I have a habit of staring at horizontal lines. Railway tracks always fascinate me.
These railway lines which align trains, crisscrossing and bisecting each other in their paths, are made of the metal – iron. It seems to be yesterday my father had tutored me on the need for a man to be made of iron, so as to overcome the pitfalls that life brings in its wake.
“You’ll never know the truth, son of mine! But when you’ll reach an age, when reflection and contemplation become your only activities, then you’ll realize that you’ve indeed come a long way.”
A long way. But how long is l-o-n-g? This conversation was held many years ago, when I had gone home for my vacations. My parents had decided that a boarding school education and discipline would smooth away the rough edges of my youth. But however much they tried, the edges had remained rough till I had maturity!
On lonely nights, even the hum of a refrigerator is company, the whirring of a fan is comforting, the tick-tock of a clock is reassuring. And, of course, the night sky is a loyal companion – I talk with the moon about you, and she tells me about the sun.
I try to remember the last time we hugged, let alone made love. I can’t recollect.
Something very toxic seems to have festered between us. How, when, why I have stopped scrambling for answers. Our descent into apathy is so deep-seated that I neither have the time nor inclination to make things right. The pulp has gone out of our relationship, and I know we’re both responsible for feeding it.
Yet, our relationship is not without tender moments. I find consolation in that thought and wrap those moments around me like a warm blanket. Some of us are hoarders of such moments, even if those moments are ephemeral and transient, few and far between: Like just last night you lovingly stroked my head while I was grinding my teeth in sleep, and then, I stopped grinding my teeth.
The rain had been beating on the glass window for hours now, but that was normal for an evening in July. The white lights inside the office shone brightly against the gloom outside. The thunder that rumbled into the room did not disrupt the four people working there. Aniket’s fingers darted across the keyboard, his eyes narrowed in concentration. Vishal’s foot tapped against the floor as he navigated the numerous tabs on his screen. Javed’s movements were slow and precise, his hand resting under his chin as he considered the program in front of him. Indu kept flicking her hair out of her face as she read email after email. Research was done, articles submitted and light chatter exchanged across the small room in a seamless fashion. Then, at ten past six, the ten story building was plunged into darkness.
I look at the TV screen in the hospital waiting room. The headlines spell gloom and doom. We are in the middle of one of the deadliest pandemic in a century after all.
As I wait to see the doctor, my past flashes in front of my eyes. It is a past filled with warmth and a never ending summer.
My life had been a succession of lazy summer days, some happy and many uneventful. Then, I met Chen Rong.
With his wire rimmed glasses and a perpetually somber expression; as if the weight of the whole world was upon his narrow shoulders; he walked into my life just as a stray cool breeze hits you on a smarmy summer day.
I fell in curiosity over the conversations we had while enjoying savory crepes in Tianjin’s night markets. I grew enamored as we sat silently by each other, immersing ourselves in Shanghai style jazz solo’s at the centuries old Astor Hotel. Then, on one of our many strolls along the Hai He river, as he confided in me his hunger to save this “dying” world, his eyes alight with both agony and hope; I realized that I was deeply in love with this man.
Somewhere deep inside inland India, a group of women wearing bright orange, yellow and red coloured sarees gossiped under an early morning summer sun. Dense groves of lush green banana trees stretched for miles around them. Rows and rows of bananas dangled from these trees, like an upside-down crown. Overhead the sky looked like a clean, light-blue canvas with not a single cloud or bird in sight.
These women had skin the colour of charcoal, sharp eyes and loud laughter. With their hair tucked behind their ears and the loose end of their sarees tied around their waist, they sit under the shade of these trees. In their daily lives full of drudgery and routine, this is perhaps the only hour they don’t resent. They share stories about their childhood, spent in their maiden homes, far this village of lush green banana trees, none of which belong to them. Now, they are just women who live in ruins, on the edges of the world, like those extra empty spaces, on the edges of manuscripts, unseen, unheard and unwanted.
‘Who can free a captive bird mourning in his cage?
You must bring your own Freedom, O, Gardner.’
