Friday, June 29, 2007


If she had been a betting woman, she would have lost this bet - Nobody expected that her little shrivelled frail mother would outlive her robust energetic ever-so-optimistic father. Anila's mother had been sick for as long as she remembered, in some way or the other. Now, at 68, looking like the oldest person on earth, weighing about the same as she did when she was ten years old, the last remaining light from her eyes was fast fading. Anila considered how she used to scoff at people who said things like "light fading from her eyes" - but realized that there was no better way to describe what was happening to her mother.

And there was no doubt, it was happening to Anila as well. Her father was her hero and her savior - she would never know where his hope and enthusiasm for life came from, living all his life as he did, in the most depressing hopeless circumstances. An orphan, married to a woman who, at best, was a constant companion and at worst, was somewhat of a constant drain on his time and energy with her constant sickness and her low motivation to do anything.

It sometimes seemed to Anila that she had inherited the worst qualities of her mother and nothing of her father except his comically large nose. She had lived a lonely, boring existence with few friends and activities until she was a teenager. When she was twenty two, she managed to "break out" of the constant dreariness of her childhood home and find a job in the city that managed to pay her mother's medical bills but kept her at away from the day-to-day caregiving that her father so gracefully and uncomplainingly took on.

Now that he was gone, so cruelly removed from their lives in the very instant the drunk driver rammed into his bicycle, Anila faced reality. The plan was to move her mother to the city with her, and hire a part-time nurse to care for her when she was at work. The last two weeks had been a frenzy of calling relatives, hiring movers, arranging for the nurse and trying to convince her manager to not fire her and of course, dealing with the funeral and the million ceremonies following it. There had been no time to even think about her loss, much less mourn it.

Today she had started packing - How do you fit more than forty years of life into cardboard boxes? She relished the quiet - the first silence since she arrived - as she methodically put away things to be thrown, things to be given away, things to be moved, things to be destroyed and wrote down everything. She came to an old trunk in the storage room and opened it, coughing in the dust cloud the sudden yank yielded. She had to smile as she realized what the trunk contained. It was all her stuff that she had left behind but Baba had not wanted to dispose of. He had carefully packed away her music casettes, her old half-knitted socks from needle-work class, her old school books, her scrap book of dried flowers and ferns which crumbled into dust as she turned the pages lovingly. And then she came upon something that brought with it a renewed sense of loss and grief and at the same time, some atavistic excitement and a memory of innocence. She dusted off the cover and hastily shook away the silverfish from the insides and began to read, "What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful and brilliant? That she loved Mozart and Bach, the Beatles, and me?"

To be continued...


The phone rang suddenly, making her jump and hit her elbow on the edge of the dining room table. She realized she'd fallen asleep on her empty plate again. She answered the phone. "Hello? Oh ok. Are you sure? Alright, don't worry about was only lasagna anyway. Thanks for calling. Please drive safe."

Only lasagna. That took only three hours to make. Because she only used fresh ingredients and insisted on making it from scratch. If only he knew.

On second thoughts, it probably wouldn't matter. It's not like her lasagna stood a chance against his clients or their frivolous lawsuits or their long purses. She doubted it would make any difference even if he did know how her life had become defined by waiting. Waiting for him to arrive so they could go to sleep in silence. Waiting for her daughter to come back from school with lipstick on and cigarettes in her bag. Waiting to have a decent conversation with her that didn't involve the words "Because I'm your mother" or "You're not old enough" or "Isn't there an earlier show?" or "I found this in your jeans - do you want to tell me how it got there?" Waiting for the day when either of them would look at her without resentment.

She filled a bowl with cereal (lasagna didn't sound as appetizing) and went to the sofa in the den to eat it quietly in front of the TV. The sofa was littered with her daughter's stuff...which she wasn't allowed to touch, of course. She tried gently pushing away a bag to make room for herself when a book fell out from the open bag. "At least it's not a pack of cigarettes!", she thought, relieved that the new hobby her daughter had found - reading - was in her estimation, the only hope she had to compensate for bad parenting and a broken marriage. For books offered a wonderful escape from reality - a reality which was all too damaged to possibly yield a healthy teenager. After all, Mona herself had books to thank for her own escape from reality all those years ago.

