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3. The Changing of Seasons- Grishma

May 22nd, 2017

तर्षोत्कर्षजुषा मुखेन शिशिरस्वच्छाम्बुपानादरः

The service, a sip of cold pure water renders to a mouth tormented by thirst

Subhāśitāvali, Bhaṭṭabāna

The followings on after all that interchange of musical preferences, were two immediate corollaries-

  1. Mohasumi’s acceptance of my offer of tea:

“Tea?”

With a sigh and a small smile acknowledging her capitulation, “Okay, Didi. But no masala or ginger for me. Just plain will do.”

Our tea sessions were an experiential performance. I was part of it, and yet I was surveying it from a distance.

I would make coffee for myself, and since I like my beverages scalding hot, I would have finished mine before her tea even started to brew. She liked her drink a little too cold.

And then we would sit together. Sometimes, in silence, as I worked, and she hummed a breathy tune, staring unseeingly into an expanse.

Most times, we talked. About things that surrounded us. Marriage. Kids. Her kids.

Four in all. And this knowledge was sprung upon me in a not excessively sympathetic way.

One day, I opened the door to a young girl, of about thirteen, who asked for Mohasumi. When she came out to meet her visitor, rapid, animated Bengali was spoken and news, exchanged:

“What are you doing here?” said Mohasumi, from behind me. “I asked you to sit downstairs, didn’t I?”

“Guard Bhaiyya told me I could not sit there,” retorted the girl.

There was something very familiar about the sulky downturn of her mouth and her stubborn pixie jawline affixed determinedly on a diminutive frame.

“Didi,” squawked Mohasumi, turning to me abruptly, “this is my daughter, Rooh.”

“Oh!” I said, in automatic reply, and then comprehension sunk in. “Oh.”

I was shocked. How could this teenager be Mohasumi’s child? I had a fair idea that Mohasumi was definitely younger than me. Even if my imagination had still run amuck, I would have envisaged her with a couple of children perhaps, aged not more than six or seven at the most. But, this was a wild revelation.

Jilpi burst in bounding, thrilled at having a new visitor. Anyone who came home was most perceptibly her own personal guest; to sniff at, make friends with and drape all over.

Rooh let out the perfunctory scream, and it was Mohasumi, who helped break the ice between her daughter and Jilpi. Afterwards, mother and daughter were sitting side by side, quietly drinking the tea and Horlicks I had made for them; a pair of twins with a miniscule difference in physique because of a growth spurt albeit spanning a generation apart. Jilpi had her head on Rooh’s lap, eyes half closed in tandem with languid panting. Soporific.

When Mohasumi asked Rooh for help with some of the chores, I expressly refused to let the child contribute, much to their amusement. It was gnawing away at me, this disturbing feeling.

—————

Meanwhile, spring, which had heartlessly donned the cloak of summer was behind us, and the bathrooms of the house were beginning to seem like the coolest lodgings with all their water pipe insulated walls. The mid-morning sessions now had cold buttermilk displacing tea. The ever increasing oppression of the shroud of heat, lulls even the most energetic being to a state of deceitful lethargy. Everything transpires at the rate of a dream-like speed. Even the tone of our conversations enjoyed the stupor of the mood, the depth of their content managing to knock the inertia only a little.

It took quite some time for me to wrap my head around the fact that Mohasumi had been married off when she had turned thirteen. And to a man who was fifteen years older than her.

This piece of information would always remain with me, dormant like a watchful predator, primed to whip its claws out and draw blood.

At thirteen, I was playing pretend sleuth with my sister, envisaging 007 scenarios in the guileless streets of devout Mylapore.

“That man in the yellow shirt looks suspicious, Partner,” I would stage-whisper into my grey pencil box, an ingenious walkie-talkie.

“Yes, Partner. He does look like a kidnapper,” my faithful eleven year old sibling would whisper back from right next to me. “What do you think we should do?”

And for days, we trained an eye on the poor man, who, to all intents and purposes, was probably just a worker at the grocery store warehouse nearby. It had been thrilling.

“My husband is a nice fellow,” said Mohasumi, between sips of her buttermilk, and giggled suddenly. “Although, he looks much older now. White hair, brown teeth because of the beedis.”