Ghulam Ahmad Mehjoor
“I’ll be back early tomorrow, you don’t need to worry about me,” Syeda tried to sound reassuring. “He will protect us”, she said to Tariq, as she packed the oily turmeric rice in a large steel lunch carrier. She placed the container in an empty plastic cement bag, hoisted it on her head and took Mishaal’s hand in hers. The faithful were reciting their durood in the mosque after Fajr prayers. The golden thread of dawn had just emerged in the skies, and she embarked on this perilous journey to Srinagar.
Vultures or the army, who were the worse predators?
They came in huge numbers when the Myanmar Government ordered the evacuation of our village. Do vultures heed government orders? Perhaps they do, why else would they accompany the military jeeps through the nights? I saw them sitting on the branches, witnessing the military slowly march into the villages, hunt all the young men, ransack the houses, and finally push the families through the Bangladesh border.
I did not want to leave but they entered my house, looted our valuables, and… oh, the physical torture is unspeakable in public. I was gang raped in front of my speechless children who forgot to cry after waking up at midnight. When the military left and there was graveyard silence, only the vultures screeched, feasting on the dead bodies lying in the yards and streets. In a petrified village, I and the other women were preparing for our unknown journey to a foreign territory.
I have to dress myself in red today. Sorry Somesh, for being unfaithful to you. I could have fought them all but for our children. They say I must agree to their plan. They are both so grown up now – Jia and Sahil! They advise me on everything as if I am a little child. But marriage? No! No! That cannot be! Everyone tells me that I have been married to Pratik for years. But why do I draw a blank at that? Pratik is nice, familiar, comfortable; we even share the same house! Just the other day I had to chase him out of my room – he was lazing around as if he belonged there! And then there is that wedding album! They carry a hundred of our wedding pictures – happy moments frozen in four by six glossy papers. Such vibrant colours – if only my memory was as sharp as these. But memory fails me. It becomes as fuzzy as a Delhi winter morning, unfocussed, blurred yet somewhere just within reach. Only I have no access to it. By the way, have you ever known anyone who forgets her own wedding? All of them forget that I am a widow, Somesh’s widow. It is not for me to marry. I remember pishi, my father was so protective about her, yet could he save her from a heartbreak? She left eating fish, gave away all her ornaments, wore only white and remained buried under the weight of various rituals and customs. She looked like a ghost biding her time in this world. Wasn’t this the fate of all widows? Wasn’t this what grandfather told her, she being the apple of his eyes? I remember feeling so sad for her. I wanted to find a prince charming to take her away from this repressive world. When I said that to her once, she smiled – a smile of such sadness that my heart shattered into a thousand pieces. I never repeated it to her again. But look at my own children – harping about their own mother’s wedding in which they too claim to have participated! Disgusting, yet I cannot bring myself to be angry with them for a long time. If they are mistaken, it is my duty to lead them to the truth.
The thought of home is imbued with bliss and pain, comfort and guilt. In all its manifestations— whether it makes us or breaks us—home nurtures a tender, heartbreaking beauty. A lived space, it shapes our life experience. But more importantly, the people we share our home with transform the meaning we seek in a place that is hopefully our refuge. Read more
No one can claim the name of Pedro nobody is Rosa or Maria all of us are dust or sand all of us are rain under rain. They have spoken to me of Venezuelas of Chiles and Paraguays I know only the skin of the earth and I know it has no name
I call him Dumri. I tie one end of my worn out gamchha to the iron fence of the Gas Office by the footpath and the other end to a municipality dustbin hook to make a swing cot. I place him there. Dumri loves to be pushed in the swing. He bursts into laughter. The passengers of double-decker buses stuck in the traffic give us a curious look. I feel amused. It makes me feel like a queen. I leave him on the makeshift swing to pick up a cigarette butt left by someone on the footpath for one last puff or to halt a hasty passerby for a dime or two. Dumri turns his head to follow every move of mine. He is still a few months short of becoming one, yet he seems to understand everything. Such a smarty-pant!