Punugu Bekku

At Meta this year, we inaugurated a series called the ‘Double Action.’ Members of the Department picked a story/essay in a regional language, translated it and read it in the original — the translation being projected on a screen. I couldn’t find things online that I could translate so I wrote a personal essay in Konkani. This is the first time I have come to associate Konkani with a world outside of my home and it was strangely liberating to note that more possibilities with writing seemed to open up when I began to think and write in Konkani. I don’t know why it never occurred to me to consider Konkani as a language I can tell a story in. I can’t say I’m too happy with what I’ve written but then again, that is never the point!

I don’t remember my mother’s smell. Sometimes I think that she never had a smell. And sometimes I think that I have deliberately forgotten her smell. I think I knew her smell better when I was small.

Her smell would hug her clothes and wouldn’t leave. After her clothes were washed and dried, they would fall into a heap on the sofa and I’d leap into them and sleep. In them, I could smell more of her than surf. And hers was always ponds, fair and lovely and a bit of her. I don’t know what that is. Her bindi would sit angrily like a red dot on her forehead. Sometimes the bindi would fall off and her face would look empty and if anyone so much as pointed that out to her, she’d jump around until she wore another one. My sister once told her that if the bindi falls, Ekta Kapoor believes that your husband has died. Amma yelled at her and then laughed.

She’d always feed us when we were small. Once, she put hot hot upma into my mouth and when I started howling in pain, she blew air into my mouth to soothe it. I laughed out loudly and the upma flew onto her face and just sat there.

No matter how sick she is, she always has the energy to show us that she is sick. We know she isn’t well by the way she asks for water. She sleeps like a corpse on the bed and moans. If in case we don’t bring her water on time, she will pretend to get up and say, ‘leave, I’ll only bring it.’ She will not have moved even an inch.

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Amma ani aav

When she sings, she sings with devotion. Just the other day she was singing Aamir Khan’s Delhi Belly song – I hate you like I love you with so much devotion, it sounded like she was praying to him.

When she was small, her grandmother would sing to her. She loved her grandmother. It seems she would only wear white and sit smelling nice and warm all day. My grandmother never wears white and she smells only of Marie biscuits and vibhooti. When I was small, I would sit on her lap and only drink Horlicks after she showed me both her breasts.

Amma calls me Punugu *bekku because I smell nice after having slathered volumes of lotion and deodorant. It seems the Punugu bekku’s shit smells really nice so people make perfumes out of it. I have always dreamt of smelling nice.

I’d sometimes hide in my mother’s cupboard and smell everything I could find there. Her saris smelled differently than her salwar kameez and nighties because she didn’t wear saris often, she never opened that side of the cupboard. It had a nice musty smell to it. And I taught myself to hug her saris and get the most out of it.

Amma’s other grandmother lives in Cochin. During summer, she takes off all her clothes and sits by the door wearing just a skirt and bra. If she still feels sweaty and hot, she takes off the bra also and sits naked with just a towel on. Her name is Narmadamma. When amma mentions her, pa gets a little angry but he also laughs a lot.

All of Amma’s relatives are reddish fair. And all the relatives on pa’s side are reddish dark. Pa doesn’t like this at all. He tried a lot to become fair like amma by using fair and lovely every day but it didn’t work. Once he almost emptied an entire tube and put it on his face. He woke up the next morning with his face burnt. We all call amma and pa – milk and decoction. Pa finds this also amusing.

Growing up is like a curse. I grew distant from amma. I remember how my sister and I’d force our way into amma and pa’s bed when they’d watch TV. Now there’s distance between us — there’s pause and a kind of shyness that I don’t understand when I step into their bedroom. When I was small, the smell of my house was empty – there was too much space and nothing to smell. Now there is too much to smell but no one to smell. Amma’s smell is going away and I’m trying to catch it.

*Bekku means cat in Kannada.

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Kottuncheri

When something is lost at home, Mouma says that we can find it by praying to Goddess Kottuncheri and that when we do find it; we must please her by celebrating our joy.

Kottuncheri, like all rituals has a coconut, a vessel to keep it in, some beetle leaves, and five women. The coconut is made to fit inside the vessel, along with three adjoining beetle leaves. This is then put on a stool. The five women, of any age and size assemble around the stool. And when the eldest woman says start, they start running around the stool, like fire in the mountain, run, run, run. They run and while they run, they must chant loudly, ha – ha – ha – ha and clap their hands.

