Maruvaarthai Pesaaadhey

“Maruvaarthai pesaaadhey…” echoed from the small radio at the tea stall as rain lashed around like a scorned woman. Arjun stood there, trying to make the most of his cigarette. His eyes were stinging with tears, but like the famous saying, no one could see his tears in the rain.

‘Anna Oru tea kudunga’ he said, killing the last spark of red in the cigarette.

His friends still found it strange that he had fallen for a girl whom he hadn’t even met. The internet is a strange place! One random comment by her on his latest photograph had started a whirlwind romance of sorts.

Sipping the hot tea Arjun wondered how he had the faith intact even after so many days that she would come. In front of him was the tall blue glass giant that housed Aruna – Infosys. She worked there, she had said. Did she really? How would he find out? Her Facebook name was ‘Mysterious Girl’ and she had no photographs of her own, just of her photography works. ‘Aaagh! You fool!’, Arjun half-shouted as he got into the rain to start his bike. He rode away, splashing mud and his love in the rain.

I am writing as a part of the Write Tribe Problogger’s challenge. #WriteBravely #WriteTribeChallenge

Monster in my head

The monsters in my head whisper all night long. ‘Toss her away… Run away. Don’t come back. Cut yourself up’ they keep whispering in my ears. I sing out aloud but their voice even fills the tunes of my favorite songs.

Leaving my baby in her crib, I run into the bathroom, throw myself into the toilet, trying to empty the uninvited guests with the bile like vomit.

‘ A break will do you good’ said my reflection in the mirror, looking at the spit stained woman staring at her weakly.

‘Yes, I need a break’ I tell myself. Wiping away my tears and the sweat, I walk out of the bathroom with a determination. Dialing that number on my phone I say ‘ma.. I need help’.

Postpartum depression is an ugly monster, isolating you from asking help. Reach out, take that break and talk to someone.anyone. don’t let the monster win.

I am writing as a part of the Write Tribe Problogger’s challenge. #WriteBravely #WriteTribeChallenge

Amma learns Whatsapp

‘Molu, teach me how to use this Whatsapp no?’ said Amma for the tenth time in the same phone call. It was 11 in the night for her, two hours beyond her bed time, but she was still awake waiting for my phone call. Ever since I moved to the US, this has been the practice. She wouldn’t listen when I told that she can call me when she wakes up in the morning. ‘Because you will be sleeping that time no, Molu?’ she’d say in her ever loving voice.

Finally, I managed to get Binny from the next house to teach Amma how to use Whatsapp. From that day on, religiously one message would make its way to my phone promptly every day. I could tell that it was 5:15 am in India when the message arrived. I could almost see Amma waking up, brushing her teeth, finishing her morning prayers and sending me these messages, sitting on her easy chair by the verandah.

It had been two years since my divorce. The whole episode hadn’t shaken her up, but had hardened my mother. She was as strong as a fortress on the outside, but on the inside, I knew she worried about Aarush and me. Like Amma said, “You can choose courage, or you can choose comfort, but you cannot choose both” and I chose courage in a world that offered comfort for a price; that of my dignity. Thanks to this lady sitting in a quaint neighbourhood in Cochin and her messages every morning, I lead a better life strengthened by love and resolve.

I am writing as a part of the Write Tribe Problogger’s challenge. #WriteBravely #WriteTribeChallenge

How about you?

‘There is this nerve in me; something like the funny bone maybe. It refuses to let me obey rules’ smiled Anaisha as she placed her resignation letter on her boss’s desk. Umang was surprised to see his best employee walk in on a Monday morning and hand in her resignation with the same air of calm with which she usually greeted him every morning for the past six years.

It was her inability to conform to rules that made Anaisha stand out. She couldn’t play by the rules of the society. She couldn’t be silent ‘just because’; she couldn’t say yes when she wanted to say no.

‘Anaisha is a brilliant child with a lot of potential. It is her refusal to adhere to everyday rules that poses to be an impediment in her achieving bigger accolades’ read her report card at the age of six. Some called it disobedience, her father called it character.

 

Sadly, there’s less place for women of character in our society. Do you agree? How obedient are you?

I am writing as a part of the Write Tribe Problogger’s challenge. #WriteBravely #WriteTribeChallenge

A whiff of you – Some things are forever

This is the final part of the story. You can read part 1 and part 2 here.

 

2015

Making her a large mug of coffee, Gauri sat on the couch by the TV. She switched it on, randomly surfing a few channels before settling on a cookery show. The hostess, a voluptuous lady in her 50’s was teaching the audience how to properly massage a chicken with butter. Absentmindedly, Gauri kept looking at the show, as though enthralled by the whole act, nearly forgetting that she was vegetarian.