She picked up the book to replace in the bag when the title caught her attention and her hand stopped moving. Smiling wistfully, she turned to the first page and started reading..."What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful and brilliant? That she loved Mozart and Bach, the Beatles, and me?"

She was still reading, her mind half on the words and half in a long-lost reality, with tears running down her face, her cereal forgotten, when she looked up to see her daughter in the doorway. "Oh hey, sorry...I'll put it back in your bag...It just fell out when I sat down...Sorry"

Instead of the usual tirade and teenage drama queen sequence Mona had been expecting for 'invasion of privacy' and 'not respecting' her, her daughter came and sat down next to her.

Looking at her, she said, "Mamma, don't you know? Love means never having to say you're sorry."

To be continued...


She heard the TV as she came in. Suddenly, Ayaan's voice yelled, "What is 'Moby Dick'!"

Smiling, she glanced at the clock in the microwave oven as she put away the groceries - 7:38 p.m. Of course. Jeopardy was on. "This is what happens when you marry an IITian", she thought to herself, "you catch him talking to the TV, pretending to be on nerdy quiz shows instead of helping his wife out with the groceries!" It was, she admitted to herself, one of the most endearing things about Ayaan - this magical quality of his of transforming, at unexpected times, from the serious Chief Technical Officer of a multi-million dollar firm into a little boy. Like when she caught him practicing that perfect leg-spin in the garage as he waited for her, or when he was singing passionately as he cut onions "Pag ghunghroo baandh Meera nachi thi nachi thi NACHI THI!"

"What is 'Pride and Prejudice'!"

She walked into the living room. She nuzzled into the nook between his arm and the sofa cushion, as he distractedly patted her head in welcome. She looked at the clue he had guessed the answer to: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." The category was "Famous First Lines". She smiled to herself again, thinking of how similar Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice was to her own Aunt Tina, who had well-meaningly, if a little crudely, spoken about Ayaan as "a single man in possession of good fortune" four years ago to her parents, urging them to consider him a good match for Rutu. "So what if he's Muslim? Nowadays it's all okay...he is a wonderful boy. Very successful. And so handsome!" Indeed. Without Auntie, she would have found it very hard to convince her parents that she had made the right choice in agreeing to marry Ayaan.

Now she glanced at this handsome nerd and felt that she was the one who'd ended up possessing the real "good fortune". A frown crossed his face as he mumbled "Arre yaar...I know this one..which is this one yaar Rutu?"

She looked at the screen: "What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful and brilliant? That she loved Mozart and Bach, the Beatles, and me?"

"Love Story" she said immediately, and immediately felt like crying. For it had made her recall another time, another love story, another way in which she had been profoundly blessed with "good fortune". She snuggled against his chest as he looked at her, immediately sensing the change in her mood and providing the only thing he could to fill that void. His silent embrace.

To be continued...

Saturday, June 23, 2007

For 'get' it.

Boy meets girl.
Boy gets attracted to girl.
Boy gets nervous but bravely asks girl for her number.
Girl first plays hard to get.
But boy does get her number.
Boy gets back home and calls her at once.
Boy and girl get together for coffee the next day.
Coffee gets transformed to a walk, then dinner.
Dinner gets over much too soon.
Girl gets home and calls boy at once.
Phonelines get busy for two more hours.
This gets to be more or less a routine.
Girl feels like boy 'gets' her.
Boy feels like he's got her.
This gets them into the invariable misunderstanding.
The fight gets them back to reality.
Flowers, tears and parental disapproval gets them back together.
They finally get on with work, friends and other recently ignored pursuits.
The relationship that got off to a great start gets back to solid ground.
Many fights and dreamed up futures later they finally get hitched.
They get new names, a house and a Costco membership.
They both now both 'get' each other and get each other.

So here's a silly, almost cynical, look at relationships...prompted by a mini-epiphany that so much of the language used in the context of relationships is about 'getting' - getting a phone number, getting into fights, getting married, getting over each other, getting on with lives, getting a Costco membership, (a symbol stronger than wedding rings to signify bondage..I mean the bond of holy matrimony!!)
I think there's a less cynical post waiting to be written about 'having' - having a crush on someone, having butterflies in your stomach, having a great first kiss, having a baby, having a great life together, etc. But hey, less cynical just ain't me. And actually I did decide to give this one a happy Costco ending instead of going the 'getting over each other' route which was more tempting. So that's it...get it?