feet as well. Once he took her blessings, he stood straight and for a moment and looked openly, unabashedly at Ambu. Ambu’s heart stopped but she read the message clearly in his eyes. “Some day” He seemed to say “Some day I will come for you.” Then he turned around and walked away, without looking back.
Ambu’s heart went away with him. But she was not unhappy. In fact, she had never been happier before. This delicate, breezy romance had given her life a purpose. The dry leaf hurtling in the wind had found its own cozy nook. She would live the life that was in store for her, but a glowing flame of hope would always warm her mind. For some day, some time, he would come for her.
Friday, October 28, 2005
Anyway, here is something I could not resist posting. Many people must have heard it already, but I wanted to crystalize it on my page and make it my own because I could not have said it any better!
Benaam sa yeh dard thahar kyon nahi jaata
jo beet gaya hai vo guzar kyon nahi jaata
Sab kuch to hai kya dhoondti rahti hain nigaahein
Kya baat hai main waqt pe ghar kyoon nahi jaata
Vo ek hi chahra to nahi saare jahan main
Jo door hai vo dil se utar kyon nahi jata
Main apni hi uljhi hui raahon ka tamasha
Jaate hai jidhar sab main udhar kyoon nahi jata
Vo naam jo barson se na chehra hai na badan hai
vo khwab agar hai to bikhar kyoon nahi jata
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
And here's also an Apology (noticed the Capital A?), because I have not been replying to your comments, though, I plan to do so in the future. You see, my problem is, God forgot to put that part in my brain which helps to handle praise (umm and criticism?). I am quite at loss of words when someone praises me. And you guys have been so kind to leave all those wonderful messages, that I am blushing all the way
Having said that, there is a lot more to do; lot more to improve. I am aware of it, but your presence and support encourages me. So keep being this sweet always and my friends forever :-)
Love n Hugs
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
No? Listen, some more. Shhh, don't even let the sound of your breath come in the way.
Yes, I see that you are hearing it now. The smile on your face tells me that you are now tuned in to the music of the little brook that flows quietly, incessantly, boisterously at the core of your being, regardless of whether at the moment you are happy or sad, angry or satisfied, lonely or in midst of a crowd.
Have you ever wondered why, sometimes, you feel happy for no reason? Why a glint of a smile cracks through the darkness that surrounds you like a shroud? Why, you continue to do what you do, in spite of all the adversities that press you from all sides? Why, sometimes, after an episode of heart wrenching agony, when the possibility of being happy, ever, seems impossible, suddenly, inexplicably, a cool, tender peace sets in?
It is this sparkling flow within you that guides you to the light, when no light is possible. It the one that takes you to the heights when no flight is possible. It is what makes the emerald of an oasis possible in the midst of the desert. It is what keeps the will to live, alive in the little seed trapped in the smoldering belly of parched earth, so that, one day, it can burst to life when the Monsoons arrive. It is what keeps the miracle of life throbbing in the deepest of the seas and the harshest of the lands. It is what makes the mystery of creation possible, beyond all the theories of uncertainties and chance. It is what loves you, in spite of yourself.
Is it possible for you, just once in a while, to shed all these pretensions, remove all the masks that you wear and just be, open, unadulterated, non-critical, and listen to what the spring has to say? Maybe, it has many stories to tell you - stories of faith, purity, beauty and serenity.
Do you see where I am taking you?
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
I have known what its like to be angry - to breathe fire and smolder the vestiges of tenderness; to nip the bud of faith in the womb; to utter searing, scathing words and revel in the sharpness of my bloody nails, sinking slowly in the flesh.
I have known what its like to be bitter and unfair - to fall to lowest of the lows, just to raise myself to the dizzy, faulty heights.
But then, I have also known what it is like to smile and caress, kiss and embrace, care and dream, sing and sleep.
Isn't this life worth living?
Monday, October 10, 2005
Tuesday, October 4, 2005
Do you know how I always remember you? To me you are not the successful, ambitious executive that you are now. Neither are you the teenager who was pushed into adulthood a little too soon, to shoulder the burden of life. I see you as my big little brother with a shock of unruly, curly hair, a mark shaped like moon on your forehead, wearing a colorful, printed shirt, your thin legs shooting out of blue school shorts, frolicking and whipping the sunflowers on the banks of the Tigris. And, I would be running right behind you - a gawky, scrawny child, with bushy brown hair blowing in the wind, my eyes half closed with glee. I revered you then, and tried to mimic every act of yours. I would gladly be your accomplice, your assistant, in whatever you chose to do.
You were always the good one - God's own child; Loved, respected, appreciated by one and all. And me? I was wild! I never resented you for being the nice kid, but somewhere I aspired to be like you. If not that, at least, I wanted to be appreciated by you. But only now do I realize that being the ideal one was, in fact, your cross to bear. For it meant that you are not allowed to falter, not allowed to be mediocre, not allowed to cry. Yet you have borne the responsibility so well and come out of it all, swinging.