Suddenly, she jerked out of the trance and took a long sip of the coffee. Setting the mug on the table, Gauri pulled out her mobile and hit redial. ‘Are you better now?’ asked a voice immediately on the other side of the call. ‘Yes, Resh!’ said Gauri sounding exhausted. A few minutes into the conversation, Gauri dropped the bomb. ‘Listen, I want to talk to GS. Give me his number’ she said. ‘WHAT! ARE YOU INSANE? WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?’ screamed Reshma in complete shock.

Gauri explained, amidst a lot of resistance from Reshma, that she only wanted to talk and meet him once, return that jacket. She assured her friend that there was nothing else to it. Reshma found the whole idea silly and very risky. She reminded Gauri that her life was perfect in all ways and that this phone call could tilt a lot of things wrong. Despite all her attempts to prevent the call, Reshma saw the old G resurface, stubborn and adamant to do what she wanted. After the call was over, Gauri received a WhatsApp message with the phone number, followed by a line ‘babe! Be careful <3’.

Gauri knew that any minute that she wasted contemplating her action would only deter her thought, so she immediately dialed that number. Her hands were colder than her coffee at that minute when after three rings, a hello left her mouth dry. ‘Gauthum’ she said nervously. ‘Oh my god! Is that you Gauri? How are you? What a surprise?’ boomed the familiar voice that had been her favourite back in the day. ‘I am good. How… how are you? Where are you these days?’ said Gauri, trying to regain her composure. ‘I am fantastic man! Ma and I are in Bangalore these days! Where are you? How are your kids and your husband?’ he asked. Gauri let out a small laugh. He knew everything about her but she knew nothing about him? Her heart was fluttering in excitement. ‘They are all good! We are in Bangalore too. Listen, I have your jacket. I want to give it back to you sometime’ she said and all she heard was Gauthum laugh out for a good minute or so. ‘Are you kidding me? You still have that jacket? I totally forgot about it! Ha ha ha! This is just wow. Sure sure. When do you want to meet?’

The two decided to meet the next evening at the same Starbucks at the mall. GS said that he would pick her up, but she refused. She couldn’t risk it any further, could she? The next evening at 4:30, she sat at the same corner table with bated breath, waiting to see that man who had turned her life around in an instant. A white Zara bag with the jacket inside it, sat at her feet. Ten minutes later, he walked in and Gauri held on to her espresso cup so she wouldn’t faint again. His smile hadn’t changed, but the man was so different from the guy she knew back in college. Gauthum walked up to her and gave her a side hug. THAT was something she wasn’t ready for. Immediately, Gauri’s eyes welled up with tears and she dove under the table to reach out for the bag. Fumbling with it in her hand, she handed it over to him hurriedly and said that she had to leave. ‘The kids will be home in some time and I really must go. Lovely meeting you’ she said as he looked at her in total surprise. ‘But, G! One coffee with me’ he said as she hurriedly paid for her coffee. She was obviously shaken and he wanted to do something to calm her. Catching her by her hand, GS grabbed her back and held her in a hug. Her feet melted into a puddle and she didn’t care that probably the whole coffee shop was watching this drama. She could smell that aroma all over again and she stood there soaking it all in. Slowly she released her from the hug and gave him a weak smile. Patting him gently on the chest Gauri said ‘Bye. Take care GS’ and left the shop.

Back in her car, she sobbed hard. By the time she was home, Reshma was already there to comfort her. Sobbing harder on her friend’s shoulders, Gauri was like a heartbroken teenager. After about ten minutes, she got up, went for a bath and scrubbed herself so hard as though to ensure that no trace of that scent lingered. Tossing her clothes into the machine, she added some disinfectant and went on to make coffee. As the two ladies sat on the couch, her husband walked in. Gauri weakly smiled at Gautam and Reshma caught up with him on how work had been. ‘I got this at work today. Some internal thing I had won. See it na. I will quickly have a shower and come back’ said Gautam, thrusting a small brown package in her hand as he went into the bedroom. As Gauri began to rip the package open, a familiar scent filled the room and tears started rolling down her eyes. The brown package came apart to reveal a perfume bottle with the word ‘Boss’ written on it. Reshma understood immediately and grabbed her sobbing best friend. Some things are meant to stick with you forever after all.

 

I am writing as a part of the Write Tribe Problogger’s challenge. #WriteBravely #WriteTribeChallenge

 

Whiff of you – the meet

Read about Gauri and Gauthum here to understand the story so far.

