Out of Body

Today I noticed that I have been forgetting to hang my keys on the key stand. Last morning, I panicked. I was getting ready for college when I realized that my keys weren’t on their usual hook. I retraced my steps, double checked my bag and ran around the house like a mad woman. Ma then told me that the keys were on the table in her room. I was baffled.

Things like this never happen to me. I am cursing myself even as I type this, I am muttering many touch-wood kind of things under my breath, but I really never lose things – keys, mobile, wallet. Never. Ever. Even if I lose them for maybe a minute or two, I always find them. There. I have said it. I know now that tomorrow morning when I wake up, my world would have turned upside down. I will find myself key-less, wallet-less and mobile-less.

In the department today, I read after a long time. I read a story about a Bengali woman who was consumed by the desire to write every day. Her husband hated it — he hid everything she wrote. But she’d write the same story over and over again. The story about a blind girl who could tell you the names of colors by just touching them.

She sat with a pen and a new sheet of paper every evening and wrote. She challenged her husband to a bet. He said she wasn’t talented enough to get published. Later he hid in his drawer, the letters that various editors wrote to his wife, telling her to send more stories.

In stories, either as writers or as characters, women are mad in a way that they cannot be in real life. I will disagree with this in the morning but this needs to be said.

When she writes every day, a little bit of her husband dies, until he cannot take it anymore and runs away. When I read this, I feel full and begin to smile endlessly.

I was just going to leave the department when it started to rain. So I sat and looked around. When I sit and look around, especially in the department, I have an out of body experience. I begin to think about all the things that have happened ever since we moved here. Things that happened last year and the year before that.

Outside, the construction workers were on full swing. There was drilling and what not. I sat on the steps and waited for the rain to stop. Every time the drone of machines paused for a minute, I thought the rain had gone and stood up to leave.

When I finally left, I thought about all the ways in which the place would be different tomorrow. Tomorrow of the bright day time. Of the endless work and its slicing hurry.

 

Advertisements

To Georgie

My grandfather had nice, white, round teeth that he removed every night and put in a tumbler of cold water before sleeping. We were only allowed to touch it when it was in his mouth. In the morning when it was all there, my sister and I‘d see him and ask him to smile for us. He’d laugh and my sister and I’d make plans again to wake up extra early the next morning to watch him wear his teeth. As it turned out, no matter how early we woke, it was never early enough to catch him wearing his teeth.

Maybe he never took them off. Maybe he waited for us to leave and put them back on before he slept every night. Either ways, the tumbler he put his teeth in came alive like a new story, only in the night. During the day, it stayed forgotten under the cot it was pushed.

He had the nicest smile. It was always a small smile that lasted no more than 5 seconds regardless of how well one knew him. The corners of his sometimes unshaven mouth would glisten under the heavy spectacles he wore. He had short white hair and soft blue eyes; blue of the Indian old people eye blue- blue; the silvery, agile blue that will stick to your finger if you are ever brave enough to poke the eye.

He lost his vision 5 years before he died and for 5 years, we saw many nurses come and go. The longest he had, stayed for 6 months. She was an unruly sort of a woman who yelled at him when she thought no one was around. She’d sit in the balcony for hours together fighting with her lover on the phone. On days that there was no spat, she was cheerful and sang songs that upset my grandfather.

When ma first told us that he couldn’t see anymore, I wondered what he’d miss seeing the most. The answer was simple. He had had the biggest crush on Preity Zinta. He’d miss seeing her dimples the most.

***

Ajja told us stories of The Ramayana and Mahabharata. In Bhadravathi, where we went every year for Diwali, the cousins and I’d gather around him and listen to the stories. He’d close his eyes, his palms resting evenly on his lap, his white Lux bunian and panche softer and warmer than ironed clothes. He told us stories about poor men who became rich, about greedy men who cut open a hen’s stomach to get golden eggs, about princesses who were sad, about housewives who watered fingernail trees, about crows, monkeys and other animals who fought and became friends again.

