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  • Drought and the Dry Harvest

    I looked around the hall filled with relatives and friends, everyone had come to celebrate the event. The scream from within was rising, but I quickly quelled the urge. At ninety, I did not wish to make a fool of myself. Adjusting the Gadwal saree, I wondered whether the person who bought the saree liked the color, why else would anyone buy a bright pink border saree for a ninety-year-old. In the buying spree for the event, my saree purchase could have been an afterthought anyway. I shouldn’t be so mean, lest I become a bemoaning witch in my old age!

    Slowly, I walked into the large hall and saw the door way decorated with the festoon of mango leaves and marigold strings. A huge stage, the mandap, was arranged in the hall and adorned with exotic flowers. I imagine a small fortune was spent on the flowers. The mandap, with the weight of all the exotic flowers, seemed a bit like me, all decked out, standing, and searching for its identity! Trays of flowers and fruits were scattered around. So were the children, scurrying and screaming in their fantasy world.

    The family was running around, chatting, and laughing. Someone, not sure who, asked whether I would like to rest; like my foot, why would I? It sure took a hell lot of time to tie this garish pink border saree around me. I might as well sit for some time and see the event, my great granddaughter’s wedding.

    I was married at fifteen, to a man who was then forty. He came to my house with his son, who was twenty, for ‘bride-seeing.’ But as soon as he saw me, in a pale pink saree that matched the blush in my cheeks, he felt the longing for a wife. A deep red desire ate his soul. He dumped the son and married me.

    His first wife died few years back and the family was big, loud, and rich. He had three daughters and three sons with his first wife. The dead wife’s family was always in touch. Hovering and tethered to this house through events and threads of memories, dipped in love and laced with watchfulness. Her brothers, their children, grandchildren, their weddings, their functions, their festivals, the laughter, and the sorrow. The network stayed connected and continued to spread.

    As for me, something died a premature death the day they told me that the father-in-law to-be wanted to marry me instead of the son. I could feel the sinking feeling. But even before I could readjust to this new scenario, the plates with green beetle leaves, yellow bananas and fine silks were exchanged. I was even gifted with a long gold chain with a pendant of goddess Lakshmi, with pearls dangling at the edge.

    This is my great granddaughter’s wedding, who happens to be the granddaughter to the man I was supposed to marry. He is no more, he died few years back. Did I feel sad? There are some dry feelings, like heat waves on a summer day, which have no name, no face, just dryness. I am not sure what I feel, but over the years I got used to such waves of dryness.

    Dryness, when did it start? The rasping feeling. Did it start from my issue less state? The day I become a mother to a house hold at fifteen, something clogged, nothing could flower in me after that. Dressed in silks, with a large family, smelling sandalwood paste, jarringly beautiful and jaded inside, childless, I never blossomed to yield a fruit

    Dryness became life and manifested in many ways. When I had to marry off my eldest daughter and found the son-in-law glancing too often at me or the elder uncle of my husband tried to touch my cheeks to pat. I draped myself in sarees that were thick, checked, and bold. With a big bindi on my forehead, long thick ruffled hair coiled in a bun, I became aged by a decade and more decades for every year that passed by.

    I married off each of the daughters and then the sons. Daughter-in-laws puzzle over me. They do not know why I am not able to sleep for more than two hours or why I roam around restlessly in the night or why I never cry.

    The garden behind the bungalow where I grow the herbs and vegetables takes a lot of my time. The house runs on the vegetables from my vegetable garden. I also have a cactus in a corner. They say it is not lucky to have cactus at home. I hear the gossip in the dark corners of the house, whispered in raspy voices, how I am cursed and how I walk like a ghost all day. How I have not shed a tear when my husband died or when the step son died, and how I stood there staring, dry eyed. The drought for sleep and tears made me look gaunt.

    The sudden sound of noise brought me back to the present and I glanced at the entrance. The music was playing an old Hindi song and few were dancing as if there is no tomorrow. The laughter was loud and few women and men were trying hard to speak above the music and laughter. As everyone was speaking at the same time, hardly anyone heard anything or seemed interested.

    Just then my great granddaughter walked in. I blinked at the saree she wore, for months they were all on shopping binge and I expected her to wear one of the finest expensively tagged silk saree costing a small fortune. But she walked in wearing, wait a minute, my wedding saree!! With pride and dreams in the eyes, she looked up at me and told how she loved to wear ‘that saree’ as she felt that I lived a great life, filled with all its implications and joy.