Gauri had reached Terminal 22 ten minutes earlier than the said time. She was nervous, but she was irritated at being called to a cafe to return the jacket. It felt like GS was testing her. As she tossed the jacket into her scooter’s boot, she was hit by the scent on the jacket. ‘Control,G!’ she told herself. She was standing by her scooter when GS reached. He had this playful look on his face, but she couldn’t say if it was a teasing look or just his charm. They had hardly taken ten minutes for the exchange, but she knew immediately that this man would be of a lot more importance in her life very soon.

He had a mischievous smile when she handed the jacket over to him. ‘Thank you, Gauri’ he said, adding a moment’s pause before her name. G’s heart was racing beyond control and hadn’t she left immediately, she knew she would have fallen for him sans control. For two weeks, they met outside the café every day, just for a few minutes with very less talk between them.

It had become a ritual. She would reach five minutes before him. They would park their vehicles at the same spot every evening. After a small awkward hello, they would get into small talk and he would simultaneously turn on a playlist. Music would fill the space and after about 3 songs, she would look at her watch as though signaling that time was up. Something was brewing between them, but before it could simmer to perfection, their world had changed. GS’ mom had caught a whiff of their romance and had nipped it at the bud, even before they could declare it to each other, saving her son’s ‘image’ in public eye and GS being the Mamma’s boy that he was, diligently followed.

He walked up to Gauri one day and said ‘Dude, G! No love and all, clear? I don’t want to mess up both of careers’ he said as though repeating a rehearsed line. No, she hadn’t been in love with him for sure. But there was a connect that she couldn’t shake off. His mere presence tugged her at the navel and tossed her 10 feet in the air. ‘Bah! No way, GS!’ she told him concealing any look of disappointment in her face.

It was Reshma’s idea that she look at moving on in life after what GS had said. With a heavy heart, G had said yes and the first alliance that came across had the same name as Gauthum’s’. She thought it was a sign and said okay to him. In all the rush, she had put the jacket inside an old box and completely shut out the entire episode for good.

But it was time to return it to its rightful owner.

I am writing as a part of the Write Tribe Problogger’s challenge.

Nostalgia is a b*tch!

Gauri was certain that the salesgirl dived across the desk, to catch hold of her. It had been embarrassing, even more for the salesgirl when a 40 something woman almost stumbled backward, sending bottles of perfume samples flying all around.

Somehow, Gauri managed to find a corner table at the Starbucks on the floor above the store. Still feeling flushed, she discreetly hit herself on the back of her head, thinking how silly it had been of her to react like THAT over a perfume sample.

You see, nostalgia is a bitch! It hits you when you least expect and it hits you where it hurts the most. ‘Ma’am, do you want to try out some of our perfumes? They are on a 50% discount’ was all it took for Gauri to go reeling into memories of a concert, in an open windy field. It’s funny how certain smells remain intact in our memory, even without having experienced them often. It’s almost like you are being teleported back into time when you first experienced that scent in its entirety.

I am writing as a part of the Write Tribe Problogger’s challenge. To read the rest of the story go here 

 

A whiff of you…

Gauri was certain that the salesgirl dived across the desk, to catch hold of her. It had been embarrassing, even more for the salesgirl when a 40 something woman almost stumbled backward, sending bottles of perfume samples flying all around.

Somehow, Gauri managed to find a corner table at the Starbucks across the store. Still feeling flushed, she discreetly hit herself on the back of her head, thinking how silly it had been of her to react like THAT over a perfume sample.

You see, nostalgia is a bitch! It hits you when you least expect and it hits you where it hurts the most. ‘Ma’am, do you want to try out some of our perfumes? They are on a 50% discount’ was all it took for Gauri to be sent reeling into memories of a concert, in an open windy field. It’s funny how certain smells remain intact in our memory, even without having experienced them often. It’s almost like you are teleported back into time when you first experienced that scent in its entirety.

 

2015

It had been a regular day for Gauri, wife of one of the leading chartered accountants in the city. Almost touching 40, she looked not a day older than 25. Dressed in a crisp Fab India Kurti and smart culottes, she was all set for a 12:30 lunch at the new mall with her best friend for since school, Reshma. Gauri had reached the mall early and to kill time (and her husband’s money, she thought), she decided to window shop. Her favorite store had opened up a lavish 3 floor set up and she just couldn’t ignore it beckoning her inside, with all its lights and mirror-like polished floors. She drifted from the men’s section (mentally marking shirts that she knew Gautam would love) to the ladies’ section. As she skimmed through the display, she found nothing that caught her fancy. ‘Almost time’ she thought to herself as she checked her watch and the hands slowly tick-tocked to 12:15. Gauri had this track record of being on time. It was something both husband and wife had maintained for years. Just as Gauri was about to leave the store, a young but nervous voice called out to her. ‘Ma’am, do you want to try out some of our perfumes? They are on a 50% discount’ was all it took for Gauri to be sent reeling into memories of a concert, in an open windy field. It’s funny how certain smells remain intact in our memory, even without having experienced them often. It’s almost like you are teleported back into time when you first experienced that scent in its entirety.