You have been so many things for me - a brother, a friend, a mentor, a long lost father - all rolled into one. And, I have never found enough and appropriate words to thank you. That would been an open display of emotions - a breach of the private set of unwritten rules we follow while we interact with each other. We understand each other so well that, often, our conversation sounds cryptic even to our own mother. So many things are unsaid, but understood, untold but heard, I wish we could decipher all that for the benefit of others.
There are so many memories, can I ever chronicle all of them? From building a mud grave in the front yard or our old house in Wai for the little black kitten who died in your palm, to walking together on the dazzling streets of New York. From running behind each other, bruised and filthy on the sand hills in Baghdad, to putting my head on your shoulders and crying when you gave me away in marriage, there are many bitter-sweet moments we have lived together. The life has not stopped yet and as we co-exist in new dimensions of adulthood and families and there are many more sparkling moments to come.
As you add new year to your life, let me tell you this. Grow up, but don't loose your self. Reach out to the stars, but don't ever forget me. Be the ideal man for the world, but occasionally, taste what its like to be wild, for your wild sister will be there forever!
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
You have closed your other eye - the one that is invisible to me. How much do you hide in your shut eye? How many dreams, joys, heartbreaks and longings play a symphony in your being? Even this perfect moment of existence has a thin, sharp edge of pain surrounding it. But, isn't that what makes it so perfect?
You push a strand of your curly, brown hair off your forehead. "Burgundy" you insist on calling them. Not brown, Burgundy! Do you remember the time when curly, brown hair were decidedly out of vogue? Oh the fights you had with your mother when she tried, in vain, to smear them with oil and yank and pull at them so that they fit in a pair of stringy little braids! Then there was your Grandmother, who insisted on calling them a 'bush'; in singular; much to your chagrin.
These days, you are envied for your hair. Now, you proudly let them hang down your shoulders in shiny ringlets. Every time you hear a compliment, as you shake your head just slightly to bounce them, do you remember your childhood woe? As you lay in front of me, one arm stretched above your head, the ringlets fall gently on your arm and luxuriously surround your head.
I look at your face and, once more, admire your healthy, glowing skin. That is another one of your proud possessions. You wear no makeup, and strongly believe you don't need any. However, as I go over each of your features, I see nothing special. At least, nothing that would fit in the traditional definition of beauty. But there is something arresting in your face, a quality so flitty, so surreal, yet so bewitching. The blazing diamond in your ear gives it an ethereal edge, so does the mischief in your eyes.
Then my eyes moved down your body. Your shoulders are hidden, but a little bit of your smooth skin shows through the neck of your shirt. A thin golden chain in your neck sparkles to make a statement. The silhouette of your breasts is just perfect and that reminds me of how you graduated from an awkward teenage hunch to a proud posture of a woman who is comfortable with her body. Your shirt has gone up just slightly at your waist and I can see a little bit of your belly. Oh how you wish it were flatter! But fear not, for I cannot see it from here, the sheet rescues you one more time and the curve of your waist looks just as perfect. Your well toned buttocks curve gently at your back and end in strong and shapely legs that stretch down to your soft little feet. You stretch your feet just a little to point your toes, and your legs look beautiful.
Then I look at your eyes and realize that you have been observing me from head to toe just as I have been observing you. You have the same appreciative smile on your face as I have on mine. I wonder for how long we lay there face to face, looking at each other unabashedly, and enjoying the view. You and I - Sisters, Clones, Reflections, Duplicates - bound to each other in an eternal bonding; each watching the other from her side of the mirror. Narcissism? Maybe! But so what?This is supposed to be the perfect, perfect moment, remember?
But then its time; its been too long. Laying idle is not my style and there are many, many things to be done yet. I have to move on, but you? You have a choice. As I roll up and stretch to embrace the next moment in life, you choose to cling on to the joyous one that we just lived together. You lay still, beautiful and satisfied, on the bed and slowly, in front of my eyes, turn into a precious crystal that is to be preserved and revered for the rest of my life. I look at you and smile fondly, but turn away and, slowly, move on. So long, dearest - my perfect, perfect memory!
Friday, September 16, 2005
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Making rules and killing the soul
You see Reality in lustrous clarity
And can turn your heart into stone at will
To do what needs to be done
Why is it not so for me?
Why am I tender and hurting
Beneath all these covers
That I am required to hide under
To protect what is raw and pure
In the abyss of my soul ?
Why do your rules leave me drained?
Why do they ask the last of me?
This helpless yearning of the heart
Why does it have to be just my burden?
What is it that I seek from you?
Which void are you there to fill?
Just when is it that our paths crossed
When we gave each other the gift
Of restless longing - eternal?
