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Amma’s yellow nightie makes her face shine. She looks calm when she wears yellow. Except when I am late. Then she is never calm.

When I walk up to my room, one heavy step after another, my brown leather bag slinging morosely over my shoulder, strands of hair getting caught in the strap, I wish she is asleep. But she never is. She only sleeps after she has seen my two-wheeler parked outside. And when she has seen that, she doesn’t even see me. She walks back quietly to her room and I wait to hear the soft thud of her bedroom door closing. It’s only then that I can breathe out. My steps are far more confident when Amma isn’t home. I can breeze in happily through pa’s soft snoring and the slow, dry whizzing of the fan.

One morning I stood on the balcony and watched them go for their daily walk. My parents seem older and weaker when they are walking, especially when they are walking away from me — slowly, like every step counts, their backs slightly bent but quickly straightened after sudden remembering, their bodies – heavy and round, yet their fragile clothes hanging loosely.

Pa in his wrinkled white pajamas, eternally torn under the sleeves, forgotten, worn, taken off and then worn again. The small patch on his glistening bald pate looking smaller and helpless. Ma in her colorful chudidhar, her dupatta carelessly thrown over, so that one half of it is always traling after her loudly.

What were they talking about? I’m sure this and that. Loans, construction, BP tablets, my marriage, thyroid tablets, blood test, my brother’s tuition teacher, my marriage, granny, lunch, my marriage. That day I stood and watched them for a long time. I watched them until my neck could no longer be craned and until the road ended abruptly, rudely.

Like in most homes, we all know when pa is angry. I think Indian homes are built to acknowledge the man’s many moods. The home would shrink and become hot making it unbearable to live in pa’s anger’s aftermath. Even the kitchen smells would withdraw into a corner and there they would stand until it was safe to step out. When I was small, I wished that whenever pa was angry, all the volumes on all the TV’s and radios could just mute themselves. It was just too terrible when he was going to explode and Urmila Matondkar’s Kambakth Ishq was playing obscenely loud. Which meant that that day we were all going to be lectured not just for watching kachda Mtv but also for watching it on that obnoxious volume.

They rarely fight and I can only rememeber this one time that they fought. I learnt that Amma doesn’t cook when they fight. She sleeps the morning off and pa walks all over the house in a haze. His face is calm but his lips are gently pursed and every now and then, a tcha tcha can be heard. His hands run constantly against each other – the fingernails touching, grizzling, moving up and down in one swift motion. Baba Ramdev’s exercise for quick and thick hair growth. It has been over a decade now. No hair, nothing. But pa hasn’t stopped doing it. It’s a habit now. Hair can go to hell.

Pa goes out to buy food on these days.  On the dining table there are 5 newspaper packets — idlis, vadas, sambars and chutneys — all rolling in one thick Darshini smell. We’d eat some and save the rest for night.

The next morning when I’d finally see Amma, her eyes would be small and puffy and she wouldn’t linger out of the bedroom for very long. They’d patch up soon and the home would go back to being room temperature again, and all the smells would come out slowly, except that there’d still be a faint trace of the darshini idli chutney smell and this I’d only discover when I’d lock up all the doors and switch off all the lights and tiptoe towards my room. And here the only sound to accompany my dull footsteps would be the bright hum of the fridge.

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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.

Riding

When I’m riding to college, my posture changes 3 times. When I take the ‘sudden’ left immediately after home, my back is straight with caution, my arms relaxed on the handles, and my demeanour polite and undemanding, unlike my mother who watches me from the balcony every morning.

A little ahead and my body picks up speed and hurries past ambling cows who are immune to life and noise outside their bodies and ignore me to focus on the more important things in life- flies.

My body is at its rigid best when we pass by the loud and bellowing temple and its irritating, loyal devotees seated in their vehicles, their palms joined together outside the window. Arms that I’d like my super fast activa to chop in half. These are the only people I honk at mercilessly. I don’t like this excuse they have awarded themselves – that they shan’t be disturbed when they are praying to god in the middle of the road regardless of how many vehicles line up behind.

Near Jain College and its acutely chatty pupils, my grip on the accelerator thickens. They stand in the middle of the road to hi-five, to chat, to greet each other. They should be wiped off the earth.  When I begin honking, girls jump back in fright and roll their eyes, boys point their elongated arms at me in disgust while I flutter off happily.

***

At signals, my body is light and I try to balance the vehicle’s weight, alternating from one foot to the other. My eyes fall on fellow riders, wondering where they’re headed, where they’ve come from, whether they’ve bathed?