What happened next brought the entire store to a standstill. Gauri had taken the sample strip from the salesgirl and it had barely reached her nose that she stumbled back, as though hit by something, sending a whole rack of sample bottles flying. She felt ashamed the very next second. It was like the veil had suddenly dropped, revealing a parallel universe that she had hidden for 23 years. Apologizing and trying to help the already shocked salesgirl, Gauri literally clambered out of the store. Quickly tying her hair into a bun, she pulled out her sunglasses and dashed into Starbucks on the next floor. Tears stung her eyes, as she ordered two espressos. With shivering hands, she signed the slip and found a corner table.  Sitting her, Gauri felt silly for having reacted so much. Biting her lips to fight back her tears, she texted Reshma. ‘At Starbucks.Last table.’ She knew Resh would understand. As she quickly gulped the hot cup of espresso, Gauri’s mind found its way back to the night at that concert, when to protect her from the chilly night wind, a warm and musky smelling denim jacket landed on her shoulders.

 

1992

‘What the’ said a 16 year old G, as she turned to see what had fallen on her. At concerts like these, A LOT gets tossed around and she really didn’t want anything nasty spoiling her white sequin top. The band had taken a five minute break and some college bunch was up on stage, playing covers. G hadn’t realized that she was standing all by herself, swaying a bit and vigorously rubbing her arms to keep her warm. That’s when the jacket landed on her. She swung in reflex, only to blush instantly. The guy who stood in front of her was wearing a black t-shirt with the band’s name on it and was awkwardly mouthing ‘it’s okay’. The guy, came close to G’s ears and said ‘babe, you will freeze by the time they are back on stage. Keep it’ and gave her a quick pat on the back. He turned and walked away to his friends who were waiting to split a cigarette or two. G’s friends came back and literally no one noticed the jacket. After the concert, when she got back home, G’s head was full of that musky scent. She had no memory of what the 2nd half of the concert was like or why her throat was totally out of tune. She carefully placed the jacket on her chair, changed and got into bed. Absent mindedly, G turned to smell her hands, and the scent had stuck on. ‘The hell! Am I supposed to return it??’ she asked herself before falling asleep.

2015

‘Are you alright? The lift guy was talking about some woman who knocked down the entire perfume range at the store! That was you??’ barged in Resh looking shocked. She sat next to Gauri, catching hold of her breath and Gauri’s hands. They were icy cold, despite the espresso. ‘What happened?’ she asked and as Gauri narrated the incident (half ashamed); Resh bit her lips harder and harder. There was more expression on Reshma’s face than on Gauri’s, who looked pale white. ‘You silly girl! Where did all this come up from after all these years?’ Reshma asked Gauri on the way back home. She had offered to (more than politely) to drop Gauri home and ensure she was okay. They were stuck in peak traffic and Gauri was still getting out of the day’s events. Finally, when Reshma left at around 6pm, Gauri went to her room and sat eyes closed. She had a good 3 hours before Gautam came home and the kids were at her mom’s. She had enough time, she thought to herself as she brought down a small trunk from the shelf above.

It was time to return that Jacket.

(..To be continued).

Sitaraman’s Briefcase

‘Enna Sitaraman, inniku potti kondu varaliya?’ (What Sitaraman? You haven’t bought your briefcase today?) joked Lalitha Madam when she saw her colleague take his designated seat next to hers at office that day. For 18 years they had been neighbors, sharing food, stories and a lot more. Sitaraman Padmanaban was a junior manager at one of the most prestigious bike showrooms in the city and Lalitha Madam was his senior. One thing about old school managements was that they never fired anyone. Maybe out of pity or maybe because they were all like one big family. The showroom did immensely well, but the change in roles never happened and by the looks of it, no one was complaining.

 

Sitaraman hadn’t replied to his senior’s joke. He was sweating, looking as though he had seen a ghost. Lalitha Madam went back to signing some forms and it was about ten minutes before she looked up to see what had kept the usually jovial and pretty loud Sitaraman silent. Sita, as he was called lovingly by the showroom family, was a very loud, humble and happy man. Having married at an early age of 18, he had been one of those men who didn’t think much about ‘manhood’ and ‘a man’s place in the society’. He used to cook and pack lunch dabbas for him and his wife. Hers had a karandi more rice than his, every day. His cooking was famous in their showroom and his puliyogarai was a repeat request!