She showed me his picture on her phone. A good natured man, with a benign smile and crinkled up eyes, was looking at me through vicious scratches on the phone screen.

“He is dark coloured. See? Rooh and Akash are like their father. Samar and Arwa are like me, fair complexioned.”

Her husband worked the night shift in the maintenance department at a BPO company. And took care of the children, and the house, while Mohasumi was at work during the day.

“He washes the clothes, and cooks lunch. I clean up in the afternoon and cook dinner.”

Mohasumi had moved to Gurgaon with her husband and children, in order to pay off some debts they had incurred in their village. Selling their land was not something they had even wanted to look at as a choice they could opt for. Leaving the fields in the care of her husband’s family, they had shifted here on the advice of several friends and relatives who were hitherto apparently making it good in Gurgaon.

“I had only one condition, when we were looking for a place to stay. To have an attached bathroom in our room,” disclosed Mohasumi, a strange determined gleam shining in her eye, for a moment. “Like in this house.”

If it was pride that was lacing her words, then it should be, for she added, “I didn’t want my daughters to stand in queue with other people every day to use a common bathroom.”

Consequently, she lived further away than the other ladies who worked as domestic help in my apartment complex. And she had to travel an extra half hour by foot.

As she was leaving for the day, I gave her an apple to take along.

“The children don’t like fruits, Didi. They only eat chips and snacks,” she said.

“Then you have it,” I insisted. “You are still breastfeeding Arwa, aren’t you?”

Later I would come to know that fourteen year old Rooh was yet to secure admission at school in Gurgaon. There was also the glitch of the medium of instruction being in Hindi. Back home in their village, Rooh and the other children, learned everything at school in their mother tongue, Bengali. But, this seemingly insignificant problem would await its turn to rear its head.

Whenever I asked about her children and school (which I did, rather frequently), Mohasumi would sigh and say, “They want Aadhar card, Didi. It will take some time.”

I would nod my head as if I understood, while my mind protested against it in all forms. As a mother of zero human offspring yet, I did not know if I was in any position to give her some parenting advice. But I did stop myself from hounding her, and to be honest she even seemed less brooding than before.

For, through all this, there was this second big development, the more obvious of the two consequences from before:

  1. A strange, but not exclusively bizarre, request from her end:

“Didee? Can I listen to music when I work? I used to do that in the village.”

“Music?”

“In fact, I work better while listening to music.”

Was it possible for her to work better than this, I wondered.

Thus commenced the cacophonous blaring of all her favourite songs from the croaky speaker of her phone. Her playlist was forever rolling out one after another, songs so extraordinary, they were embedding themselves in my memory for posterity with consummate ease. It was astounding how such a small archaic apparatus could pack so much volume inside of it.

My father would often reminisce about something called, ‘Panchayat Radio’, from his time as a young lad in his grandmother’s village. Lack of individual household entertainment would compel the men of the settlement to gather around the central banyan tree platform for socializing and communing after a day’s hard work. The entire village would own one radio box, which a kind patron would switch on. Most women preferred to listen to it from the front yards of their own houses. Even children would go quiet after a full day’s milking of mischief.

I was sure, the house help of my neighbour, two floors down, was also probably doing a better job listening to this racket definitely not muffled by Mohasumi’s kurta pocket.

But I was not doing a great job with mine. Ideally, I would like to think that I would perform best if I just sequestered the voices inside my head. Given that we cannot all have what we want in our pitiful existences, I had to resort to insulate myself from the charms of the external chords.

I tolerated my Panchayat Radio the first few days for the want of a house so sanitized, that light reflected off its walls; radiation so viscous, I could cut it with my non-productivity. And then, I had to ask her to use ear phones, to which she consented, to indulge me; one ear off and the other on, for my sake. Her idea, not mine. I could still hear spill over sounds from the dangling pod, crackling notes in tandem with her humming.

Bappi and his psychedelic synthesized disco beats were pitching a loud revolving stage in the prime space of my dreams.

But I have to admit that some things had changed. When her grumpy ‘Namaste Didi’ transitioned to a vibrant ‘Good Morning Didi’ as I opened the door to her every morning, I would never know. But the earphone donned Mohasumi who hummed with swag was no longer the morose lady from a couple of months before.

