The many shades of RED

It was like any other night. Amma oiled my hair, tied it into two plaits and pulled it three times. ‘It will make it long.’ She said. I went off to sleep, like any other thirteen year old. But when I woke up, I felt unusual. I looked at the thin sheet on the mat on which I slept. That moment, I could just see the colour red, under me, above me and around me. I screamed in horror thinking I was going to die. Amma came and hushed me up. I knew my world was about to change. In a matter of few hours, the house looked like a bride. Out of the many memories of that day, I distinctly remember the elaborate oil bath, the scent of sandalwood and being decked up in bright green saree with the new palakka necklace. I remember a lot of people coming home with different kinds of sweets, jewellery and money. In between, Achan threw quick glances. ‘You have grown up, my little girl’, he spoke through those glances.

The months after that were confusing. Amma would send me off to a different room, a separate one. I would have to be there for four days. I would take bath in the adjacent bathroom. My mother would keep fresh set of clothes for me with sumptuous food. It was like a mini festival every month. Some months, my elder sister would join too. We would talk till the wee hours of the morning about the men we would marry and whether they will have a thin moustache or a huge one like our neighbour who was a policeman.

And then just like that, I was married off a day after I turned fourteen. From a small family of four, I entered into a large one. I was one of the six daughters in law. All between the age of fourteen and twenty-five. I was the youngest. My day started at four thirty in the morning. It was considered a luxury. I guess I was lucky because I was the youngest.  I sometimes wondered how the work in the house never ceased. Someone would get pregnant, or give birth to a child or there would be clothes to wash, the sprawling farms had to be taken care of, the cattle had to be fed or huge quantities of rice flour had to be pounded.

Each one of us waited for that special day. The day our period came. Our mother in law would immediately ask us to disposition ourselves in the small room in the backyard. There would be no instance of loneliness in the room, for there were enough women in the family. The list of things we did were endless. We talked… a lot… about everything and anything. About the way our husbands touched us to the way the jackfruit seller Vasu looked at us. We would laugh like little girls. We were no more the wives with family responsibilities. I learnt to wrap the saree around my slim waist and also learnt how not to be loud during love-making. We could wake up at five-thirty so that we take bath only after everyone else in the family took a bath. We did not have to cook, or clean or wash or even take care of children! Every month, we would wait for our period to come. It was almost cathartic.

But those days are gone. I watched my daughters being born and then my grand daughters and even my great grand daughters.  Today, I hear them crib about their period and talk about how backward the ancient customs were. I smile inwardly and think what do they know about the little pleasures of life? How will I ever be able to explain to them the bitter sweet pain our period brought us back in those days? Will they ever understand if I say I can still close my eyes and smell the small room, the lingering smell of small joys, smaller complaints and dirty little secrets. These new girls…they will never know.

 

PS: This little perspective writing stems from a thought that we do not know all the stories and the moments behind traditions, rituals and customs. We do not know the simple joys, the inspiration and the moments of sheer strength behind those days and ways.  

TWO MINUTES OF SILENCE

The sun was down and the sky had enveloped herself in an orange layer. Soft as marshmallows, the clouds were in a jiffy to get back home. Every one seemed in a hurry. Some bickered over auto rickshaw charges and some argued about the country’s state of politics. A dog looked bored and tried to doze, but he was rudely kicked at by a boy dressed in tattered clothes which were a tad big for his size.

But they were not in a hurry. They walked, hands entwined and shoulders barely touching each other. She looked at the board. Her train was on time and would arrive in another fifteen minutes. She sighed as softly as she could, she did not want him to notice. But he noticed not just the sigh but the turbulent waves within her…and him. He held her hand a little more tightly. He knows…she knew.

She was leaving today. Far from Chennai and its sweltering heat. The day he had entered her life, the heat had stopped bothering her. The sweat was not as awful and the breeze had a certain comfort.

He on the other hand had started exploring food other than idli-sambhar, music other than Lalgudi Jayaraman, and known the warmth of a woman in ways he had imagined he never would.

In a few moments, it would all change. To what, they could not imagine or rather did not want to decipher. Silence had taken over them.

The train arrived. Was that a slight twinge, almost a pain they both felt? Or was this the emptiness that lovers spoke about? What was that numbness in the throat, the wetness or the lack of it in the eyes? The throat seemed stuck somewhere between a million words and muteness.

She was the first one to let go of the grip and board the train. Someone pushed her as people made their way in. Someone was gesticulating angrily at her. A dog barked viciously at the train. The sun and the clouds did not want to be witness to this moment and had chosen to let go of the brightness. She stood at the threshold, looked at her watch and back at him. Two minutes for the train to go.

Two minutes of nothing and everything. Their eyes locked tight just like their bodies last night.

I love you.

I love you more.

I will be back.

I know you will.

I want to spend my life with you. 

I want to spend all my lives with you.

Wait for me.  

Needless to say.

They smiled. Words are after all a facade. Silence can speak, scream and put raging thoughts to rest.

Two minutes of silence.