Music, Smile and Chewing Gum

Sunday morning was the busiest time of the week. People came in from eight in the morning. Chicken had to be weighed, fish had to be sorted and mutton had to be cleaned. Dressed in his black pants which he folded till his knees and the white ‘AFIDAS’ t-shirt, Kishore knew he would hardly get time to breathe.  He was just twenty five, but already knew every nuance of running a meat and fish shop.  Khan Saab ensured that Kishore and the other two boys who worked for him did their job well. On bad days, there would be unending profanities coming out of his betel stained mouth, and on good days, he would give them carefully weighed three hundred grams of meat or fish in a black polythene cover.

Lunch would be as late as four in the evening. And that is why he kept his pocket loaded with chewing gum on all days. With every bite, the juices from the gum filled his stomach, killing his hunger and the monotony of chopping, cutting, cleaning and billing. The other thing that kept him going was music. He plugged his earphones and as soon as Kishore Da’s yodelling began, his namesake would get transported into a world far far away. His hands would work swiftly on the sharp knife and the big wooden chopping board, but his heart and soul would be amidst green mountains, the not-so-overbearing yellow sun and the cool breeze of his small village in Shillong. Kishore never noticed his customers laughing at him, listening to his loud singing. He would be blissfully unaware of his displaced chords, and the questionable lyrics. He never heard Khan Saab mouthing through his paan, ‘Pata nahin itna khush kyo rahta hain?’  Music, Smile and Chewing Gum: they never left Kishore’s mouth.

Business had been good today, which meant instead of six, he would be able to leave by five. Khan Saab deftly handed over the black polythene cover and rode away in his old, noisy scooter.

Kishore started to walk towards his home. Music in his ears and on his lips, a rhythmic movement in his legs and a faint smile as he chewed the last chewing gum of the day. The blaring horns, the rushing vehicles and barking dogs did not bother him.

As soon as he reached home, he walked up to his wife and sang, ‘‘Mere sapno ki rani kab aaogi tum……’  Kajal did not respond. She never did.

‘Aaj mutton fry aur soup. Theek hain?’ He whistled and kept the mutton on the kitchen slab.

Soon the house filled with a delicious aroma of mutton getting slowly cooked in an array of spices, ginger, garlic and onions. Just the way his mother made back home.

‘Yeh shaam mastani….’ He hummed and tasted the soup. Spicy! Just the way Kajal liked it.

He served the soup in a bowl and went near Kajal. She looked at him, and tried to lift her hand. It refused to budged. Kishore placed a towel around her chest and poured a spoonful of soup in her mouth. She clumsily drank it, spilling half of it on the towel. A tear drop escaped Kajal’s eye; a glistening validation of the remorse she felt, of the last one year, of the terrible haunting day when she lost her ability to walk or feel anything below her neck.  Kishore swiftly cleaned the tear and the soup.

‘Radha aunty aayi thi? Roti aur doodh diya?’ Kishore’s eyes went over at the table where the left over milk and roti was kept. He reminded himself to gift Radha aunty a red saree on her birthday. She took good care of Kajal when he was away at work.

Kishore ate his dinner sitting right next to Kajal. There was nothing much to do at home. He had sold off the TV, radio and his guitar for Kajal’s treatment.

There was no place for sadness or the unending questions that sprung time and again from his neighbours and family. Love had taken over all the vacant spaces. The hollowness of despair had been replaced with the warmth of selfless affection. She was his Rani and he, her Raja.

He laid down next to her, his arm across her body, patting her softly and humming to himself. ‘Dil kya karen, jab kisi ko kisi se pyaar ho jaye…..’

 

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.