    A scarlet red saree, I chose it myself. Was the unconscious playing its hand to indicate the inner flame that was consuming me? Red meant power, the power I could not show or muster. The saree had a heavy ultramarine deep blue border, blue so deep that it could sink your heart. To ensure the blue did not overflow, the border had golden zari Rudraksham beads that locked the blue. The border also had intricately designed golden swans. The birds were beautiful and lonely. They are said to be the mystical birds that lived in heaven and were known for their purity. There were thousands of zari-bottis strewn across the saree, glittering in the shape of a rain drop, mirroring my tears, locked and shinning.

    Looking at her and the saree, something snapped in me. The dryness, the curse, the rush of betrayal, the weary self-inside me welled and overflowed into a long screeching noise, a scream that pierced every ear in the big bungalow.

    I screamed, screeched, and then suddenly the dam broke. I sat, cried, sobbed and howled for all those children I could not bear. The love that was never understood; the misery of being smothered in yards of silk, and the work, the drudgery, and the pain. Slowly I drifted off into the nothingness, white, blissful, soft, floating and misty. Finally, my eyes closed to the long blissful dreamless sleep, closer to God.

  • Retribution, Revenge and Relevance

    Woke up with a jerk, what is that screeching noise? Who has come now, at this time of the night?

    Opened the old heavy teak door to peep into the house. Servants had rolled off from their quarters in the dead dark cold night, for they were rushing to light the lanterns; ceaseless flickers, licking the darkness. Looks like my daughter-in-law is already up. The old, precious and well-oiled standing clock struck two – loud and clear, leaving behind silence so deep, it felt as if an eerie finality was slowly engulfing us;

    Tall and strong, my son was walking agitated on the long, broad veranda; the high ceiling veranda went around the house with rough granite blocks for the floor and massive wooden pillars supporting the tiled roof. A thick vein of Rangoon creeper kept the roof cool and colorful. Their thick fragrance filling the silence of the night. A waist high parapet wall built around the veranda that also doubled up as a seating wall gave the veranda its privacy and at the same time a feel of restiveness;

    My son is actually my sister’s son – she died when I was ten and he was five. The large family, immediate and extended, in their wisdom decided and married me off to my brother-in-law who was thirty then. Some twenty years back – a way of ensuring that the wealth stayed within the family – to the world out there, the story spun was more around the son needing a mother. Wealth was very important and everything revolved around keeping it safe, neat and tied; I called him my son and he goes around as if I am his mother; with just five years separating us, I am not sure whether I am more his sister or mother. I never wondered on this topic as it is too weird. My son grew up fast, in some corners aloof, always in command. Do sons grow fast when fathers wander off too far from home?!

    My son married his cousin from his father’s side, my daughter-in-law is younger than me by eight years. An intelligent and efficient woman – we both are friends most times and at varied levels, but sometimes I treat her little crass, say like a typical mother-in-law. Well, each has to let off steam in one way or another. She is very practical or is it pragmatism, for in many ways my son shows more emotions than her.

    My son was moving from being agitated to loudly calling and cursing. He was screaming at the driver asking him to hurry up; in the dead of the night his voice boomeranged in the air. Slowly, I walked up to him in the large veranda and asked, “What happened?”

    “Father has fallen sick and is rushed to the hospital”, he said. His father was not home and had not come home, like many nights;

    “Where did he fall sick?”, I asked.

    He mocked, “Where do you think?”

    “Who was with him?”, I asked.

    He hissed “Who else, that lady”;

    For the first time the bitter sour truth got spilled and acknowledged in this majestic house, a recognition of my vacant life;

    After our marriage, my husband could not wait for me to attain puberty to satisfy his urges. The man he was, he looked for a partnership and he lived that life; and after I matured, it just continued; a relationship never mentioned in this grand house; the underlying pain was brushed like the dry leaves from the massive Citron tree in the backyard – dry, fallen, withered and brushed. Living in the sidelines, waiting and watching him spend his every night outside of the village in her house, the entire village aware of it, was self-loathing. The motor car (his is the only one in the surrounding ten villages) pulling out shining from a devotional labor of his trusted servant, dark, sharp, as the sun starts setting. It used to tear down the red mud roads, mean and black; the household used to be busy, as if nothing out of ordinary is happening, servants lightening the lanterns, fresh vegetables from the field being stacked in the woodenalmirah with mesh for breathing, so they are not suffocated and scared.

