Ishq and other things

 

When I get back home at 11:00 in the night, my footsteps are measured, my body rigid and I plonk myself on the sofa which, much like my body, seems too soft out of a tiredness that will only go away after eight hours of sleep. I must be careful to not make noise; ma is awake, like always. If she is coming down with heavy steps, a noise that carries itself to the very core of my heart and makes me pout in fear, it means I am going to get an earful that night. I wait to hear the soft thud of the door of her bedroom which means that she’s finally going to sleep. But the thud is followed by a silence that is almost unbearable to ignore. It means she’s unhappy that I have come home late again.

When I get back home at 8:00, my brother is watching Kumkum Bhagya and having dinner. He sulks when I ask him to change the channel. Two years ago, if I had yanked the remote out of his hand and switched to Zee Cafe to watch The Big Bang Theory or Friends, he would have made a fuss. But he has learnt to like these shows now so he doesn’t mind that his sisters watch Zee Cafe. He laughs along with the laugh track and sometimes louder.

He annoys us repeatedly to know which episode it was that Raj, Leonard and Howard go to camp, get high and laugh like maniacs. In solidarity, I have begun to take an interest in Kumkum Bhagya. I am making guesses of all kinds — who is upset with whom in this episode and why? In last week’s episode the man got drunk, returned home with a doll that looked like his wife and came very close to making love to it.

Tonight my brother is watching Ishq, a Hindi movie from the 90’s. At the outset it’s the story of four people in love. Two boys and two girls. One for all and all for one. But only two of these people are rich, but they are not the couple in love and that’s why their parents must kill their poor lovers so the rich boy can marry the rich girl.

Ishq_1997

I watched it in Belgaum. My neighbours – J and P had watched it that afternoon and had come running to our house to tell us to go watch it. They told us what scenes to look out for – there was the pipe scene, they said, which made the whole theatre go berserk with madness. J said a little pee came out. P said it was not little.

They enacted a particularly macabre scene with such enthusiasm, my dad was convinced that we had to go watch the movie soon. This was the car scene. Juhi Chawla is pissed with Aamir Khan and wants him to die so she puts him in a car with no brakes. There is also a monkey in the car that drives at one point.

That night, we went to Nartaki. I kept looking at mom-dad’s faces in the darkness to make sure they were laughing. This is a sickness that I have even now. Every time I watch a movie that I have heard is great or really funny, I want to make sure that the people sitting next to me are laughing. If they aren’t, I get really worried. I wonder if they have understood the joke and so I sit prepared to explain the joke. If this doesn’t happen, I wonder if they are upset with me. Don’t watch movies with me, I am crazy like that.

But there, I didn’t have to worry. My parents were laughing. My mother’s cheeks were red, the color they become when she is also crying.

I liked Ishq for a whole lot of other reasons. There were two couples and I was curious to know how they functioned. My heart felt all kinds of full when I watched them dance around wearing clothes that matched in Mr Lova Lova. I decided that my favourite couple is Juhi-Aamir because their clothes were more color-coordinated. My sister picked Kajol-Ajay because she said theirs was true love.

The fact that the movie also explored the sexual tension between the couple not- in- love thrilled me to bits. In most other movies the couple not -in- love become brother-sister if they aren’t already brother- sister. This was one such movie. And to top it all, the rich kids had maniacal fathers who were interestingly, both widowers. One got laughed at a lot because he was dark, the other got laughed at a lot because he was bald.

God, I miss the 90’s. Things were simpler.

For once, nobody is fighting over what to watch. Tonight, my brother and I will sit and laugh at all the scenes I had laughed at all those years ago.

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Of Borrowed Bikinis

It’s what families do to me. It’s what my family does to me. This feeling that they are taking away from me what is mine – my body, my space, my idea of who I am and who I want to be like. It feels the way bodies sometimes react to danger. Like how 5 seconds before your body knows it’s going to touch concrete, it cringes and you taste blood in your mouth, like air squeezed out from your lungs.

I am 14, puberty and all. We are out on a holiday. I spend most of the night thinking about touch and sex and love only to be woken up rudely by mother at 6:30 in the morning. I have barely slept and not fully recovered from fantasies. We have to go out for a walk, all of us together, with the family. I don’t want to go, I say sleepily. I don’t have a choice because they can’t leave a girl alone, all by herself in a hotel room. The reason makes me slightly mad. Now I really don’t want to go even though I am wide awake because mother is being stubborn again.