Now and then, my face becomes rounder and falls when it sees men who ogle from inside their vehicles. It falls, and then it stares back at them, gaze fixed, challenge accepted. Let’s see who withdraws first. Sometimes they withdraw first and when they don’t, and if I find the courage that morning, I flash my middle finger at them before scuttling off. This is the advantage of a two-wheeler. One cannot scuttle off in a car.

When I cross a busy road, my body is hesitant but my palms are stubborn. They have a tighter grip on the bike than I have on my life and in seconds, without so much as a passing register to the honking truck nearby, I speed to the other side.

***

On route to getting some alone time, my body is warm and I am happy. I smile at trees and the skyline; I appreciate the color in the evening, humming old and forgotten Bollywood songs and tunes of languages that I don’t know. When I am headed to G’s, I’m secretly a little anxious. The writing may or may not happen but there’s always plenty of hot chocolate to fall back on. And it’s always a nice thing to know that there are several plug points at G’s even though I may not need one.

Riding to K is mostly a set of decisions. Is it a rum kind of evening or a ginger chai kind? Cops never make it to this list. (Never been caught *fingers crossed*) Is it August already? Are my Mango Melbas gone? Mixed fried rice or pork noodles? When I’m picky, I flirt with other options but the heart wants what it wants and what it wants every night is mixed fried rice without liver. Because Anand approves.

***

Homewards, I’m goose bumping all over because the night is always chilly and mother is not sleeping until I get home.  When I first stole this bike from my brother, he’d park it inside for me every night. And then one day, just like that he refused. I learnt how to park decently but I don’t feel satisfied until I bang the bike’s bum to the noisy gate at least once before retiring.

30 days into Summer

I get an erection when I think of free time these days. Yet somehow all that glorious free time is spent watching Season 2 of Gilmore Girls. I am not complaining though. I noticed a guitar in Luke’s apartment in the episode where Jess comes to Stars Hollow for the first time. I might be growing fonder of Emily than Lorelai – this is when I slow down, shut my laptop and contemplate life.

Summer is here – there’s blood and pus in my nose, boils the size of balloons on my face, grease and leaves in my hair, an egg that I am sure will neither fertilize nor crumble in my uterus, leading me to believe that much like me-that damned egg will live and die alone. In my uterus.

So PCOS 10: VJ Loser. It’s alright actually. I don’t even realise I have a malfunctioning uterus until a drop of the theertha is eventually squeezed out, once in three months.

Mintu and I went to Fenny’s last Sunday. Madam wanted to watch the match so she got there 30 minutes early and sat annoyingly close to the projector. I yanked her away to a nice little table with tall stools under some tree. I am yet to figure out how people grow so many trees on the third floor. Next to us was what they called a Lucky Ficus. Here’s something about sitting under trees –no matter how calm I am from the inside to be sitting right under nature’s bosom and all, I am permanently worried that there are snakes in nature’s bosoms. I kept looking up to see if there were any snakes hanging above my head and hissing. I didn’t tell Mintu because she would start crying and screaming and make us switch tables.

Mintu starts shaking if you so much as say ‘snakes’. Even the word, she says is snake-like.

In other news, I am no longer practicing tolerance and non-violence when people start screaming their guts out while watching cricket. At Social the other day, the waiters whistled with actual whistles everytime the blue men caught a six. My ears bled. I wanted to make something of theirs bleed. The drinks were nice though. The LIIT was an actual tower, a drink called trip on the drip actually came with a drip bag, and there were appetizers called crab balls to you.

Later that night when I went home, the match was still on and the peeps were mental. I was too happy and tipsy to complain so I joined in. But mother, B, M and V started throwing things at me because I was cheering for Bangladesh. When the match came to an exciting near end, my mother kept bouncing up and down, my brother was half sitting half praying, B and M were kicking me because I had spotted a man dressed as a tiger whom I decided to call Bengal Tiger for the rest of the night. Bengal Tiger beat his chest at various points and wept when India won. He had both his hands on his head and cried like a baby. Everytime he appeared, I yelped. Soon, they all joined and laughed the match off whenever they saw Bengal Tiger. He looked so sad – I think he died.

I am reading Tipping the Velvet and feeling bad for myself because after this and Night Watch, I won’t have any more Sarah or Waters to read. She reminds me of London, and the coach we saw London in. I can’t think about London without sighing and also feeling a little guilty. It’s close to a year now and I am nowhere near to finishing that Europe piece.

B is engaged! The wedding’s in August and I promised to wear a saree if she came with us for a vacation. B will celebrate her bachelorette or the Konkani version of it, on a cruise. I am making my list  for the vacations– hopefully I will find the courage to let go off Gilmore Girls and get a life.