 

If one could vaguely recall, Sitaraman had gotten married 2 days before joining duty at the showroom. They said his wife had brought him all the luck. 18 years, a steady job, three lovely children and one small briefcase defined this man. His wife, Uma had gifted him that briefcase on their wedding day. It was a part of his engagement thattu (plate). Inside it was one silk shirt, one silk dhoti, a Timex watch and a photograph of his favorite God. This was what Uma’s family had to offer to their son-in-law and he had cherished each item to date, in mint condition. Over the years, he had laminated the photograph and preserved the clothes wrapped in a mul cloth. The watch however, was another story.

 

The briefcase had become his identity wherever he went. Kids at the bus-stop used to call him the ‘kutty potti mama’. He would sit at the bus-stop, waiting for the last bus home. While he waited, he used to flex his once mridangam tuned fingers on the briefcase. On popular demand from the kids at the stop, he moved from classical music to Ilayaraja numbers, retaining integrity by never singing the borderline vulgar lyrics, but humming all along while his fingers drummed magic. What was inside that briefcase? An ink pen filled with royal blue ink, a single line ruled note pad, a book of some chants someone had once gifted him, his bus pass, a small oval stainless steel lunch box, a spoon and a white handkerchief. Apart from this occasional work files found their way into the briefcase every now and then. It was as though these paltry items held utmost value that he safeguarded his briefcase with all his life. He even had a plastic cover, with a cut just for the handle to peep out, so he could safeguard it from the rain. ‘Briefcase indri Sita illai’ was the longstanding joke at work.

 

What’s all the fuss about the briefcase, you ask? Nothing at all! It was just another piece of his office attire! Just like that shimmery Timex watch. What no one knew was that the watch hadn’t seen the light of the day. Every day after his morning prayers, he would take out the watch, dust it gently and wear it with pride. Every single day for 18 years. The briefcase was a protection for the watch. Once he stepped out of his house, he would walk around the corner, reach the bus stop, take the watch from his hand and neatly wrap it in the white handkerchief. Then, he would place it in a hidden sleeve of the briefcase and head to work. As the day was over, he would reach home, take the watch out and place it back in the drawer.

 

Uma had even forgotten that she had gifted him this watch and never bothered to ask about it. The watch was probably Sitaraman’s only ancestry that he would pass on to one of his three children. Which one though? He would keep a test one day, he thought.

 

A few weeks back on a fine Sunday morning, sipping his filter coffee (Ah! How perfect it tasted without sugar) he called his three children Babu, Sumitra and Kittu. The children were born 1.5 years apart, Sumitra and Kittu being twins. Just into his teenage, Babu was sporting the first signs of a moustache and Sumitra was growing into a fine young lady. Kittu, was the smallest at home, he was born 5 minutes after Sumitra. He was the most playful of the three. ‘Pasangala’ said Sitaraman. I have a small part of my life that I want to pass on to you. I will give you a small test and the one who passes it will receive a treasure of sorts. The children were intrigued, but not thrilled. Their heads were filled with Kamal Haasan steps, Rajini punch dialogues and Ilayaraja tunes. Nevertheless, they nodded in unison. They waited for their father to finish his coffee and tell them what it was all about.

 

Sitaraman began by telling them how he had been sent to a paathshala by his father at a tender age of 8. Every day he swept, cleaned, washed and did all the chores while learning life lessons from his Gurus. ‘Times have changed. You won’t even lift a coffee tumbler. But I want you to remember discipline is everything. I will watch you three carefully for 2 weeks and at the end of it, I will ask you all one question. It will be a subjective question, but your answer should come from within’, Sitaraman said, placing his hand on his heart. That was a tough one!

 

For two weeks, the children went about doing what they usually did. Uma had brought them up well. So well that the 2 weeks was just like any other for them. They all woke up before sun rise, said their prayers and performed their duties like clockwork. However, the final step of the puzzle was what kept their heads occupied. What would Appa ask us that we would have to answer with such sincerity? They thought.

 

Two Sundays after their session with their father, the children gathered again, by their father’s side. They waited to find out what the treasure was, when Sitaraman said that he was very pleased with them and that tomorrow after coming back from work, he would ask them the final question and then hand over the treasure to one of them, the most deserving one of them. The three children hardly discussed their father, but that night, after dinner they couldn’t contain the excitement. ‘What if it was money?’ asked Babu. ‘What if Appa gifts us a bike from his showroom? After all, he worships that place!’ quipped Kittu. ‘What if it is Amma’s thaamarai thodu?’ dreamily asked Sumitra. Their father had never even surprised them on a birthday so far, so this was becoming quite suspense. ‘Whatever it is, it is inside that briefcase for sure’ said Kittu with a hint of mischief in his eyes, as his siblings chucked empty peanut shells at him jokingly.