No, we have to go because we have to see the sun and anyway I get to sleep at home how much ever I want. I fight, they shout, we leave. On the walk, they have a new problem. I am not looking happy ‘enough’. I have to enjoy because I am out with family. I didn’t want to because I didn’t feel like I had control over my body anymore. I had wet the bed, with no time to bathe or change, I was out for the walk with wet panties stinking from between my legs. I felt sicker because they were all watching me, forcing me to look happy.

I am 17, I have PTA. Mother gets there 30 minutes early and stands behind a pillar to watch if I am talking to any of the boys. Fast forward to 5 years later, my sister and mother joke about dad’s expression if he were to find out that she gets dropped home by her male friends on their two wheelers.

I am 20. I have a bad headache. Mother wants the grinder repaired. There are 3 other people at home perfectly capable of getting it repaired. But mother is convinced that I have to go. Maybe because she is mad at me for being in love (which I was), maybe she is mad at herself because she didn’t have enough evidence to prove it, maybe she is mad at me for lying, but for now she is mad at me for not waking up soon as she screamed my name to get the fucking grinder repaired.

I am 20. I want to go for a sleepover. She throws her plate of food away because I asked her why I can’t go. Every one at home is mad at me because she hasn’t eaten that night. I didn’t go for the sleepover.

I am 23. I get a job in Mysore, which isn’t too far away from home. Surprisingly they agree. But mother has cried thrice already because I looked ‘too’ happy to go to another city. I can’t find accommodation. Mother and father have BP issues so I have to quit. I spend more than a month at home, unemployed and depressed and now I have to stomach the fact that my sister is going to Pune to work. ‘They have people we know there’ ‘You’ll get a job soon, don’t worry’.

I am 23. Another sleepover. Dad yells, I yell back, he says he is going to slap me, mother lets me go.

I am 24. I have lied enough to learn that I don’t have to deal with any of the drama at home if I keep lying. So I keep lying.

I am 25. I have to wear a Saree for a cousin’s wedding. I don’t want to wear it but she looks tired and unhealthy and apparently her menopause becomes worse when I don’t wear a Saree. So I say ok. My sister doesn’t have to wear one because our clients only like chubby girls. When she puts on enough weight, she will be forced into a saree and made to stand in front of strangers who will rape her with their eyes. But now it is my turn to be raped.

I feel naked in a saree because I don’t want to wear it. I might wear a bikini and feel more clothed so long as I have decided to wear a bikini. I can’t talk to them about this. I don’t think they will understand.

I am 25. I am going to travel alone for the first time. I am excited. I don’t care that I had to lie to be here, doing my own thing, paying with my own money. I am glad I am here. They can all go to hell because for 3 days now, I am the master of my time on a holiday that I am paying for, where I will wear bikinis and run on beaches. I will think about the Saree later, when I have satisfied my body with a bikini.

To the woman I don’t know

I wish I knew her as well as I know her in photos. We look very close in all our pictures together, the kind of closeness that is brought together by a hundred unspoken arguments, two pauses and a dot of red silence – the red round on her forehead. These silences are in the thinnest gaps between us that the photos don’t see. It is the tiny strip of white light between our closely hugging bodies that quietly fades away into the distance behind us when I see how her hands lie unforgotten and clasped around me.

We hug a lot. On birthdays and anniversaries and for photos taken on top of hills, clouds all white and happy, a room with fading walls and big windows. We look happy in each of these. But I don’t know if we ever talked. I don’t remember the last time we talked just to talk, no lame necessary exchange of dialogues concerning bills or time or food. We have had arguments, sure, a measured distance that multiplies with every nod she didn’t give me when he was around, every misunderstanding I wanted her to have handled better and every value of tradition that I wanted her to dismiss.

Even so, I cannot think of anybody else who could have done a better job. After years of trying to mold me into the shape that he wanted of me, after all the sleeveless kurtas she returned to the tailor to get them sown into sleeves that don’t expose armpits, the way he wanted, after all the battles I  thought I fought, there is now, between us only a wall that separates our rooms, our lives and our growing distance from each other. On either sides of the wall there are all the things I don’t remember to tell her. Like how sometimes, when I think of her outside the crowd of family and expectations, I see her as a person. Like how she looks lovely in red, blue and yellow. Like how it took me really long to find out what my favourite picture of us is.