 

At Sixteen

On my 16th birthday, I made myself very happy. I decided it had to be a big deal, regardless of who wanted to make it big and who didn’t. I procured some money from my mother and took myself to Gandhi Bazaar to shop. I knew what I wanted. At 16, I always knew what I wanted with a clarity that was almost aggressive. I have neither the gumption nor the energy to love myself like that or know with clarity, what I want anymore. Somewhere between learning to love other people between 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, and 26, I didn’t love myself enough. Or maybe I thought it wasn’t that important.

At 16, the joy of sitting alone in a coffee shop, reading something was just about enough to make me happy. Between the ages of 17 to 26, I waited for other people to love me like I loved myself. When that didn’t happen, I hated myself and later, them.

So at 15, hours shy of turning 16, I stood outside Perfumer – a fragrance shop and waited, smiling. This was the first gift I would be buying for myself. And for a long time after that, the last. I took a small vial and decided that I liked it. It was a lovely shade of green-blue, colors that appeared on my palette when I mixed the darkest green with the lightest blue in my art class at school. At the counter, I asked for the perfume to be gift-wrapped. I picked the shiniest, the most expensive wrapping paper. It was pink, a color that still reminds me of unexplored freedoms I have chosen not to take because I am too busy doing god knows what.

At home, I lit all the candles I owned on the balcony I rarely used. The walls in my bedroom were a light lavender, the furniture, dark brown. I had chosen these colors from magazines that I had read. Tall, grown up women always seemed to sit comfortably alone on oval-shaped beds, light colored walls and the darkest brown furniture. I was painting, as it were, my independent life with my father’s money.

I waited for the clock to strike at 12:00. Ash was made to look excited because I had whined and whined about this day for months now. I suspect she was glad that in minutes, all the drama would be over and she could go to sleep.

At 12:00, I blew out all the candles on my balcony, picked up my journal and began to write. I drew the number 16 sixteen times on a page before making a list of things I had to accomplish by the next birthday. I picked out my outfit for the next day. A new shirt, a new pair of jeans. I was convinced I would fall in love when I turned 16. And I did. Now that I look back, it is almost mysterious how by the time I had turned 17, I had a boyfriend and at 12:00 am on my 17th birthday, I didn’t do any of the things I did on my 16th. I waited a different kind of wait. A Nokia in my hands, blushing under the covers, I waited for him to call and since that night, I have always celebrated birthdays with regard to who remembers.

I sense now that I’m about to say things like it’s time I go back to being 16 again. While it’s true that some reflection should go that way, I am happy that my birthdays now aren’t all that self-indulgent. It’s the other days I am worried about. Those should probably be more self-indulgent.

 

How I found out what Jasmine was

As children, we were taken to Bhadravathi every Diwali to celebrate Hiriyar Habba. It’s a festival to remember and honour the dead– in this case, my grandfather’s father and his father. We would leave Belgaum early in the morning and reach Bhadravathi by evening. All I knew about the place back then was that it’s a little after Shimoga and that there is a lovely little bridge at the entrance to the city. Year after year, almost decidedly, dad would point to the bridge and say ‘This is a Bridge. Under this are the rivers Tunga and Bhadra. That’s why the city is called Bhadravathi.’

But I have come to associate Bhadravathi with other things. Things like the smell of bhajjis being fried and the early evening throw ball matches. At the junction where we took right to get home was the steel factory. I still don’t know how and why my uncle chose to live in Bhadravathi. But I know he had a job over at the steel factory.

My favourite part about going home to Bhadravathi was the home itself. It was a pretty long house. Long is the aptest word I can think of because that’s what it was. It wasn’t big. It was stretched long. I could stand at the gate and peep into the veranda, all the way into the hall, the dining hall, and be able to see the choola in the kitchen. The kitchen was the darkest corner of the house. The bathroom was further away, in the back. The toilet wasn’t located inside the house. One had to walk around the house, behind the shed and the clothesline to find another small shed, which was the toilet.

A bucket full of water had to be filled from the small tank near the clothesline before going to the toilet. I grew rather fond of this little adventure until one time that I forgot to take a bucket of water and had to holler for help.

Once we had settled in, I would see mother only very rarely. She would disappear into the kitchen and I saw her only when the gang got tired of playing and one by one, we would make our way into the kitchen to steal alu bondas and eerulli bhajjis. We ran wild and mad, away from the screaming aunties to some tree or the occasional park. Mostly we locked ourselves up in a room, where we would settle down on a bed sheet and munch away till we were called for lunch.