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Thursday, August 25, 2005
But alas, my city-bred, 'first-world-country' ensconced self had hugely underestimated the task. The tools I had bought for the only reason that they were the cheapest, were good enough, at the most, to dig around a potted plant. In spite of poking, prodding, nudging and hitting as hard as I can, with all my might, the earth won't budge. The only thing I was successful in doing was making huge clanking noises and causing few birds to flutter away in disgust. A row of ants gorging on a fallen plum had scattered and it seemed that they were trying to get as far away from me as possible.
From this angle and at this time the vegetable patch looked enormous. It did not seem that huge when I had looked at it in the morning with a cup of coffee in my hand and my mind warmed by resolve that I had made the previous night after reading an article about how to raise an organic vegetable garden. As soon as I woke up in the morning, I had gone pronto to buy new gardening gloves, shoes and whatever else I could find to wear for my new hobby and also a few seeds.
The earth looked pliant and clean when I came to the yard with a bunch of computer printouts describing the digging, plowing, planting and fertilizing. It all seemed pretty simple! But when I squatted down and took a closer look, I saw that the ground was hard and cracked and was teeming with all kinds of insects. I could only recognize the ants and the spiders, but there were others that I had never seen in my life. Some were bright orange, others jet black, but all were equally disgusting. I tried to shoo them by stamping my feet and waiving the printouts to blow them away and was successful in warding them off to an extent. But I think they were terrified of me more than I was terrified of them so they seemed to have scurried away at their own accord! Yet, there were some obnoxious ones, like this rogue spider that were stubborn enough to hang around and climb up my shoes. Still, I persisted with my task bravely, not paying attention to the spiders or to the disgust I was feeling.
I had been digging for a long time now and had succeeded in scratching only a few inches of the surface of only a part of the entire patch. I had even put some water, hoping it will make it somewhat easier to dig. I had lost all my carefulness to keep myself away from the dirt and had attacked the stubborn earth with vengeance. By the time I was half way through the patch, my clothes, my shoes, my gloves were entirely covered with mud. I had gotten some of it in my hair too when I tried unsuccessfully to push back some strands from my forehead. As I looked at the remaining work to be done, my mind was filled with dread. No way was I going to complete this, I thought. There were so many things to be done yet - the fertilizing, the planting and the weeding that would soon follow. What had I set myself against I wondered, a trifle irritated with my over enthusiasm. In a while I was frustrated with the effort and, carelessly, just threw the seeds around the patch and went inside the house to take a long, hot shower. Of course, since I was so exhausted with the hard work I put in, we went out to dinner and went to sleep early. As I slept soundly, some time in the night the Nature fairy arrived and gently touched the seeds that I had so carelessly thrown in the ground, with the magic of life.
In the days after my first half hearted effort at gardening, the vegetable patch lay abandoned in the backyard of my house. The automatic sprinkler system kept on watering it faithfully and my enthusiasm had waned as I got entangled with various things my life. Then one day, just like that, the earth burst out with tender, verdant shoots. In a few days, the seeds that I had thrown had taken to the ground. That is when I realized the innocent, unconditional love of Nature. It had forgiven my cockiness, my ignorance, my clumsiness and even my pretension and endowed me with a gift of life. It had accepted me with open arms in spite of myself. And I was no longer just a shod and gloved, pretentious outsider, I was part of the Nature. Even my clumsy, half hearted attempts at being a part of it, were accepted, appreciated and rewarded manifold.
Now if you see me anywhere, with a tan on my face, a few scratches on my legs, just a little mud in my nails, fear not, for I must have been outside in the garden, playing with Nature with my fingertips.
Sunday, August 14, 2005
Ambu flicked her head umpteenth time trying unsuccessfully to push back the rogue strand of hair that had stuck to her sweaty forehead and was tickling her eye. Her hands were dirty with the mixture of dirt and tamarind that she was using to rub the copper utensils before washing them with the water she had drawn from the well. Every year, in the summer her sister made Ambu bring out the copper and silver utensils from the attic of the old house and wash them with tamarind until they shone. This year the summer was even more special as they were having the naming ceremony of her sister's first grandson. Soon Ambu's nephews and nieces and many more guests from far off cities and towns would start arriving and the household would be in frenzy. All these vessels would be used to hold the enormous quantities of food that would be cooked in the coming days.
Ambu fidgeted a little and tried to move her legs that were numb from squatting. Her back ached and her spine made the crackling noise as she tried to straighten a little from her hunched position. It is almost done, she thought, looking with some satisfaction at the neat line of shining vessels of all shapes and sizes that sat drying on the white muslin cloth. She eyed the few remaining pots and pans and sighed. Taking in a deep breath, she attacked them ferociously, making loud clanking noises.
"Ambuuuu!" her sister called out from inside the house. "Stop that noise right now!" she hollered. "Don't you know the clangor of pots and pans brings bad luck?"