They do this for five rounds and stop. Mouma says that not all ghosts are evil and that some are even friendly and naughty, like children. These children -type ghosts like hiding objects that we are fond of. But they don’t like being laughed at and so, when we laugh loudly, it embarrasses them and they give up and return what they took from us.

I was 9 when I first saw a Kottuncheri. I didn’t mind not being part of it. I just wanted to watch these women clap their hands and say ha-ha-ha. Watching my mother do this was delightful. I’d never seen her body move around so much and she laughed so animatedly that I was sad when they stopped after the fifth round. I’d often lie and say I’ve lost my report card or my most important tie to be able to watch Kottuncheri. Mouma would sincerely conduct Kottuncheri sessions regardless of how well she knew my lies.

Mouma’s small, old body that I’m too afraid to watch even climb down the stairs hops from one side to another when she does Kottuncheri. Her shoulders sway when she jumps and claps on either side of her body.

Not all things that were lost have been found. But that’s not why they do Kottuncheri, I think. They just do it to clap their hands after a long time and laugh ha-ha-ha.

Curd Rice with Sugar

My sister falls asleep when she eats food. It’s a rare, humiliating sickness. She’s thin as toothpick and my father says that her clothes wear her and that they look fuller on a hanger. Dinner is usually at 8:00 pm and we gather around the dining table. One by one, we finish and when we take leave, we all secretly look at her plate to take note of how much food there is, so that hours later, when we look again, we can decide how much she ate.

Mother mixes sugar in everything she gives her hoping my sister will eat fast. We’ve made many innovative dishes. Upma with sugar; rice sambar with sugar; rice, fried onion, milk and sugar; dosa, milk and sugar; chapatti, milk and sugar; and the ubiquitous curd rice, also with sugar. One night, she made history.

We started dinner at 8 and finished at 8:30. Titanic was playing on Sony Max so some of us hurried to the living room, leaving my sister behind. Titanic began and we sailed on, Jack and Rose fell in love, ran, did it in the car, the ship sank, Jack died, Rose cried. Three and a half hours later, we switched the lights off and went to the dining room to see my sister fallen asleep on the table, her right hand still in the plate, her palm dotted with dried bits of curd rice, a pool of saliva slowly collecting on one side of her cheek.

Ma started beating her chest — strangely without making noise, dad sat down next to her in all seriousness, observing my sister’s calm, sullen face. They were afraid to startle her. He woke her gently almost expecting her to wake up in horror and scream. She stood up suddenly and looked taken aback at my mother’s obscenity and then took one long, pitiful look at the clock. As if setting her mind to prepare for an exam, she sat at the table again with renewed motivation and took a heavy morsel of curd rice, and dumped it into her mouth.

Swallowing it must’ve been hard considering dad who continued to look at her with all the sympathy in the world while ma was still beating her chest, now with both hands and muttering something about therapy – for her or my sister, I don’t know.

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.

***

Must Must Must

Bubbly and the troop left for Mangalore at 5:00 this morning. Can’t believe she’s getting married already. Can’t believe the pressure that’s going to mount on me now to get married. Must must must think of abandoning the peeps and running off to a little place of my own. I have been dreaming of moving out since I was 16. I’ve been saying that longer than I have been saying I want to move out. FML.

Holiday today and yesterday 🙂 I cannot stop smiling! Yesterday I watched two horror movies back to back on Netflix and read a bit of Kundera. The Unbearable Lightness of Being is the new Reading Room book. I’m slowly acquiring a taste for reading books at leisure and for watching horror movies obsessively. On Saturday, T and I watched Lights Out. Bastard is always fun to watch horror with. He’s just as jumpy as I am and starts panicking after returning home, which is always fun to make fun of. He called me an hour after we left to say that the lights at his home suddenly went out and that he’s freaking out to bits.

Kabali fever is getting to me. Must must must watch it soon. And with the right peeps in the right place. Only Lavanya or Poornima, that is.