Slowly, I don’t know how but the boys and girls would start fighting and this would always lead to a throw ball match. Dad would be on their side and occasionally, on ours. N and H were always good at throw ball so the girls didn’t have to worry. They were our pillars. N manned the back and put H and me in the front. They gave the boys a hard time. Sometimes the boys would win, but we won the last and the most important match.

If they won, we wouldn’t talk to them all evening. They would snigger first, laugh next and eventually somebody would cheer us up into talking to them once again. While lunch was a festive occasion, dinner was grand. A section of the children’s room would be cleared out to make room for the photographs of those deceased. One by one, the girls would be sent to bring in the food and boys were sent to bring fruits, flowers and incense. Older uncles would stand in a corner and debate brands of alcohol. ‘Not for us, for them’, was whispered every now and then. I don’t recall being stumped by this back then. It’s only now that this detail interests me. Alcohol and beedis were brought and kept in the middle of all that food. Nobody looked embarrassed and it continued to sit there, looking like a showpiece, all innocent.

When I asked once, I was told that it was to please the dead people, to make sure that everything they liked to eat and drink was given to them. After the pooja, we would all leave the house and wait outside for five minutes so the dead people could come, eat to their heart’s content and go.

Later in the night, we wouldn’t sleep. We would stay awake to talk. About what? Nobody cared. But we did.

On our way back to Belgaum, mom would tell us everything that happened in the kitchen. The funny bits would keep my dad chuckling for weeks. The funniest so far was my older aunt saying that the darkest man in the family was the younger aunt’s husband. The younger aunt didn’t pause for a moment before saying, ‘ya, your husband is one nandi-battalu-hoova no?’

Sitting and Stalking

The first few weeks after my post-graduation were spent sitting in an arm-chair, looking for jobs and streaming How I Met Your Mother. Two tabs for teaching vacancies, two for writing and two other tabs for stalking women’s blogs. I didn’t know this then but I think stalking women’s blogs made me want to have a writing life and made me see how independent the women who wrote were.

Two of my favourite women bloggers were on blogspot then and they had written extensively about their work and living alone. I gobbled up their archives in a day and was thirsty for more. I went looking for them online. I stalked friends of friends on facebook, googled their names and arrived at a set of conclusions. These women were employed, lived alone, liked to read, and wanted to become writers. They were part of writing and reading workshops, were in touch with each other and wrote motherfucking every day.

I was more envious than thrilled. I was only just coming to terms with my own desire to write and these women– some even younger than me, were a lot more accomplished. It was around this time that I got a job at an NGO in Mysore. After a lot of persuading, my parents agreed and I started to pack my life of 22 years into medium-sized suitcases. I packed tea mugs, all of my journals which needn’t be hidden anymore, my books that were waiting to be read after I had become an independent woman, and family albums, just in case I missed them (so many giggles)

When we got to Mysore, I realised that I hadn’t really given much thought to where I would be living my independent woman life. I hadn’t thought of accommodation. I assumed that a PG would come flying by to my rescue and I wouldn’t have to worry. Long story short- I didn’t find any accommodation that my parents approved of so I lived in a government guest house for three days before giving in to their emotional drama and eventually quitting. I cried and kicked all the way back to Bangalore. My theory is that all of my dad’s government car drivers know me better than my parents do. So many of my life’s tragedies have happened in these cars. They would look straight ahead and drive on sombrely, ignoring the hysterical and weepy woman sitting next to them. I wonder what they knew. I wonder if they judged my father.

Months later– sitting in Uttarahalli where I got my second job, I took my first step and started to blog. I had reached a dead-end. I was stalking all these women and becoming nervous and ambitious all at once. These bursts of energy only made me more jealous so I would end up binge-watching Gilmore Girls and calling it a day. Here I discovered PeeVee- a student who lived in Bangalore and pursued a degree in Mass Communication by day and wrote madly by night. I became obsessed with her. I followed her writing very closely and fashioned my old blog after hers. I wrote about watching Julie & Julia that day and went to bed a happy woman that night.

I continue to stalk women now. I turn to their writing for comfort when my own writing hits all levels of shit and my personal life hits all levels of madness. These women taught me how to write but they didn’t know that I was learning from them. Three years later I find that I have a writing life. It’s not the greatest but I’m sure that if the girl sitting in Uttarahalli knew this, she would be happy for herself.

It’s not easy to write. Especially not when I am sad but it’s the only thing that I can call mine and I trust it to make me feel better.