Ambu flushed and started washing the vessels slowly and put them back on the muslin cloth as gently as she could. Once the chore was done, she got up with some difficulty and went to the well to draw some water to wash her hands and feet. Once more, she lustily eyed the well. Once more, the long suppressed thought scratched her placid mind - what if she just let herself slip....
She jerked her head as if to ward off that thought and slowly drew out the bucket that hung down with a rope.
The cool water felt good on her cracked feet for they were burning by staying too long in dirt. She washed her hands and splashed some more water on her face. She threw the remaining water at the base of the banana plant and smiled noticing that the plant had begun to bear fruit. Little bunches of bananas clung to the plant, snugly hidden under the lustrous fronds. The Jasmine had blossomed too and Ambu watched a few bees humming lazily around the plant, intoxicated by its perfume.
"Ambuuuuu, what are you doing outside? Hurry up, there are so many things that need to be done. It is almost time for the guests to arrive." her sister called out again and Ambu hustled in through the short backyard door to enter the gloomily lit kitchen. There was no electricity in their town yet and whatever light came into the kitchen came in from little glass windows on the roof. Ambu's day in the kitchen would begin at daybreak when the first rays of sunlight would started streaming as yellow beams on the floor and she would be engaged in chores until, at sundown, the kitchen fire would be put out after the oil lamps were lit around the house.
The kitchen had been Ambu's abode for almost fifteen years since she arrived at her sister's place. She had rarely gone out of the house, except for going to the temple occasionally. Then too she was required to have an accompaniment and had to be dressed in the most sedate of clothes. Her whole world comprised of the back yard where she had planted numerous varieties of plants and the dark, gloomy kitchen.
Ambu was the last amongst her parent's nine daughters and three sons. Her parents were worried if they could ever find a groom for their dark and simple minded daughter. In the house of Bramhins from Konkan, being dark and dull was like a mortal sin. Beauty was defined by the color of the skin and the community took pride in the intelligence of its members. Ambu’s fair, light eyed sisters had found a match in a jiffy but she had turned sixteen and was already growing past the marriageable age. Her parents fretted that Ambu would turn into an old maid unless she was married off soon. Finally, after much scouting, her parents had found her a match. She was hurriedly married off to a middle aged widower who lived in a nearby village.
Ambu never really found out what love really was. She was always quite terrified of her husband and before she knew he died of pneumonia. Ambu's dreams for a blissful life ended with him. She was only eighteen then.
There was no place for Ambu in her husband’s house after he died. Her parents were too old and her brothers were too far away to take her in. That is when Ambu’s oldest sister and brother in law offered to take her to their house. Ambu’s brother in law was a lawyer and made enough money to maintain a well to do household. Her sister was a kind woman. Being more then fifteen years older, she loved Ambu with a motherly affection.
Although her sister loved Ambu very much, she was obliged by the rules of the society and had to put all kinds of restrictions on Ambu. Widows were still treated unfairly in those days and Ambu was no exception. Her brother in law, who had once been a successful lawyer, had been bedridden due to a stroke. The stroke had crippled his mind more than his body with time he had become more and more cranky and irritable. His bed had been set up in the front room and he kept a strict eye on people coming and going into the house. He would watch Ambu taunted her if she wore a new sari or tied her hair differently from the usual bun. As her children grew up and one by one moved out of the house to seek better jobs or education, Ambu’s sister became busy serving her whimsical husband and Ambu was relegated to taking care of the kitchen.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
At night there is heaviness in the heart. All the things that need to be done but have not been done yet crowd out the vestiges of dreams and I fall into fitful sleep, telling myself I would be "good" from tomorrow. But what is being good? And for what? I don't know, I don't ask. I just resolve knowing fully well that the next day I will start slipping from it. It feels good at the time - to make a resolve - so I do it and sleep.
Where are the words in all this - all those emotions, the tenderness, the happiness? All that I thought was the juice of my life is buried under a thick, viscous placidity. I am so far from myself that when I read through my own writing, I feel I am watching a stranger. Full of fiery passion, but still a stranger. Will I be able to find myself? Will I be shaken out of this stupor? I don't know, but I hope so. One way or the other may this equilibrium be broken!
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Ever so often you stand apart and look at yourselves walking through the corridors of life hanging a plastic smile on your plastic face, your plastic head nodding a plastic nod at other plastic faces that pass by. To some you just give a smile, to others a clipped "Hi" and a pearly white grin. To someone a little more familiar, you say "Hi, how are you?" and walk away without waiting for the response. With ones who really matter, you have "Hi How are you?" and the "Gooooooood!" followed by an equally inane conversation.