To be continued…

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2. The Changing of Seasons- Vasanta

May 22nd, 2017

इति यथाक्रममाविरभुन्मधुर्द्रुमवतीमवतीर्य वनस्थलीम्

Thus did the spring manifest itself by descending on the thickly wooded woodlands

Raghuvaṃśa,  Kālidāsa

Over the throes of morning bedlam and raucous commotions, the shrill grating of a ringtone from an old phone made itself heard.

“Nisha… Nisha… Nisha…”

“What’s that?” asked Ram, blinking up from his spread of morning papers, Quora on the phone and hot-gone-cold oatmeal.

“What?” I asked, tweeting furiously. I was armchair outraging on someone’s behalf.

“That. Do you hear it?” he replied, and bumped my foot under the dining table to make sure I caught it at the right time. “There, again.”

“Nisha… Nisha… Nisha…”

My mood shifted, and I stifled a giggle. It was Ram’s first encounter with this. I forgave him for distracting me from the national crisis I was helping resolve.

“That’s the ringtone on her phone,” I said, glancing at her over the kitchen counter.

Mohasumi, oblivious to everything but the dishes in the kitchen sink, cocked her head at that moment.

“Yes, your phone’s ringing,” I called out, confirming her suspicions.

She wiped her hands hurriedly on her dupatta, and picked it up from atop the counter.  Hunching over in a self-conscious way, she turned the other side while she snapped open the conversation with a, “Hello!? Kē?”

I was hooked to the groovy beat right from the first time her phone had rung in my presence. I had to google it to seek just what it was that I found myself humming everywhere.

Asha Bhosle croons to R.D. Burman and his disco bling genius in this song; incidentally, this 1982 movie won him his first Filmfare award for best music. And onscreen, a bevy of chorus girls venerate their badass lead girl as she rides a motorcycle onto a revolving stage, outmanoeuvring the rock-n-roll singer who then begins to tolerate her move for move, albeit with clenched teeth.

Presently, there was a lull in the house, the transitory phase between two events, where I was feeling too lethargic to embark on the second one. Ram had left for work by this time, and I was loath to open my computer and begin for the day.

On a whim, I opened the YouTube video of the song, and called Mohasumi over, diverting a fine working lady from her duties. On my phone, a somewhat peeved miniature Kamal Hassan, a very young one at that, was dancing to Reena Roy’s spunky tune, snarly smirk and all.

Much to my delight, Mohasumi’s transformed face was a sight to see.

“Kamal Hassan!”

“Yes, this is your ring tone.”

She had not heard my redundant comment. Eyes shiny with admiration, she watched rapt with attention.

“Kamal Hassan is my favourite,” she said, when the song had ended.  “Him and Jackie Shroff. Have you watched Teri Meherbaniyan?”

This was a new one for me; not the question itself, but the fact that the question was even asked. So, we were into the cinema milestone phase, were we? A pretty fast progress, I must say, for she had graduated to launching conversations with me by herself only the previous week. A handful of arbitrary proclamations now and then:

“Didi, we need a new broomstick.”

“Jilpi needs a bath. She is smelly.”

“The plants are faring well, Didi. Looks like you have been ignoring them nicely.”

The last statement has not been voiced yet. But I have come to recognize that knowing look on her face now; the look that would soon be transformed to words. And I am still familiarizing myself with getting over the conditioned surprise.

Teri Meherbaniyan?” I asked, presently. “Umm, no I haven’t. What’s it about?”

“There is a dog in the movie. He is the hero. He kills everyone for revenge.”

“Oh!”

“Yes, you can find the video there,” she pointed to my phone.

I obliged. It was also a film from the 80s, I discovered. Moti, a black Labrador, indeed goes on a vengeance spree, bringing death to all the men who were the reason for the murder of his master and his girlfriend.

The list of videos in the search list were one more entertaining than the next. One thing led to another, and I found myself showing her bits and pieces of song videos from only the 80s here and there, not once exceeding to the next decade. Seemingly from her favourite playlists, I could tout R.D. Burman and Laxmikant-Pyarelal as her preferences. She did not know them, for she had neither reason nor time to review the music virtuosi behind these songs. She knew only the onscreen demigods, the ones who gave her those shining eyes.

“I like only these movies and songs,” she revealed. “I don’t like what comes out these days.”