    In the morning, as the villagers moved out of their houses, some decorating the front yard of their houses with white doted and elegantly designed rangoli, men with a neem stick in their mouth, chewing, spitting, brushing their teeth; children in the pond jumping for a quick bath; households waking up for the new day. My husband’s motor car used to come into the village screeching and screaming, announcing his arrival; never looked up or out, the pity in the village folks eyes was too hot and piercing, or was it shaming for not being able to keep my man in the house for even a night? In the massive household a thick curtain of silence engulfed as everyone is busy with morning pooja and a tasty breakfast; if you are rich, powerful, added few good deeds to the society and handsome, you are right;

    Before I got into the car, I quickly packed his and my clothes, not sure how long we got to stay there, so packed for a week; he loves his bed sheets and towels very clean, so I picked them, he might not like the hospital stuff. Everyone is mumbling that it might be long. The person who brought the news was shaken, so must be bad. What will I do in that room with him for days, I blinked trying to wade off sudden rush of tears as apprehension tightly coiled my soul; my efficient daughter-in-law packed a basket with milk, water and fruits with some plates, assured me that once what to eat is reported, she will ensure all is cooked and sent. Oh! No, was it food I am worried about? I got to be in a room with him, draw from the same air, look out of the same window, what will we do? Will he be conscious to realize that?

    We rushed in the dark, moonless night, on the mud road hardened with travel, the village heard the rattling of our motor vehicle leaving anxious fumes as we speeded to the hospital; jostling in the vehicle in the sturdy silence was I — confused, and edgy, not sure what I was doing rushing to him, nor what I am expected to do there.

    We entered the hospital room, and there he was, lying supine on the bed; I walked in slowly, trying to remain calm; in the corner, she was standing; the woman who held sway on my husband, a mirror to my vacant life. All these years of not knowing who she is, I looked at her, to my astonishment she was pale, trembling, an average, older female with no magic, nor awe; is this the choice he made??! I was stunned and seethed;

    I walked to him, power oozing out of my eyes, lips, nose. He was there pitiful, hungry, in pain, not knowing what; he looked at me, trace of recognition? or was it guilt, whatever, flickered and burnt out. I looked down at the man who is my husband in absence, father of my son, and then suddenly, something snapped. Felt nauseated and cold, blinding pain shoot through my body, I turned away.

    Nothing, there was nothing in me to reach out to him; I nodded at her, the ‘other woman’, and said, “Stay with him, and once he can walk, send him home”. And, with a swift measured turn, to the utter astonishment of everyone, I started leaving, followed by my tight-lipped son, servant running with our bags, driver tagging along clumsily leaving the fruit basket behind.

    I walked out of the room and the hospital, and into the car resting in the corner of the building under a large neem tree; the sky was opening up in the yonder, fresh, orange, a wasp of mystery, something to be born, something to be felt;

    The car bumped up and down on the mud road as we reached home; leaving behind a trail of red fumes, my son did not speak a word; the village was waking up to the news of a tiny woman, who thrashed a man with nothing but a glance of disdain; they will all judge after the initial shock in the many mornings to come, that got to wait, let me savor today!

    First time after many years , I started feeling the air in my body, feel the life flowing. I feel myself, not the white ghost on the side-lines of a rich act, like a rancid butter!

  • Random Thoughts and Rainbow Dreams

    “Can you suggest topics for the women’s forum we run in our organization? Every month we have a topic discussed by experts”
    Hm…interesting. “How about Domestic Violence?”
    “What! Come on, we don’t have a crowd with such issues”
    “Really? Is domestic violence specific to a market segment, city, economic class or street?”
    “No Sunitha, it is just that we have an educated crowd in our office, this population would not get into such bizarre acts.”

    Her bulging stomach announcing a life growing, she walked in distraught, beady eyes like faded marbles; her husband was beating her regularly, for no apparent reason or cause. Colleagues who noticed the long hours spent at work and the vacant, expressionless eyes, wondered ‘God! She is pregnant; doesn’t the husband have some sensitivity for it?’ He didn’t. Finally one morning, barely conscious and completely battered, she called her parents who live in the same city. Heart-broken parents carried the half-dead daughter home; I knew the father who used to come regularly to pick her up from office when she got delayed, happily feasting on dreams she used to wave at all of us, walking out breezily. One year and a marriage later, the father still comes to pick up a daughter married, beaten, pregnant, separated and bruised. He still does not want her to initiate divorce, as he is worried what family and friends might say; “We should try for reconciliation, he might change after the child is born.”

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