You do it all so well; with so much well rehearsed polish. But, still, sometimes it gets on your nerves and you begin to yearn for a modicum of Genuineness - just "being" rather than "pretending". Instead of looking for it within, you look around. You do find it in fact as you look for it some more. It thrives somewhere in the nooks and crannies of life - in the corner cube of a forgotten developer who quietly types away perfect code, in the shy, diffident smile of a hardworking newcomer, in the pair of young lovers who surreptitiously slip away to snatch a quiet moment, in a rogue plant flowering in the midst of the well manicured lawn. And suddenly you feel hollow inside. It feels like the urge to "get there" is coring the insides of you.
You live through day with the pit in your stomach, that little gnawing feeling in the heart. When the day is done, the pensive evening waits for you outside. As you drive home, slowly, quietly, your mind wandering far away from yourselves, the bower of the ruddy sky engulfs you and you feel a nameless ache for a land faraway.
You park the car and get into your house, breathing in the fragrance of flowers that blossom in your front yard but don't stop to admire them. On the way you check your motley bunch of mails and the mortgage bill touts itself from within it to draw your attention. That's when you remember the not-so- fat-but-fat-enough-to-get-you-by paycheck and a smug smile appears on your lips. You shrug your shoulders and say to yourselves "Hell, whatever!"
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
“K is in the jail I put him there”, she stammered between the sobs.
Hubby and I were stunned and for a while did not know what to say. K was one of our closest friends and almost like a brother to me. Hearing that he was in trouble, got us both worried. Hubby asked Suniti to calm down and tell him exactly what happened.
“He hit me and I called the police”, she stammered on, “they have taken him away to jail” she said.
“Is he okay? Do you want me to sign a bail for him?” Hubby asked slowly, still trying to calm her down.
“No” Suniti replied fervently “Let him get his punishment. This is not the first time he has hit me.” She began crying again and I stared at the phone, agape.
“Are you alright? Are you hurt?” Hubby asked her, hiding his own astonishment.
“I am okay she said, I just called you so that you know” She said “I am at my friend’s place right now.” She informed.
Hubby asked her to keep her cool and to try to get some rest. He assured her we would talk about this more in the morning.
He hung up the phone and sat down, exhausted from his own effort of keeping calm. We both sat staring at the floor, letting this sink in. K was very close to us and his marriage with Suniti seemed to be the best thing that had happened to him. It was only last week that K and Suniti had come to our place to announce their pregnancy. They looked so happy together, teasing each other, arguing and agreeing while dreaming about their new house. We were so happy for them and now this event put an altogether different light on their marriage. It just did not make any sense.
Several possibilities crossed our minds. Is she lying? Is she saying this out of anger? Is she blowing it out of proportion, making a simple argument look like abuse? We were both entirely confused at that time, so we decided that we will make any judgment only after talking to Suniti in person. I slept fitfully that night and was restless the entire next day until her friends brought a still shaken Suniti over to our house. We had also informed some of our other close friends and requested them to come to our house as well.
As everyone entered into our house one by one, the tension in the room was palpable. After the initial pleasantries were over, we all sat around the dining table grimly, unsure how to start the conversation. Suniti was sobbing softly and her friend and I were sitting besides her, trying to comfort her. Hubby finally broke the silence and asked Suniti to tell us again what happened.
She sighed deeply and said, “He hit me because I forgot to cut the coupons from the newspaper”
“I was not feeling well and did not even look at the newspaper. When he reminded me I apologized and promised him I would do it right away. He nodded his head and went back to the bedroom and suddenly came out and started hitting me.”
“I endured it for a while. But when he kicked me and pulled my hair so hard that a lock came out in his hands, I decided I could not take it anymore, especially since I was pregnant. I escaped his beatings somehow, scrambled to the phone and called the police.”
“He did not quite believe that I had actually called the cops. But somehow, he did stop hitting me. However, he just left me crying there and went inside and sat in front of the computer as if nothing happened. After a while the cops came and then he realized what was going on. Once they handcuffed him, he started crying and begging me to ask them let him go.”
“I said nothing, just answered the questions that the police asked me. Then they took him away.” She recalled
But this was not the only incident, she told us, and began telling us about other horrific events in the past. Contrary to the picture that K had carefully crafted in front of us, Suniti’s and K’s marriage had been a story of incessant abuse, scathing insults and constant humiliation. For two and half years, Suniti’s individuality and her freedom of spirit had been beaten out of her. The beatings needed no logical reason. Anything from not putting things in the ‘right’ place to suggesting to buy an expensive item would suffice. Sometimes he would start hitting her while she was asleep. She was constantly put to test and compared with other women. Her shortfalls were pointed out with searing insults and her opinions were snubbed with relish.
Tears welled up in our eyes as we heard her chronicles of enormous physical and mental abuse. But what was perhaps more tragic was that she was telling it in such a matter of fact way as if her tears were spent and her emotions had been deadened. It had happened to such an extent and so many times that she was even able let a wry smile play on her lips while she described some of the illogical reasons for which she had been beaten up.
