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.

 

REDEMPTION

pic courtesy: Google

I stood on the threshold. Everyone around me seemed to be in a hurry. I wondered why. After all it was me who had to reach elsewhere. I looked at the young girl near the office room. She had a few bags kept next to her. Must be one of the many who come to make a contribution.

Sister told her, “You may either donate through cash or cheque.” She opened her purse to hand over the cash. I don’t see clearly how much. “What is the occasion?” asked Sister. “It’s my mother’s death anniversary.” Did I hear a quiver in her voice? If so, then I don’t recognise it. I don’t know what it is for a mother to feel her grown up child’s love for her. All I have are distant memories of motherhood; faint and pale…like me. Of feeling joy when my son sucked on my breasts as milk oozed out of them, of holding my son’s hands when he started to walk, of waking up when he didn’t sleep, of feeling accomplished when he got a job, of welcoming a woman other than me in my son’s life, of becoming a stranger from a mother and finally of being brought to this old age home where I have been a resident….till now.

“One of our family members died last night”, Sister said to the young girl. She looked up. She moved uneasily on the seat. “Would you like to see her? We had informed her family members. They should have reached last night. It is 3’o clock in the afternoon now. But no one has come yet. We cannot wait anymore.” she continued. The girl agreed. Together they walked into the room. I kept pace with them. Sister and the girl came and stood next to me. The girl gave a sigh, and tears rolled down her eyes. One drop fell on my cheek.
I watched as I lied on the floor with a white sheet on my body. She stood up and turned to leave. A tear drop that was not mine was on my left cheek. Something stirred within me. So, this is what one feels like to be cried for, to be felt for, to be cared for.

I feel redeemed. Light…I see a bright white light. It’s warm. It’s time to go.

Addendum:
As an annual ritual, we make a contribution towards the residents of an old age home for my father’s death anniversary. But this one time it was different. After making the payment, while stepping out, the admin-incharge called me back. She told me that a resident had passed away last night and asked whether my mother and I would be keen to have a look at her before cremation. My mother and I exchanged glances and we both knew it would be tough for us. But we could not refuse and walked into a tidy, small room where this lady was laid down with a white sheet over her. No one else was there in the room. We said a silent prayer and walked out. But this incident refused to leave my mind for a very long time.
I kept thinking about her, her life, her last thoughts, her last wish, her family, their circumstances and felt completely blank.Thus came REDEMPTION.