In other news, I’m rediscovering the hots for Shah Rukh Khan. Have been listening only to Shah Rukh songs on YouTube since morning. Boli si surat is playing now and I’m remembering fondly how 19 years ago, mom and dad sneaked out of the house to watch Dil To Pagal Hai. Of course, I caught them red-handed and rolled on the floor and wailed until they decided to take me with them. They were like that then. They were convinced that if we watched Shah Rukh’s movies, we’d fall in love with boys and run away from home. Which is what my cousin M did.

Needless to say, every time DTPH played on Sony Max after that, dad would turn the TV off in a rage and yell at us to go study. Mother would purse her lips together if we ever talked dreamily about hero – heroines. Once she found my secret stash of pictures of all film stars – ones that I had painstakingly cut out from Star Dust and Film Fare. Shah Rukh, Madhuri, Kajol, Rani, Preity, Saif, Akshay, Urmila, Tabu, Sush, and Ash all had to be burnt in the choola because mother refused to speak to me until I got rid of all of them.

I wept and wept like only a girl who has been denied a secret life could weep. My cousins, N and R stood behind me and offered moral support while I threw all the pictures into the fire. I watched morosely even as Urmila’s red lipstick turned into a miserable, ugly grey and then ash.

N and R clicked their tongues every time I fished out a new picture. Didn’t matter who I was throwing , they all had glistening bodies and lovely hair. They each deserved the severest of tongue-clicking. Today, I have unlimited access to pictures from filmistan and whatnot. Still, there is neither the urge nor inspiration. Pah.

Rendezvous

When we were little, my sister and I were obsessed with Rendezvous with Simi Garewal. We would all watch the show together in the hall, where the big screen TV was — Mom, Dad, Mintu and I. Mom had to constantly shush my dad because he wouldn’t shut up. He would always have more questions than Simi Garewal.

Yen ante? Maduve aagalvanta avlu? Thu bevarsi saabi are some of things he said quite often.

Mintu and I would be sitting in two corners of the hall- far away but not so much that I couldn’t see her when I wanted to. Watching Simi Garewal together was also a way of watching my sister and checking. Checking to see if she nodded and smiled at the same points that I did, to see if she’s copying me, to later force her to pick another favourite show, and by extension — to make sure that we were living safely different lives.

Watching the show uninterrupted was of prime importance. Pees would be held in, thirsts would be quenched by gulping slivers of saliva and curses were muttered when phones rang or doorbells violated our sanctity.

An episode that I really liked a lot was the Preity Zinta one. She was well liked at home, except for dad who couldn’t stand her. He had read somewhere that she didn’t want to marry because she could never share a toilet with a man. Owing to my mother’s histrionic complaints about his fart smells — he decided to take offence on behalf of all men and has, since then, never forgiven Preity Zinta for that comment.

I, on the other hand, was simply nuts for her right after Kya Kehna. She was chirpy and funny. I had never seen an actress be funny outside of a movie before. And so I was glued right from the beginning. Here was the deal — if any actress on Simi Garewal had a nice English accent and spoke really well — she would be my sister’s and my favourite actress for weeks after that. We would fight and make each other promise that we would not like her, but secretly we would worship her. We didn’t like breaking rules we had set for ourselves — actresses couldn’t be shared. We had to have our own individual actresses to look up to.

An anecdote that PZ mentions on the show still makes me giggle. When she was 12 and wasn’t allowed anywhere near an army party, she went to her mother’s wardrobe, picked up some random bra, wore it and stuffed oranges down there.

‘Oranges?’, cried Simi Garewal. That was probably the first time someone mentioned bra at home and on TV. My father shifted in his seat a little bit but we continued watching the show. The remote control was safely tucked away under some newspapers so we were secure in the knowledge that the moment had passed and there would be no channel changing.

Another favourite was Sushmita Sen, someone I am still besotted with. Her black formals and light lavender lipstick were objects of desire for a long time.  But that wasn’t all. It was the way she laughed so openly, the way she had something witty to say to each question and the fact that she had adopted a girl. Later, I would find out from another chat show called ‘Jeena Isika Naam Hai’ that she didn’t know English very well until she started to prep for the Miss Universe pageant. And also that the evening gown she wore in the final round – one that she was eventually crowned Miss Universe in, was stitched by a tailor who ran a small shop in her building.