We knew the stories by-heart. We knew points in these stories where his voice would dim into whispers and the points where it’d rise into fury. When he narrated Sita’s tragedy, his voice quivered, when he spoke about Hanuman, his voice took charge of his posture, his hands flailing about imitating Hanuman’s. When he spoke about Ram and Lakshman, his voice was demanding and angry but never forceful in a masculine way. His story voice was determinedly and uniformly feminine.

In all the time that I’ve known him, I don’t think my grandfather ever wore creased panches. Dipped in a bucketful of water, I imagine they broke apart and came together like cotton. Not like the bunians he wore – torn here and there in small, bird-bite sized holes, sometimes near the armpit, sometimes near the middle of his chest.

***

In his quieter moments after he lost sight, Ajja would sit by the door, on a chair that was decidedly his in the Veranda, eavesdropping on conversations. At any given point, my grandfather would be the only man in the house to know why the women in the house were fighting. He was never one to dismiss these fights as silly. He took great interest in the things that happened at home. He knew the lazy maids by the shoddy way in which they swept and swabbed the floor. He also knew them by the days they wouldn’t turn up and this he painfully reminded my mother at the end of every month when she handed them their salary. He knew his wife’s moods by the kind of shit she watched on television. He knew not to ask for an extra helping of anything during lunch if the afternoon was still brewing in the warm remains of a morning fight.

When he agreed with the Udaya TV news on any given day, he’d loudly say Bhesh! When he wanted to decry what he watched, he’d shake his head quietly like an animal trying to get rid of flies. In any case, he took the news more personally than his marriage.

***

Ajja

I realized that my grandmother did not talk to my grandfather only after it was pointed to me. For a long time, I was oblivious to their relationship. They seemed like any other old couple. They shrugged and nodded to communicate. She’d bang his breakfast on the table and he’d complain about the food loud enough for everybody to hear. I assumed that that’s how they always were.

I cannot picture them talking to each other, the way my parents do nor can I imagine them in the company of others – laughing and making merry. I learnt much later that what they did and how they went by without talking to each other was something that nobody understood but everyone knew about.

The eldest son my grandparents had was their favourite. When Ajja got his PPF money, Ajji told him to save it so they could buy a house for themselves. He refused to listen to her and gave his eldest son all the money. This, I am told, is the reason why Ajji stopped talking to Ajja and started a cold war that lasted well until his death 4 years ago.

I am also told that Ajja had great love for his wife that he showed only in moments. She was the stone-hearted one, they all say. But I’m inclined to believe that Ajji was well within her rights to be demanding. She is a fiercely independent woman who suffers even to this day from the curse of having far too many men around her.

Ajji’s harshest critic was her younger sister, Sumitramma — A husband- worshipping woman who wouldn’t let a day go by without attempting peace between her sister and brother-in-law.

Many years ago, the sisters and my mother went to watch a Malashree film about a family that is saved by the daughter-in-law. Savior AKA Malashree looks deep into the camera at one point and says something about Mangalya being the biggest swarga for women (Read: husband is heaven, god and all those things)

This is the moment that Sumitramma wisely chose to instruct her sister. Keldiya akka (Did you listen to that?), she asked her sister. Ajji calmly stood up and then walked off to sit seven rows away from Sumitramma. She watched the rest of the film alone. My mother who found the whole thing funny reported this to us with great, strong laughs.

***

From my father, who inherited his father’s baldness, I learnt that Ajja didn’t let him study Hindi in school. This is something that dad continued to hold against him for a long time. But ma thinks he’s far more upset about the baldness.

When they were travelling once – Ajja and my parents – dad told ma to breathe in deeply every time they passed a forest area. Ajja, needless to say, overheard and reported this to Sumitramma. Usradakku helkodtane. He teaches her how to breathe also.

Sumitramma only told him that he is after all, Ajja’s son – loves his wife far too much for his own good. When Ajja heard this, he walked off and never brought it up again.

***

Lot’s Wife

I like watching women walk away. I realized this first when I was watching Piku. Piku and her friend, Syed are arguing and she has had enough. She holds the door open and wonders if she should sit in the car when suddenly, she announces, “You know what? I need a break” and then she just walks off. She walks off and doesn’t return to work for days after that. She cleans her home, arranges books, goes out for a party and does other things.