All alone in a new country, with her family and friends far away and the only person who should have supported her, actually abusing her, Suniti was indeed in a dismal state. She was given no money or credit cards so was completely dependant on K financially. She was terrified of speaking to anyone. She did not have many friends, but if she conversed with anyone she knew, K made her tell every bit of their conversation and swear that she will not tell anyone about her abuse. She was allowed at most one short phone call to her family in a month, that too on a speaker phone. She could have talked to us, but being K’s friends she was not sure if we would believe her. All along, Suniti was crushing under the weight of her own helplessness.
It is not as if Suniti is uneducated. She holds a graduate degree from India and had been working as a business executive in a prestigious firm for over three years. But what remained now of the independent dynamic professional after two and half years of constant abuse was a stuttering and stammering, diffident and confused girl whose life was quickly slipping by from her fingers. Suniti did not recognize herself anymore.
Suniti’s story made us all numb. We had known K for over seven years and would have sworn by his gentle manners, self control and meticulous attention to detail. Not once had he lost his temper and used fowl words or behaved unreasonably in front of us. And here Suniti was showing us a picture of a completely different man - cruel beyond reason. Can one man really lead two entirely different lives?
We were sympathetic to Suniti but K was our friend for so long. It would have been unfair to pass a judgment without knowing his side of the story. Besides, as friends we wanted the best for them both. So, we arranged a meeting for the next day between K and Suniti at K’s house.
The next day while coming to K’s house Suniti was calmer and looked much more in control. We stood outside K’s apartment nervously, and rang the doorbell. In a while, K opened the door. As we entered his house one by one, he stood in the hallway with his hair disheveled, his eyes puffy and a meek and tormented expression on his face.
When we all sat down K was livid and began sobbing. We all sat quietly giving him time to calm down. After a while, he looked up and hesitantly asked Suniti what she wanted to do now and they began to talk.
There is no other battlefield like the battlefield of love for the first casualties in the carnage are your tender moments and unopened dreams. When two people who are supposed to be the most intimate with each other get entangled in the mire of accusations and counter accusations the strife is ruthless. There is nothing more humiliating than having your innards exposed; your most intimate details laid bare and little quirks of your personality morphed into monstrous aberrations. As we all hung our heads in embarrassment, witnessing, against our wish, the dissection of their marriage, each one of us realized what a sacred bond marriage really was and oh so delicate!
To our amazement, K accepted every incident of abuse as Suniti described it.
It seemed as if he has seen for the first time in his life, all the events in their entirety. He seemed to have never realized the multitude of the incidents or their seriousness. For him, this was a normal course of life, he was doing to his wife what his father did to his mother, what his uncles and brothers did to their own wives. We were aghast to know that abuse was an everyday occurrence in K’s family. He could actually abuse his wife and forget about it at that instant.
In the end of it all, Suniti declared that she was going to ask for a divorce and have an abortion and K was shocked. He did not believe it would come to this. He still thought that he could convince Suniti to come home and life would be like it had been before. He just could not fathom how deeply Suniti was hurt. K begged and pleaded Suniti to reconsider her decision. He assured her he will change, that he has understood his mistake and that he will never do this again.
Suniti sat through K’s livid speech as if frozen. Not one word of this seemed to reach her stony heart. After a while, she just got up and walked out saying that she had enough and that she was sure what she was going to do next. We were all awestruck by Suniti’s steely resolve. K had put up such an emotional scene that even our sympathies were swaying towards him. But Suniti seemed unfazed. How did this meek, suffering girl muster the strength to finally stand up and fight back? Was she not aware of the daunting challenges she faced? No one could understand this but we all rallied in her support and left K’s apartment.
Suniti seemed to have made her decision, but her struggle had only begun. I only hoped that she even aware of what lay in front of her. She had walked out of her house in a foreign country with no money in her hands, no assurance of shelter for her friends were moving away soon, no job, a dark, uncertain future and a two month old fetus in her womb. As she walked down the stairs, her back straight, her head held up, her eyes looking far away, she looked so strong yet so vulnerable. Does desperation give us enough strength to jump unperturbed into the chasm of uncertainty? Does anger have enough strength to stoke the future? What Suniti went through in the coming days answered some of these questions and raised some even more difficult ones.
To be continued…….
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
My battered spirit now rests nested
In the tiny wings of faith - now folded
To crouch away from this turmoil - eternal
What did I seek from you really
When I gave you the part of my soul?
No, it was not a business we had
The giving never asked a return
And the purity is to be preserved
From the dryness of this world
Then why is it so hard
To contain the ache in my heart?
Why do I have to look away
To hide the truth in my eyes?
Why do I find myself lonely
On this road that turns to a knot?
Sunday, June 19, 2005
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
Its just that you don’t seem to budge. You just don’t move, neither forward, nor backward, nor sideways for that matter. Death doesn’t choose to choose you, neither does life.