 

The next day morning, Sitaraman got ready for work as usual. He made puliyogarai and even some payasam. His wife double checked the calendar. It wasn’t even a special day. Happily, he walked out of the gate of his home, heading to work. Today, he had the watch on his wrist a bit longer, as though he was transferring his thoughts, ideals and principles into the watch. Like some data transfer. He sat at the bus-stop, waited for his bus. Once the familiar shrill whistle pierced his ears, he stopped absent mindedly drumming his briefcase and got on to the bus. Taking the regular seat by the conductor, he opened the briefcase, took out his watch, wrapped it and set it inside safely. Snapping the lock shut, he caressed the case as though it contained precious gems. Gazing outside the window, Sitaraman closed his eyes, taking in the fresh air on his face, recollecting the day that watch was gifted to him.

 

His father in law had said, ‘Maaplai (son-in-law), this isn’t a regular watch. I have set one diamond, the only one I could afford, on the face of the watch. It isn’t big, but when time comes it will help for sure.’ Even Uma hadn’t known this truth, for she was against ‘dowry’ and material gifts exchange. Her father had retrieved all his bank savings to buy that tiny speck of a stone. For 18 years, this well guarded secret had been kept safe. Today, it would be passed on to the next generation. He could hear the naadhaswaram in the background, just like it played on his engagement day.

Aiyo saar pidinga pidinga’ (Somebody catch him, catch him!) shouted someone jerking Sitaraman out of his little dream. He looked around in shock as a woman shouted signaling the bus’s rear exit. Sitaraman looked around and felt something missing. His briefcase! It was gone! He looked under the seat in a rush of panic. The conductor had by then directed the bus to the nearest police station. He came over to Sitaraman, who still was in shock, and asked him to go file an FIR.

The policer officer, a pot-bellied fellow, lazily asked Sitaraman ‘What was inside? Only office briefcase and lunch no? Leave it sir. Why waste our time and yours for a potti (box)?’ but Sitaraman couldn’t bring himself to tell the officer about that one missing item which would surely cost a fortune. He was sweating and mouthing something noiselessly, he shook his head, did a namaskaram (Salutation) to the officer and walked out.

He reached office, because he had never missed a day of work. After all, he was wired that way. Sitting next to his senior, Lalitha Madam, all Sitaraman could hear was a buzzing. He was sweating and looked out of focus. He couldn’t hear what she was saying, but suddenly collapsed in his seat.

That evening, his children asked one question for which there would be no answer ‘Appa Enga Ma?’ (Ma, where is our father?)

~ The Writer in me

How was he born?

“And Pammi qualifies for the semifinals of The makki Ki roti Championship…” laughed her sister-in-law in an announcer like voice from outside the kitchen, as Pammi sat there throwing roti after roti is into the Chula. Would she have thought that this one time state champion would be sitting making rotis for the entire family by the hearth of the fire and not having a future in what she did best? Pammi ignored the comments and went back to making rotis and her thoughts went back to that night when all things silly happened. If it had not been for the rain that evening she wouldn’t be here, but would be somewhere else training harder to ace the nationals.

Pammi a k a Paramjit Kaur was a splendid track athlete. She was well built, but ran like a gazelle on the tracks. There was no one to match her records in the past few years and it was just a matter of time before she would be selected to the nationals. Her father was extremely proud of her and her achievements. Little did he know that a strike of Cupid’s arrow would change the course of their futures upside down.

It was raining that night when Pammi stepped out of Diljit Singh’s academy for sports training. She was standing by the bus stop waiting for her father to come pick her up, as he always did at 8 o’clock every night. It was raining very hard and she couldn’t see even a few meters away. She stood there waiting, peering hard and trying to catch the familiar thud thud thud of his Enfield. But what came was a shrill tring tring of a cycle, approaching her. It wasn’t her dad, it was Kissy. Kissy a.k.a. Kishanjit Singh was a shot put thrower training in the same academy as hers. She found the sport funny and never really liked him much. He had very offset features and his lopsided mouth seemed like he was always mid conversation, forgetting what to say next. But when it is raining hard enough to send chill down your bones, you wouldn’t mind anything to get you home soon. Kissy stopped a few inches away from her and offered to drop her. They lived two blocks away and it only made sense to go with him then stand there in the rain waiting for her father to come, which she realized wasn’t happening. So, she hopped onto the back of his cycle, sitting on the tiny metal seat which hardly fit her rear.  They went slowly cycling in the rain, with no conversation but just the pitter patter of rain to fill the silence. Being dropped by a random boy, drenched in rain at an almost unearthly hour would have ideally had her mother beating her chest and lamenting, but Pammi was surprised when she thanked her Guru for having sent a savior to protect her daughter in times of such misery. What misery, Pammi could never gather.  The damage was done!