The walls in this room are white. There is a plastic cover next to the cot, perched the way I am on her lap. She is holding me tight, like she does in all our photos, clinging to me, knowing that this is the only moment that will unashamedly allow this closeness, this intimacy of unsecret smiles. Her face is young and more oval than it is now. Her big red bindi is not angry as it always is, in my memory. She looks happy and I can tell it’s a happy that is not just for the camera that he is holding. She is smiling broadly, showing most of her teeth.

Twenty four and a half years later there is an occasional silence in the car when we sit next to each other. There’s noise outside and, inside, there are long breaths deeply taken in and thrown out, hiding all signs of accidental sighs.

I wish we were closer, the way she and my sister are, I wish there were more than grunts in our conversations, I wish I knew her better. Now and then when she is not here, I don’t look for her voice the way I think I should when I miss her. I don’t know her smell. I don’t know her at all and I cannot blame her. She’s always been here, and there, on the cot that she sits on everyday. I see her as I make my way up the staircase and into the guilt free space that is my room. I am not too fond of this journey because it makes me guilty to not want to go there, to her room and sit and talk to her, the way my sister does so effortlessly. It’s almost as if my sister were not her child, they are that close.

I wish I could wholeheartedly blame him for all the things that my mother and I can’t have. The shaky, more angry folds in my memory bring me back another woman who isn’t anything like the pretty lady in the yellow nightie from the photo. She is not smiling, she is angry that I went to my cousin’s home a few blocks away. She is angrier because I went with boys, my cousins, brothers, but ‘boys’ in her head. She is angry because I couldn’t be more grown up when I was 14.

I can forgive this. I know that, but I want it to happen sooner. I don’t want to feel her smell on my body after she’s left us. I want to find out what her smell is, now, here when she’s with me.

Amma and I
Amma and I

Nothing here

I gruelingly remember my undergraduate years at Jain College. Blow after blow, bully after bully, fight after fight.  A lot of my time was invested in either escaping said bullies or trying to confront them in my head, making speeches. I made terrible friends, wasted all my time in a college that was as aimless as its students. I didn’t know what I wanted from my career. Too much time was spent worrying about potential love failure. Too much more time was wasted in romance that didn’t blossom when it had to.

Being in love can be very exhausting. At 16, the exhaustion seemed weightless.  Also, I was too young to notice that I was exhausted. All my decisions were based on him.  Where we would eat, where we would go for the vacation, where we would make out next, which movie to watch, what lies should I tell at home, what excuses aren’t already taken. Not far behind was also the lurking, overwhelming sense of whether or not all of this was worth it.

I hate to admit, but maybe falling in love at 16 wasn’t really an achievement as I hoped it would be. I must be the bigger person here and also say that mother was probably right. I can never be so sure about this because back then, this wasn’t a house that encouraged a career in the humanities. Marriage proposals from men two decades older than me were considered and pursued with much enthusiasm just because I was anyway a B.A English student.

But my misdirected rage against them was no excuse for having exploited 3 prime years of my life, chasing nothing, but they didn’t seem like nothings then. They were what caused me dark circles – prolonged wait and hope for calls that never came, for text messages that were never returned, for love that remained unrequited long after I was his, and he, mine.

I don’t know how we’ve made it this far; maybe because for a good seven years of my life I gave it all of myself.  With every promise, every wound, every funny story, every fight, every touch. I did write now and then but they were all a bunch of things I could never tell him out loud. Like how much I hurt because of the sudden intense moments of love I often felt.

It doesn’t hurt now because the pain is all too familiar. The love remains and so do struggles of memory and hurt and fear.  I pass by that college every day on my way to work. On bad days, I cringe when I pass by those demon gates, on better days I laugh and feel secretly relieved about the disconnection I have managed with the college and its people.

It’s not as if I have outgrown the girl I was behind those gates. I still run after love in more or less the same ways. Except that my capacity for exhaustion seems to have plummeted down to obscene levels.

Runaway Granny!