Things that are moving around gaze at you with awe and even a mild contempt. What are the rules by which creatures like you live? And why do you live at all, they wonder. They have to accept you now that you are here. They have to try to make sense out of you so that their world doesn’t crumble.
You are doing this too, aren't you? Trying to make sense of yourselves? And then finally, after much deliberation, accepting yourselves for who you are?
Ask yourselves my dear how long have you been trying to be a part of this world of moving things. How long have you shoved yourselves in and out from your place on the fringes of this world? How many times have you stumbled and lost, only to find yourselves back in these precincts?
I know what you are asking yourselves; where do you go from here? Do you flap your wings or not? And what happens to the storm in your mind?
These questions, my dear, are both funny and pathetic for you still don’t seem to know your destiny. There is nowhere to go my dear. No one but these fringes are willing to accept the likes of you. You can go around yourselves if you like; chart your own course in the sea. But always remember watch the world from without; never expect to be a part of it, never expect to move.
Find your peace my dear find it now before its too late. Know yourselves my dear; know before it’s too late.
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Through my life I have shared a bittersweet relation with Aaee. Sometimes we have been great pals, sometimes locked horns. From standing side by side and fighting in court against those who cheated my father, to perpetually disagreeing with each other over trivial issues, Aaee and I have been in many situations together. We are so much alike yet so different, so close yet so far away from each other. We had so many disagreements while I grew up, but today when I look at her life and character as a grown woman, I am fascinated.
A few days ago Aaee had come to stay with me for the first time after I got married and moved to US. After many days, we got a chance to interact as two grown women, each, in her own way, experienced in the trials and tribulations of life. It was amazing how we opened up and talked and actually sought to understand each other. Then, when I went to drop Aaee at the airport, as she waived good bye and went her way through the security line, my heart was filled with enormous tenderness. As I saw her slouched and a tad unsure, gingerly pushing the luggage cart through the security, what struck me the most was her loneliness. She was no more my firebrand, headstrong Aaee who constantly filled me with awe. She looked so tired, so vulnerable and so human. It was as if, finally, she had shed her strong shell, and allowed herself the luxury of being weak.
Aaee has perhaps seen more ups and downs in her life, both emotionally and financially, than any woman I have known. Yet, what I have always admired about her is her remarkable resilience and unflinching courage. She has never run away from difficulties and always met with them squarely. Undoubtedly, she has made many mistakes, taken many a wrong turns, and fallen flat on her face. But, she has always risen, dusted her knees and moved on; every time so much stronger than before.
Oldest among four siblings, Aaee grew up in a little town called Karad in Maharashtra, India. She was a brilliant student and well known in the town for her intelligence and sense of responsibility. Aaee wanted to become a doctor, but had to give up her ambitions when she sensed that it would be really difficult for her mother to pay for her education.
Instead, she joined the Science College in Karad and later trained herself to be a school teacher.
Aaee met my father first in an intercollegiate debating competition where they were pitched against each other. Baba was a Civil Engineering student, studying in Karad Engineering College. As a brilliant student and a handsome young man with an athletic figure, Baba was a hot favorite among Aaee’s female classmates. But Baba rooted for Aaee and courted her in a manner befitting Hindi movies by pursuing her around the town. Aaee did not admit then, but she was quite charmed by Baba’s green eyes and wavy golden brown hair. She responded first with mock anger and haughty denials and later with bashful acceptance of Baba’s proposal.
After his graduation, Baba was offered a post in a prestigious construction company. He took the job and moved to the project site but kept writing to his sweetheart. In the beginning these letters would be formal and generic because writing romantic letters was quite scandalous in those days. Aaee told me that at first she would try to be a proper Indian girl and read these letters aloud front of her parents, but as the romance grew deeper, she started hiding them and read them secretly. When Ammi, my grandmother, found out about this clandestine affair, she insisted that Aaee and Baba get married soon. Immediately, Ammi contacted my father’s parents and set the ball rolling. Aaee and Baba were married soon after and Aaee was swept off on the winding road of life which took her through joyous heights and painful lows.
I have not known Baba much, because by the time I was old enough to understand the world, he was no longer the person he had been. His mind was already gnarled by depression and alcohol. But, from what I gather from Aaee’s memories, Baba was a brilliant person with a wonderful sense of humor but extremely impulsive in his decisions. Impulsiveness entailed, both, tremendous courage in trying out new paths as well as inherent insecurity in life. Aaee seems to be deeply affected by both these factors. Aaee’s dreams have been twisted and turned, for good or for bad, every time Baba tried out a new profession, left a well paying job, started a new business or scooted of to foreign countries, most of the time acting on his urges.