Wow, here was a vintage lover. There was nothing beyond the 90s mark in her playlist, as I could see. An A.R. Rahman or a Vishal-Shekhar born in her music universe, would never go on to become what they are in ours.

I was curious and secretly thrilled about this odd choice of a time frame. I wanted to know more. So, I searched for and found what I wanted to show her, and learn if it was her favourite too. It was my jam for all the gloomy sentiments in my life, from Guide, 1965.

“So, you must have heard this too?” I asked.

Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai, cooed Lata Mangeshkar as Waheeda Rahman cavorted around with the sprightliness of a mountain goat. Aaj phir marne ka iradha hai.

I glanced at her for a sign of a shared sisterhood of emotional song choices. After a few minutes, she turned around with a wrinkled nose. Her sheepish smile was less embarrassed and more amused.

“Didee…” said Mohasumi, stretching the ‘second di’ in a melodious lilt. I would later distinguish and add to my repository, this method of her calling me, as a prelude to broadcasting any bad news. Bad, for me.

“…your taste is so old.”

To be continued…

 

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1. The Changing of Seasons- Shishira

March 8th, 2017

शिशिरसमय एष श्रेयसे वो ऽस्तु नित्यम्

May this cool season always bode well for you.

Ṛtusaṃhāra,  Kālidāsa

I looked at her, hoping that my misgivings were not showing on my face. She must have sensed my hesitation, for she patted the other woman on the shoulder and insisted, “Didi, trust me, she is a very efficient worker.”

The highly recommended woman did not seem too ecstatic about this appraisal, and rather wore a sulky expression as she stared at the limp philodendron plant next to me.

I gave in. I was desperate because my home was bursting at its seams with the mountain load of laundry and dishes. It was summer in February, because it is Gurgaon, and Jilpi was shedding her fur like the fervent coins dropping from Mahalakshmi’s benevolent palm in the Thanjavur painting on my foyer wall.

“Okay,” I croaked, and then cleared my throat, willing my features to form a neutral countenance. “What did you say your name was?”

“…mi,” she mumbled.

“Sorry, what?”

She finally glanced up and met my eye.

“Mo-ha-su-mi,” she enunciated.

She was willing to oblige my questions. I could manage with this, I told myself.

* * *

A filter was removed from my field of vision, the brown-yellow one that they use to portray graphic aridity and drought of physical and emotional media in cinema. I felt hydrated and fresh just walking from room to room. I had no idea that my house could actually be and look this kind of surgical clean. It assumed the appearance of having been thoroughly washed and scrubbed down; a naughty child donning an angelic avatar at the end of her ablutions. This was Day Two. And Mohasumi was a domestic goddess.

Millions of low wage and daily wage workers migrate to Delhi NCR from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and West Bengal, every year in search of sunshine and dreams. Men, women, whole families journey here in the hope of being able to build something with their lives, to be able to survive just above the surface with as much dignity as they are allowed. Every day, skilled and unskilled labourers move through the matrix of an ever expanding city, many times the size of their villages and hometowns, searching for and finding employment where their needs and the specific demand of their patrons meet.

Mohasumi was from a tiny village in Malda, a district about 300 and odd kilometres north of Kolkata, and nestled on the shoulder of Bangladesh from where it is less than an hour’s bus journey away. Malda is most famous for its eponymous mango, and jute and silk. Later, when decently communicative, Mohasumi would say that it is a four day journey to her village, from Gurgaon; three days by train and the fourth by bus. Mohasumi and many like her, exchange their subsistence there for a verve in the city, in order to provide a better life for their children, and for themselves.

Meanwhile, a routine had set for us both in the first week. She would take about three hours to finish her work from start to finish, chores that my previous house-help used to finish in a matter of an hour. I was not complaining. My home was looking its prettiest in months. My offers of tea, and thereby conversations, had been refused so far, with polite firmness. And since, I had no grievances about her work as well, there was no script for a tête-à-tête.

So, I toned my excitement, only spoke to her when it was absolutely necessary. Like if the sky looked cloudy, I would plan to ask her to bring the laundry drying rack inside. But it is Gurgaon. And it rains here only when the rest of India is finished with their precipitation quota.