Pammi went to sleep that night, gazing at the inky black night from her tiny, creaky window. Inside her head, it was still raining, with the faint tring tring of a cycle constantly ringing in the background. Faint, but strong enough to keep her awake all night. Four months and several cycle ‘doubles’ later, Pammi and Kissy were getting married. Her father thought it was a match made in heaven. Kissy’s mother however, had finally found someone to take her place in the dingy little kitchen.

A year later, Pammi was sitting making makki ki rotis and all the promises of her continuing her training and participating in the national trials had burnt in the Chula, thick and black as the wood in it. Staying away from the track was not what hurt Pammi, the taunts of her not being able to birth a child was what got to her more. Tears stung her eyes, threatening to jump down and add some seasoning to the rotis, but she held them back with a quick breath. Pammi had sat there in that kitchen, while her mother-in-law sat outside on their charpaai, loudly complaining how it must have been all the running that ‘damaged’ her uterus. Clutching her stomach unknowingly, Pammi waited for Kishanjit to return that night. He had immersed himself in the training for the National trials and she hardly got a minute with him in private. The fire in the Chula laughed, jumped and clapped to every taunt, like an audience watching a debate with prime seats.

“Why do I have to go through this when it is not even my fault?” she asked him that night. Kishanjit replied as though nothing had happened. He coolly said “leave it at the minute. When I qualify for the nationals all of this will be forgotten and they will not think of a child for another year or so and I will also mention your name in the paper saying it was my wife’s consistent hard work that made me come to this level. Then they will leave you in peace for sure.” Saying this, he changed, rolled over and fell asleep almost instantly. Pammi knew well that that it was another false promise just like them letting her pursue her training after marriage.

Kissy didn’t qualify for the finals. The whole house had come to a standstill and the silence felt heavy on Pammi. The newspaper had mentioned something about his ‘leg work being too feeble for the throw’. Whatever the reason be, Pammi had lost the last thread of hope. She shivered in anger, because now everything, including his failure at the trials would be tossed on her shoulders.

As she sat there making the dough for dinner, she thought about her husband. His nickname ‘Kissy’ had come from his expertise with women in the neighborhood. But sadly he hadn’t done anything but kissing in their bed. “How long now, Paramjit?” she asked herself aloud, absentmindedly.

Kishanjit had not come home after the poor show at the trials. He had gone knocking door to door, city to city, trying some tactics other than the athletic one, to get a place in the nationals. Or at least a chance to give trials again, he said to his uncle who carted him around town, wordlessly.

After 6 months, he returned home. Nothing had worked. It had been his mother’s idea that he stay away until the buzz dies down and then makes a silent return. He returned home after sunset that day. He didn’t seem upset to Pammi. On the contrary, he had got chicken tikka for everyone. “No need to make dinner tonight” he proclaimed, as though he had returned victorious after a wild boar hunt.

Squatting outside their tiny home, the adults ate in silence. Pammi couldn’t even bring herself to touch the food, because it all felt like a joke that was waiting to unfold any minute. It was too much to take. She was so lost in her thoughts, that she hadn’t heard her mother in law call out to her to bring some cut onions from inside. “You wretched woman, First you deny me the right of a grandchild, then you make my son fail his trials and now you ignore me! Haai haai! What fate has befallen our house” she shouted, mincing a piece of chicken in her hands. Pammi jolted back to reality and scurried inside to chop some onions for her mother in law. As tears streamed down her cheek with all the onion chopping, she told herself that she had had enough! Tonight she would confront Kishanjit!

She was sitting in the corner of their bed, when Kishanjit walked into their bedroom. He had anticipated a showdown, a tiny drama of tears, hitting and shouting. But none of it happened. It was Pammi and not his mother, he realized. She was the sensible type and that was what drew him to her back in the day. He sat beside her and touched her shoulder gently, yet cautiously. “If you can’t give me a baby, I will make one”, she said. He looked at her as though she had sprouted two extra heads. While he wanted to ask her how that would be possible, he knew that it would ascertain the fact that he had been incapable of the act.  Understanding his discomfort, she whispered a plan in his ears. Kissy’s eyes grew wider and wider until it almost popped out. Gulping air, he nodded mutely before rolling over and falling asleep immediately.

