We play often in public, my husband and I, as we walk through shopping malls, in private as we stroll through empty garden parks, or stand by the sea at the beach or at the harbor’s front. I play and joke and tease him with my words. I like to remind him of past events, either a mistake or a funny joke, and make him take responsibility for his foolishness. One of our most repetitive banters is about Alexa, the Amazon machine that enables you to control many connected devices, such as bedroom lights and stereo music. When he mentions Alexa to my friends, or his, I would dramatize a head-shaking-sigh and say, “So jealous. His mistress. Even in our bedroom he calls for her.”
One day when we were alone on a walk, I said, “Don’t talk about her, Alexa. Makes me jealous.” His reply, which came quite spontaneously was, “If tech is your enemy, then food is mine.” I did not have a response. I was caught with my hand in my panties and, once again, had been painfully and loudly reminded of the fact that I played and joked and teased him with my words because I did not know how to do so with my body.
“Is this how you want it?” Sameera says. The pain is clear in her eyes, words and face.
“If he refuses, maybe Baba will listen…,” Ayla words fall crippled and deformed from her lips. The lounge falls silent.
It is hard to remember this lounge being this silent. I remember so many green and red blobs of mint-chutney and ketchup had dripped on this coffee table, and we used to wipe them away with our fingers quickly before Sameera came back from the kitchen with the next batch of hot pakoras. But there are no pakoras cooking today, no blobs of chutney either. No laughter or requests for one more cup of chai. Only solid, paralyzing silence.
She stares idly into the distance, an empty ceramic tumbler in front of her.
“The beach there is different…in my country.” She says lost in the reverie of the waves.
Did she say bitch to me? No, No, it’s the beach, the beach of Mexico. I remind myself of the Mexican Spanish accent. People’s vowels and consonants, my own diction is my Achilles heel even after years of mac and cheese. Why would she call her life-coach a bitch? Calming my heart, I try to concentrate. Usually, I am the focussed type, I can come to the point easily. A seasoned counselor, I can anticipate in the first five minutes the story which has got the weary heart to my doorsteps.
Listening is my profession, my bread and peanut butter and what they call in Japan- the Ikigai. Okay, close to Ikigai. Occasionally I get jolted, dismayed by a story, as and when a 15-year-old girl talked about being drugged at a party at a friend’s house and later found herself in the morning without clothes on her body. She was suffering from herpes apart from the guilt that she was responsible for being sexually assaulted. I was worried for my teenage daughter.
The tall handsome man got down from the Jaguar convertible. His sunburnt face and bleached blond hair was as sleek and shining as the surface of the car he was driving. He bent his head to open the door on the passenger side of his car. His companion, a tall brunette with a mass of curly black hair,did not appear to think that a figure-hugging Dior dress teamed with blood-red stilettos was an incongruous selection of attire for the Australian outback.
The Jaguar, a flashy yellow, infused some color into the bleak vistas of land, which stretched to the horizon in all directions. Andrea, who had been busy feeding the horses, wiped her dirty hands on her jeans, smoothed her hair and started to contemplate how to get inside the farm without being seen.
I find myself awakened by a sudden jerk and the ratchet of a handbrake. I look around the dark to find my colleagues sound asleep, still, snuggled up in their leather seats serving as make-shift beds. From my periphery, I sense Lakmal’s silhouette navigating his way towards me, past the heaps of camera bags dumped along the narrow aisle, the nimbleness of his feet matching his dexterity on the wheel. Both of us gesture for a smoke. He grins – milky teeth illuminating in the darkness like saltwater pearls.
“Delonix Regia or the royal Poinciana or what we popularly call the krishnachura is perhaps the only tropical tree that bears flowers and gives shade.” Parasuram looked around with an air of pride. The boys appeared bored. Only Sreeja pretended to be interested. She was the lone girl from her class who had travelled this far on a day-long educational excursion. “A tree lives for an average of five to ten years,” continued Parasuram unperturbed, “But this one has been here for over seventeen!” Parasuram was no student of botany. He taught Bengali in a renowned city college and had brought his students to see his native village, its hundred year old Shiva temple and the ruins of an adjoining haveli that belonged to an indigo planter. Sreeja had a crush on Parasuram and his thick hair and moustache.
Noted actress Shabana Azmi, reads a short-story ‘River of No Return‘ written by Tabish Khair.
In words of the author,
“The story she reads out here is a story of violence and despair, but the fact that she found the time to make this brilliant recording is also illustrative of the other side of our human crisis: we are not just prisoners in the cells of our devastation. Not during the pandemic, and not afterward. There are ways to connect. There are ways to organize. There are ways to hope.“
It is not until we lose something, do we realize the true significance of it. It is not until we make mistakes do we realize where we went wrong. Human nature is such, we can’t help but make mistakes. And some people are fortunate enough to discipline those mistakes and better themselves. However, some people are arrogant enough to acknowledge their mistakes. They think of themselves as superior to the rest. And these are the kinds of people who never learn anything in life. Because if we believe that we are right all the time, what do we learn? We are just mere human beings in this journey of life. Along the way, we might get distracted by the beauty of this world. Us human beings, we are uncanny, aren’t we?
Anita Ahluwalia, along with her husband, diamond merchant Aditya Ahluwalia was the co-founder of Magic Moments. When I walked into their Colaba office in South Mumbai a month back— about a hundred feet from the iconic Taj Mahal Palace, which had been in the news two years earlier in 2008 for being the epicentre of a deadly terrorist attack — I had the distinct feeling of having arrived somewhere important.
When I was walking alongside the seaside promenade that day, looking away from the lovers and their interlocked fingers, away from the balloon sellers and the haggling street children, away from the midday office goers by the tea stalls, I felt invisible and completely at peace. I remembered my father in the afternoon sun back in Kolkata, weaving grand tales about how, when he was in Bombay, he had met superstar Amitabh Bachchan, who’d promised to hear his script. Of course, that never happened, and my father had never written a complete script in his life. Yet here I was, hoping to read my own script to art-house directors, who I had heard, believed in the edgy rawness that came from unpolished manuscripts written by amateurs.
Every day was exactly the same in the village. Well, every day is generally exactly the same everywhere… even amongst the urban dwellers of the here and now. But at least the city streets are brightly lit at night. “They make one forget the drudgery of one’s mundane existence.” Mira thought.
Mira was the guest speaker at the Police Academy’s passing out parade. Well, one could say that her speech was the reason she was there. But that wouldn’t be entirely true. The real reason may have very well been something else. Mira was beyond the musings of cause and consequence. Her past, a testament to this fact, now stared her in the face.
Mira sat with Satish, a new recruit, having dinner and asked him questions. She could not help interrogating the younger ones. But Satish was prepared for her questions. At the young age of 24, Satish had progressed further along his career than any of his peers. He was intelligent, ambitious and had a way about him that had instantly made her think, “He has what it takes.” He would certainly make a fine policeman. As Satish sat there patiently, talking to her, Mira began to see glimpses of her young self within this brave young man. It made her think about the early years of her life — in a land far from the here and now.