Season 3 Episode 8 of Gilmore girls: Lorelai, Rory and Emily all walk away. Richard has fixed an appointment with the Dean of Yale University without checking with either Lorelai or Rory. When he ambushes Rory outside the Dean’s office, Lorelai charges towards them and speaks to Rory.

When Richard interrupts, she says, “Rory – the only person I am speaking to. You don’t have to go in there if you don’t want to.” When Rory says she will go in, Lorelai walks away without saying a word. This isn’t a pissed off walking away. This is a – “I’m here for you and I won’t let them bully you so just say the word and we’ll go” – walking away.

I am always amazed when Lorelai walks away. She doesn’t want Rory to go in but she is gracious when Rory decides to. That’s the kind of walking away that comes from respecting people and their freedom. The kind that I hope I’ll be able to do one day.

Scenes later, Rory walks away from Richard and so does Emily. Except that when Emily walks away, I’m both amused and frightened. ‘Don’t you even look at me’, she says to Richard before storming off. It took me years to admit this but I never get tired of watching her on screen.

Someday I want to walk away like that. I want to walk away without wanting to look back. Often I look back because I feel like I have left something back and without it I cannot do anything. Often, it is nothing. Just my frightened self, sitting and staring at nothing.

When Women Tie their Hair in a Bun, Leave Them Alone

Writing must become writing. Writing must become the want to write even if the desk is unkempt, and there are a hundred others things one should be doing, one could be doing. Writing must become slapping all other things off the table to make room for the dull heat of the net book, the cold forgotten earphones, and nothing else to keep it company. Not even the green mug of chai. Why does there have to be chai? Apparently Nabokov could only write standing. He stood every day of his life at a lectern and wrote. There was nothing else in this space – not chai, not music, not even quiet maybe.

It is different from the way I imagine Machado writes.

Writing has to be become the shock one wakes up with every morning and the warmth one sleeps with every night. It must become the zoo of sentences of beginnings that one repeats to oneself when one is riding. It shouldn’t be the way it is now- where only the beginnings remain and then their echoes follow one around to remind them of stories they could not write. That they cannot write.

When Machado writes, her bed is a mess. There is a mug of warm coffee in her hand but she only sips after writing a good sentence. Her table is messier and so is her hair. She has tied her hair together in a bun, keeping them away, as if to keep all distractions away. When women tie their hair together in a bun, leave them alone. They don’t want to be disturbed. My brother once told me that on days that I tie my hair in a bun, he is afraid of me. I laughed at him then. I think he is wise now.

George_Charles_Beresford_-_Virginia_Woolf_in_1902_-_Restoration

Image Credits: en.wikipedia.org

Writing must become the hole in my stomach when I go days without reading, the catch in my jaw when I don’t write, the pull in my gut when I read a student whose writing makes me jealous. Writing must become the words that appear magically in my mind and don’t leave without any notice when I am staring at the pausing cursor.

When Alice Munro writes, her characters come alive, robustly living and evaporating into stories that are more real than my nightmares. When Adichie writes, her hair is standing tall, her posture straight and she is wearing a skirt that I only have the courage to wear on holidays that I take alone. Their stories run each other down into puddles of joy and sorrow until I cannot say which is which anymore.

Writing must become the ache in my insides when I think about it. The strength to leave behind a desk that is piling up with work. It must override the temptation to sit, to talk, to be drawn into conversations. Writing must become feeling unafraid to walk out on fun.

When I imagine Woolf, Austen and the fictional Miss LaMotte, I imagine them in black & white. I imagine them taking long walks in a city whose imposed loneliness they resist. They are afraid of silence but maybe they are not afraid of being with themselves. When they write, they struggle and have no one to talk to but they continue to write. Outside their quiet homes, men write and write fiercely. It’s what they did. I will always feel indebted to all these women who wrote before me. I think I can write because they wrote.

Writing must become the smiling pause after I read something that tingles my back and sends goose bumps down my arms.

At long last, writing must become what I do every day, little little.