This is a story that I have wanted to tell for some time now. I didn’t really know it was a story so I didn’t bother looking there all this while.  It became a story this morning when I eavesdropped on a conversation that my mother and sister were having about my grandmother. My father has always thought that I am like his mother. It’s like this general consensus that I’ve grown up listening to. Now that I think about it, everytime I expressed a stubborn desire to do something that nobody approved of, I was told that I am like her. For the longest time, in fact even until before 2 months, this was offensive to me. This comparison. Everytime someone wanted to make me feel bad and  wanted to make me stop ‘wanting’ something I could not have, either because I was too young or because I was a girl, I was told that I am like my Grandmother.  It was said in a tone to put me back in my place.

I don’t remember having spent much time with her except for our long morning walks together in Belgaum. My grandmother is the quietest person I have met.  Too much has been said about her in the houses that I grew up in. Too much more has been said about her in the houses of my mother’s sisters. Stories of torture and stubbornness and arrogance and my mother’s silent battle against this woman who made life hell for her. This is the story that was told to me by everybody who knew her. I see another story here though. I don’t know much of her past and whether or not she was happy in her marriage, whether or not she liked her children but I do know that she liked being on her own. She wasn’t much of a talker, didn’t like small talk, ate on her own, watched TV on her own and stuff. And these were things that she was constantly being judged for.

Women who like their space are never liked in this family. It’s only now I realise how strong she was/is to stand up to all these fellows. Now I can see why my father and I have issues. He’s trying hard to tame me and I am trying harder to run away. Everybody hated her for how often she wanted to run away everytime there was a fight at home.  And god knows how much my mother wants to silence of the lambs me everytime I mention wanting to live alone. It scares them.  When women in my family think of running away as an option, scares the crap out of them.

I think my granny was unhappy  because she couldn’t be by herself and when I think of how much she could have had if only she was born a generation later; it makes me want to hug my parents so I immediately stop thinking dangerous things like that. I look at what I have now and how much more I can have, if only I stop being a lazy chicken and start work on my escape plan.

I think she was fond of me but she liked my sister better because she was the good one.  See, that’s the crazy thing. I don’t know how these things work.  Anyhow, think how much she would have loved to have a room of her own.  Think how many more people she could have pissed off if she had lived alone, just the way she wanted to. Especially my father. Strange strange family. I have daddy issues and he has mommy issues. But she actually has no issues.  She would have been a happy person if everybody just left her alone! If only she could have run away.

 

To Ashish

I started writing because I wanted to hide from my mother. I needed a space that could be only mine, that nobody wanted because they didn’t know it existed. It gave me some kind of thrill to hide when I was wanted the most. I treasured those moments when I could just hide and watch them look for me. To not be seen when they were frantically looking for you gives you some kind of sadistic authority over yourself and your space. Some similar kind of thrill was transferred onto that moment when I first wrote a full sentence. For those kind souls who do read my blog, you may remember a boy named ‘Ashish’ that I mentioned in a post titled ‘Poof’. For all the times I have fallen in and out of love with god knows how many people, I remember Ashish very well. He was chubby (just the way I like ’em even to this day) and had brown, wavy hair. In all that time that I was in love with him, he must have glanced at my direction once, maybe twice. We never talked to each other.

So him and Rashmi (also a girl I was in love with) were friends and it seemed like he spent all of his life with her. This drove me insane one evening and I wanted terribly to do something about it. I did the only thing that I felt like doing. I wanted to write “I hate you Ashish” hoping it would help me out of feeling lost and small. And where did I write this bit? On a wall in my Mother’s bedroom. I don’t know why I picked her room. I didn’t really pick actually. I remember I had a red pen in my hand and I was in her room and I just walked up to the wall and wrote it. In awfully small font. So small that even if everyone in the world would overlook it, my mother would read it. Because I wrote it and it was THAT small so she had to know what I was hiding (?) from her no?

The woman bawled my name out soon as she read it demanding to know why I had written what I had written. I remember feeling terrified when I had to explain it  to her. So I made up some gibberish and ran away. That may have just been the first of the many ‘Explain yourself’ encounters I was going to have with my mother in future. But I remember feeling devilishly happy because I had managed to piss her off. That episode triggered so much pleasure in me that I decided to keep a journal in some freudian hope that she would read it and be annoyed.

That’s how and why I found writing. It became my most sought out hiding place and promised me guilty pleasures like hiding and watching someone looking for me, hiding and watching someone read what I have written and other such nonsense. Eventually, writing has helped me move closer to the woman I want to become, even though I don’t know who the hell that is.