Pammi had to execute her plan carefully. Her mother in law and her mother in law’s mother in law were old, but had the eyes of a hawk and the nose of a sniffer dog. She started out by slowing down on work. Where she could make 30 rotis in half an hour, she made only 10 misshapen ones. Then, she started complaining of nausea at the smell of mustard oil. That got the antennas up. Everyone in her part of the world grew up being friends with mustard oil, even before they knew their mothers scent. How could she not like it? Then, the last straw – one evening, while Pammi was sitting by the Chula, she let a roti burn to black on purpose. When she heard the ladies of the house run in shock, she lay down comfortably, acting as though she had passed out, waiting for them to revive her with sprinkles of water and rushed fanning.

As the worried members of the house surrounded her, Kissy’s grandmother took Pammi’s hands in hers. Gently, placing her fingers on Pammi’s pulse, she waited silently. It was like everyone had forgotten to breathe in that minute. Then she turned to Kissy’s mother and shot a toothless grin. “Arrey! Beta hoga, Beta!” she shrieked, kissing Pammi for the first time ever. Pammi had passed the acid test. Now, she had to plan the rest carefully as well. While everyone was jubilant, a visibly shocked Kissy sat near Pammi, as though waiting for her to spill the beans. All she did was wink at him and close her eyes, as though taking the much needed rest.

Pammi’s parents were called and they promptly landed at Kishanjit’s doorstep within five days of the phone call that brought the good news. They bought ladoo and kheer for everyone. After about 10 minutes of repeated hugging and wiping tears at the edge of dupattas, it was decided that Pammi would go to her grandmother’s place, as is the custom, to deliver the child. She would return when the child was three months old. Kishanjit would accompany them and ensure his wife was comfortable, before he returned home.

The four reached Pammi’s maternal grandmother’s house, 80kms away from Kissy’s house. It was as small but comfortable house, but more importantly it was what she needed to set her plan in motion.

Pammi had reached her mother’s place just after Holi and by the coming New Year their house was filled newborn paraphernalia. When Kissy got the news from the local grocer’s phone, that his wife had delivered their first child at 11pm last night and that they both were safe, he didn’t know what to say. Clearly, it didn’t feel like his child, nor did he have a sense of elation.

Pammi had named her son Sher. Maybe she wanted him to be braver than his father, one would never know. She arrived at Kishanjit’s place the following April and as though, she had already sniffed mischief, Kissy’s grandmother sat on the charpaai outside the house, waiting for the newborn party to arrive. When they did, she slowly unfurled a small piece of paper that was crumpled in her fist. She summoned Pammi to bring the child closer. When the baby was not more than 5 inches away from her face, she placed the piece of paper near his face and examined both. It was a moment of shock for Pammi. She was almost sweating profusely, when daadiji showed one more of her wrinkly toothless smiles. They had passed yet another acid test! The baby was a carbon copy of his father. It was remarkable. Jubilation and celebration followed for an entire week. Everyone was taking turns to adore the baby boy and his father took every spare moment he found to analyze Sher up close. Every feature was like a mini-Kishanjit. He wondered how that crooked nose, slender fingers and even the slightly lopsided mouth was just like him. It must be a dream, he told himself.

Months whizzed past and Sher was soon the heartthrob of his neighborhood. He was a darling and was an instant hit with every elder who came home to visit him. This obviously changed Pammi’s fate. She was no longer sent into the kitchen. Her mother in law glowered at Pammi’s sister in law, who pulled up her dupatta over her head, as though she had been shamed, and walked into the dungeon like kitchen. Her, six year old daughter Dimpy, tugging on to the corner of her mother’s kameez, following suit silently. A twinge of pain shot across Pammi, but she knew it was inevitable in a household where a boy child had finally made an entry. She would pacify and sort things with her sister in law in just a bit, Pammi told herself.

Sher was 1 and there was a feast that began at lunch and went almost all evening long. Kishanjit had forgotten the strange mystery behind his son and was dancing, with his turban almost coming off loose. Pammi stood, watching all this, as her mother came and gave her a gentle squeeze on the shoulder. She smiled at her daughter, thanking the Guru for having shown her daughter a way out of what would have been her life long sentence.

Pammi realized it was finally time to tell Kishanjit the truth. That night, while a half conscious Kissy came to their room, she sat by the corner of the bed, just as she had last year. It immediately made him sober and he wondered what she was going to do this time. He sat next to her, peering over his shoulder just a little to see his son sleeping peacefully. The steady rise and fall of the little boy’s chest, assuring him that there was no shock awaiting him. He looked at Pammi, as though she was the Sphinx holding back the final part of the puzzle for him to solve.

Pammi revealed the simple but astonishing truth that let Kishanjit proud and ashamed at the same time. Smiling softly at her husband, she tucked the blanket over Sher’s tiny frame and rolled over, falling asleep within minutes. The first time she had truly slept in ages.

 

~ The writer in me