Once these shows were over, Mintu and I had to get back to our sad little lives again. But I would still be hungover so I would walk back quietly into my room, lock it and stand before a mirror. Simi Garewal’s voice would come undulating from inside the mirror and I would answer all her questions patiently, knowing when to pause, when to brush hair off my face and put them behind my ears, knowing when to say, ‘um, wellll’

The questions would all be deeply personal but it was the answers that I gave more thought to. My answers ranged from thank you speeches to curt responses to jackasses in my life back then. Never mind that today, those jackasses seem like angels I would happily give away my kidney to.

A gnawing worry would be that my sister would be standing in front of her mirror and doing the same thing I was doing. I never got around to finding out the truth until a couple of years ago when she finally confessed. Turns out she did it more than me. And even more elaborately — with a shawl and combed hair and all.

Mintu was insanely ahead of me in all aspects. Hell, she was the one who told me that Rendezvous is pronounced ‘Rondayvoo’ and not ‘Rendezvas’ as I continued to pronounce just out of spite.

Homes, Smells, and Red Oxide floors

I’m not sure that any of the homes I have ever lived in had a distinct smell. Or if they did, I don’t remember them now. What I am sure of is that other homes certainly had smells. These were either relatives’ homes or more peculiarly what I can only call tuition homes. But they were each different and very memorable.

My sister and I went to the same tuition till the 7th Standard. It is a truth universally acknowledged that if one’s sibling is a rank student then you will be jealous all your life. And my sister has always been a good student – did her homework, did extra credit, corrected people’s spellings, stayed back and helped teachers carry books, and topped the bloody class year after year. But mother still made her go to tuition so that I wouldn’t die of inferiority complex. But I think having her in tuition didn’t actually work in my favour because she was better than me even there. It just gave her another space in which to be really good at.

I knew of friends who did badly at school but they would always do well in tuitions. I saw no such thing happen with me. I was equally bad everywhere. And teachers made no qualms about hiding it. ‘Born gift’, ‘knack’, ‘natural talent’ were words that were thrown around when they talked about my sister.

Mother couldn’t control what other people said but she developed her own ways to curb my growing competitiveness. She celebrated both our births even if it was only my sister’s birthday. As far as I can remember, there were always two birthday frocks, two birthday cakes and two birthday presents. This often led people to assume that we are twins.

In Mangalore where we went to Lady hill convent, an old lady would take tuitions for us after school. She was tall, pulled her grey hair into a bun, wore gold-rimmed glasses and was only seen in nightgowns at home. My mother and aunts wore the same –only they called them nighties or maxis.

This old lady was fair and had kind eyes. I don’t know if it’s because of her but I continued for a long time after that to believe that all Christians were fair and had kind eyes. She was soft-spoken but very stern. Like one of those people who are very nice to you but you don’t want to piss them off because their meanness is already implied in the way they have been kind to you.

Her home always smelled of meat and wood. And for a long time after that, I continued to believe that Christian homes always smelled of good food and nice furniture. My father had warned us to not accept food if offered because ‘they will give you dhana mamsa’ (cow meat)

This got me more curious. But she never offered us food. I never even stepped beyond the living room. Although I tried very hard to peek into the bedroom on various occasions — she would look at me quietly and I would go back to reading.

The table we all sat at was their dining table. It was faded brown and long. There were two long benches on either side for all of us. There were nine students and we all went to Ladyhill. I did a stupid thing here, like I have done stupid things everywhere else. We were writing our finals and our third standard timetable was out – I gave this to my tuition teacher. The next day, the timetable was cancelled and we were told to wait for the new one. My tuition teacher was anxious when I told her about this. She said to let her know when the new timetable is announced. I forgot about it but she called twice that week to find out. The third time she called; I felt bad so I made up a fake timetable and dictated it to her over the phone. I don’t know why I did it. Perhaps because I didn’t want her to be upset or because I was tired of saying no.

Next morning, things got very unpleasant. I was mugging multiplication table for twelve when Miss Rose, my class teacher dragged me by the ear to meet Madam Principal. Apparently they frown upon things like leaking fake timetables.

At tuition the same day, my teacher pretended like nothing had happened, like my parents weren’t called to be questioned, like I wasn’t hauled out of class and yelled at. I was determined to look angry – here I was trying to protect her happiness and she goes around calling the school to confirm the timetable I had given her.

