April 16, 2021

KITAAB

Connecting Asian writers with global readers

Excerpt: “The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer” by Laxmi Hariharan

2 min read

ReducedRubyCoverTHE MORNING INVOCATION from the Shiva temple seeps through the holes in the faulty concrete walls of my bedroom. By the time, they reach my ears, the Sanskrit chants entwine with the pinging of my iPhone, a multi-layered vibration, which blends with the humming of the air conditioner. The resultant noise is a mix of the spiritual and the electronic, tinged with the salty air from the Arabian Sea, then filtered through dusty vents. It’s that special Bombay vibe. Unique to this urban sprawl, the former seven islands of Bom Bahia—the Good Bay, as named by its Portuguese founders.

Reaching out to shut off the phone, my hand slams into the glass of water next to my bed. It promptly falls over, the crash more effective in cutting through my sleep than the iPhone’s wake-up alarm. Opening first one eye then the other, I reluctantly slide out my arms from under the cotton sheet, which has kept my body at just the right temperature through the night.

Meanwhile, the air conditioner—a luxury I can ill afford, now that I am paying my way through life, instead of living under someone else’s roof—continues to work overtime, trying its best to bring down the temperature of the room to less than blistering hot. When the cool draft caresses my skin, the chill slithering along the dusty floor to keep the feverish temperatures of the city at bay, only then can I drift off to sleep.

I stumble out of bed, and into the adjoining kitchen and fire up the stove below the saucepan already half filled with water. Yawning, I stretch my hands above my head to work out the kinks in my back. One by one, the vertebrae along my spine pop, as I straighten.

“Where’s my chai?” Pankaj, my flatmate, props himself against the doorway to his own cubicle-sized room.

“Get it yourself, bitch,” I reply mildly, spooning out tea leaves into a saucepan.

“… Please?” He wheedles, “pretty, please?”

Ha! I’ve trained him well. “But, since you have asked me so politely … I might just make your chai. This time.”

“Haven’t I told you to wait till the water boils before adding the tea leaves?” Pankaj protests. I mentally mouth before adding the tea leaves in sync with his voice. He loves to watch my fumbling efforts in the kitchen, just for the sheer pleasure it gives him to criticise my every move.

“Okay Mum,” I mumble, splashing milk into the now boiling liquid and letting the concoction stew for a few seconds before pouring it into the mismatched cups. Looking around for the sugar, I add the white crystals to Panky’s cup, pausing in the act of adding a spoonful to my own.

“Ah! Time for the sugar dance I see.”

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