Aaee has experienced incredible contrasts in her financial states throughout her life. But what is perhaps worst is coming from a middle class family, where it is embarrassing to reveal your financial difficulties, when she did not have money, she had to put up a face of wellbeing and when she did have it she would get fleeced. Aaee still gets a lump in her throat when she recalls how she had to gift an empty box at her sister’s wedding with a note that she will give the contents later, just because Aaee could not afford to give the gift she had promised at that time. On the other hand, soon after that when my brother was born, Baba had taken up a well paying job and they could afford a car and a brief spate of luxury. Then again, in a couple of years, they lost it all when my father started his business and failed again. Aaee recalls that when she was pregnant with me, she had hidden a bill of a hundred Rupees under her bed just so that she can pay for her delivery.
Our family’s financial state improved again after my birth when my father got an opportunity abroad. Our affluence lasted for a few years until alcoholism consumed Baba and finally took him away from us.
During last few years of my father’s life, Aaee was the sole bread earner of our family and looked after his business as well as kept her school teaching job and took care of the family. Even after he died, she managed to wrap up his business and raise enough money for my brother and me to have a decent life and good education. I can now understand how difficult it must have been for her then, but while I was growing up, I do not remember ever feeling short for anything in life, thanks to my able mother.
Aaee’s emotional life has been no less tumultuous. No one really knows why Baba got addicted to alcohol but like any alcoholic’s family, we all have scars on our minds. Now as a grown woman I can really understand what Aaee must have gone through. How painful it must have been to see a brilliant, tender, jovial man you once loved waste away into a brooding, depressed, bitter loner. It must have been so terrible to see his tall, athletic body turn into an emaciated skeleton, his sparkling green eyes faded and yellowed by jaundice, his stomach bloated with cirrhosis and his dreams charred by intoxication.
She worked tirelessly to get him out of his addiction - screamed and cried and begged, took him to doctors, made him join Alcoholics Anonymous. She turned her heart into stone and even took away his money, so that he won’t be able to buy alcohol. The most painful of my memories is that when she had to go to an important school event she got desperate and tied my father down to a chair, because she could not keep a watch on him and did not want him to drink. Nothing worked and he sank deeper and deeper into the abyss.
After this, came the era of inevitable illness and hospitalizations, of sleepless nights and incessant worries and then, finally, at 39 the impending widowhood struck her. I asked her once, if she would have wanted my father to live on. She told me that in a way she was glad that he died when he did because towards his end he had been wasted so much that she did not recognize him anymore. She would rather live with his fond memories than the shadow of the person that he was, she said. As I contemplate on what she said, I find her plight incredibly tragic. However, she never remarried as she could not think about another man in her life.
After my father’s death, Aaee found herself dealing with his construction business. His projects were half finished, his money was spent and his reputation was in shambles. The only backing she had was of the money we got from his life insurance. In this situation she held herself up and with the help of my brother and me she completed all the unfinished projects and wrapped up his business. This was not easy as she had to deal with numerous court cases related to the business as well. Some of these she brought upon herself out of over ambitiousness, others she had to fight because people took advantage of her gullibility. For ten long years she faced it all with remarkable courage.
Through all her personal and financial difficulties, Aaee kept her job in school and was a very well loved teacher. She kept writing for children, telling them stories and was very active in cultural programs. Her cultural activities and writing lent her a measure of sanity through all the difficulties she had in her personal life. I will always be proud to be one of her students.
In spite of all the difficult circumstances that hardened her to an extent, Aaee managed to preserve her sensitivity and kindness. She has given financial help to several families and helped them tide through difficult times. These people actually worship her for her generosity. Then there are others who find her hard headed and proud and detest her for her straightforwardness. Aaee’s real nature has remained elusive even to her close ones. I have myself found her quite unpredictable and imposing, but cannot deny her best intentions for me. Sometimes I have seen Aaee succumb to social pressures and take wrong decisions for false prestige. I used to be angry before but now I am sympathetic, especially, when I face such pressures from time to time myself and know how difficult it is to deal with them.
After my brother and I became adults and moved on with our lives and families, Aaee started living alone in a new house in Pune. She bought this new place because she wanted to get away from the bitter memories in our previous house. She started living a new life on her own terms in the new house. She traveled around the world and pursued many interests and savored her independence.
Aaee encouraged independence in her children and always detested emotional weakness. She took pride in our self reliance and capacity to take our own decisions from a very young age. She never shielded us from difficulties and let us face them on our own. She was a very tough mother but has turned into a tender grandmother. It is funny to watch little Tanay wrap his hard headed grandmother around his little finger and make her bend at his will. She laughs when I tease her about being partial to her grandchildren, but still continues to spoil them.
Today Aaee lives with my brother to help him take care of his two young children but insists that she is not here to stay. She craves her self reliance and hates being dependent on anyone. Despite our numerous requests she does not agree to stay permanently with either my brother or me. She seeks to establish her own identity and still negotiates with the world on her own terms.
Aaee, as I learn from your life and admire your courage, I can never tell you how proud I feel to be your daughter. Here’s hoping that you get to live a long, healthy and more importantly, independent life.