I don’t know what happened to her after we left Mangalore for good. But everytime I think of her, I remember the smell of her home and her eyes. The skin around her eyes was loose and white and wrinkly. I would often wonder what it would be like to poke it. But I was so convinced that the skin would just stick to my finger, like hot wax.

The other tuition class I remember very well was in Belgaum. This one was a stone’s throw away from home and the lady here was rather old. She had a small head full of white hair and she had wise eyebrows that would disappear under the creases every now and then. I looked only at her eyebrows when she taught. I like to think all her wisdom came from the eyebrows.

She wore cotton nighties with lacework down the front. The home had red-oxide floors and we would sit in the veranda on a bamboo mat.  I had a spot I liked to sit on – it was in the corner, and a window opened right above my head. I had marked my corner on the mat – I would dig holes with my pen to open up the bamboo lining. I don’t think she noticed it and if she did, she never mentioned it. Her home had a musty -old lady smell to it. After a point, I couldn’t tell if it was her smell or the home’s. Either way it wasn’t a pleasant one. I would take a deep breath before I entered and would hold it in for as long as I could. And when I couldn’t hold it in any longer, I would exhale and take all the smell in one quick swoop.

Near the gate was a small pond with a moss green spread on top. My sister and I would sit here sometimes after tuitions. There were a couple of frogs with creepy eyes. Barring that, I didn’t see anybody else living with the old lady. I heard very often about a son who left her but I never saw him or her husband. She lived alone. Sometimes when we were leaving, I would turn back to see her standing by the gate, waving at us. I wondered what she would go back home to. She had no TV and nobody to talk to.

I think my father made us stop going to her tuition because he saw no improvement in our marks. He made mother go tell her we won’t be coming anymore. I felt a little bad but got over it quickly because mother decided she would teach us so we didn’t have to go to tuition anymore.

Much later when we moved to Bangalore and started our tuition, I found it strange to go to homes that didn’t have old ladies. The first one that I went to had a middle-aged lady and sometimes her husband and their daughters. The oldest one I saw very rarely. But from what I could gather, she had an interesting life. She had male friends who would drop her home and hang out later. This made my father be very cross with her.She went off to the US after a while.

H – The lady’s niece was my age. She had been living with them after her father passed away. She was a quiet girl who would walk to school and back. Her uniform was a brown skirt and a white shirt. Her hair was combed tightly into the neatest partition I have ever seen. She wore two ponytails and let them hang by the shoulders. From the edge of my terrace, I would watch her walk down the street in the evenings. She would walk with her head bent down, carrying a water bottle with a big white cap. And every day I saw her empty the bottle into a plant near the gate. When I started tuition, I noticed how quieter she seemed. They all spoke Marathi and I found myself growing amused with words like zhaale and haal. Often I would see H – all cried out and red-eyed. P, her cousin would say ‘She is missing her father’

The next home I went to was interesting. An old couple lived right behind our house with their two children. The boy was in senior year, degree and the girl had just started college. I don’t know how but my sister got out of tuitions here and it was only my brother and I. The lady taught us from 4:30 to 6:00. At 6:00, her husband would wake from his nap, sit in the hall, his legs folded up on the chair and ask for tea. Occasionally, my brother and I were given snacks.This home too, had a red oxide floor with green borders.

My first day in each of the tuition homes has been very scary. It took a while to get used to the people who lived in these homes, the mosaic floors, the red-oxide floors and the smells. The tuition homes also meant that the children who grew up here had to have been rank students. They were doing something right in these homes that I wasn’t doing in mine. They woke up at the right time, drank milk without throwing any down the sink, they did their homework at the same time every day, they went out to play at the same time every day. In so many ways, these homes reminded me of what a perfect student’s life must be like. It never occurred to me to look into my sister’s. I was fascinated with these homes just as much as I was afraid.

I couldn’t imagine living in these homes after 6:00 pm. It made me very depressed to look at red-oxide floors in the night. It is strange how I don’t remember the men in these tuition homes at all. I don’t remember what they looked like or what they said.

Stranger still is the fact that even after all these years, I have forgotten what the homes looked like but their smells have never left me.