Jilpi also had a routine; of being progressively shifted from room to room as Mohasumi did her tasks. An exuberant golden retriever, Jilpi is that dog which the women in domestic service in my apartment complex warn each other about. Impish and a people person, she can never resist giving these women the shock of their lives as she tries to snuggle in around their feet while they work. Overtly aware of the consequences of Jilpi’s enthusiasm, I always make sure she keeps her distance from them, at least until they get used to her size and manners.

One day, bored, whiny, and eager to meet the new help, Mohasumi, Jilpi had sneaked out from behind an ajar door. The second I heard a scream, I flew to the kitchen, heart in mouth, expecting the worst.

“Oh my God, I’m so sorry,” I gasped, my apology an automatic appeal, having done this many times before. Usually after this, I am either extricating the lady from Jilpi’s bipedal hug, or helping her out of a quadrupedal one on the floor.

Miraculously, Mohasumi, who was stroking Jilpi’s ears, looked up and gave a ghost of a smile. A tranquil Jilpi cocked her head and then turned back to Mohasumi, indicating that she continue her ministrations. I stood staring at them, my pulse ringing in my ears.

“She is a good dog,” said Mohasumi.

Jilpi agreed, and they became fast friends.

* * *

“You know, you shouldn’t give it so much water,” said a flat voice from behind me, as I lifted a wan leaf suffering from gravity, and uttered a wheeze of horror when it came off its stalk and fell down.

Brushing me aside, she stuck a finger in the pot, and pulled it out. A sodden heap of mud was sticking to her finger. I caught a whiff of fungal pungency.

“This one here doesn’t drink much,” she stated, and scraped the mud off her hand.

Her deadpan expression urged me to believe her. I was even impressed.

I found myself asking, “So, how often­­­—”

“It will ask.”

It looks like there is such a thing as killing by too much love, for after that, the philodendron plant let go of all its leaves in a day or two due to overwatering. It was too late to let the soil dry up. I was heartbroken. It was the fourth plant in a row, which had died on my watch.

I was removing the contents of the pot, when she stopped me.

“I’ll do it,” offered Mohasumi. “You have to tug quickly, otherwise it’d be painful.”

A week later, she came clutching a voluminous bag to her chest. The leaves sticking out belonged to what I recognized as shoot cuttings of pothos plant, of a variegated category. Not unlike the person who learned to swim on the floor of their house, I was a gardener who would get a 105 marks for a 100 mark theory paper. Both this theoretical swimmer and my plants were doomed to drown in practical water anyway.

“They were chopping off the excess creepers over the compound wall outside,” clarified Mohasumi, all brisk and business-like. “Now I just need to do this…”

Removing a plastic fork out from a knot at the end of her dupatta, she raked it through the soil in the pot. She was ploughing it, I realized. Such mini innovativeness.

She yanked the cuttings out from the satchel, and stuck them in the mud, at calculated distances, allowing space for the individual stalk-saplings. Some of them drooped fashionably over the rim of the pot, dramatically changing its morose demeanour.

I stared at her. What was this insouciant girl’s mysterious past? Was she a designer gardener?

“In our village, I used to work in the fields,” she said, a shy spark in her eyes. “So, I know a little about plants.”

And then, she smiled her first real smile. I slowly grinned back, lush admiration cleaving its way out through a million other questions in my mind.

Mohasumi was a farmer.

To be continued…

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Variegated Golden Pothos

The Painting- Motion & Energy

November 17th, 2015

Never, ever pick up, and hold for your own, something that does not belong to you.

My grandmother’s words echoed off the walls of my brain as I stared at the painting, tucked casually behind an empty amazon.in carton.

The residents of my apartment tower do that. Anything that they have used up or no longer care for and which would not fit into the garbage chute opening, would find its place on the corresponding landing of the emergency staircase. During the earthquake earlier this month, I found myself performing the hurdle race, avoiding old, chipped ceramic pots, sweet and savoury boxes wishing my gastronomically hedonist neighbours a Happy New Year, Happy Holi, Happy Ramzan, Happy Dusshera, stacks of left-over plywood and endless number of cartons from a gazillion online shopping sites (oh, this e-commerce boom will be the death of me, really). I was the only ignorant rule-stickler soul who had taken the emergency staircase that afternoon. By the time I had arrived downstairs with a frightened dog in tow, the first batch of sceptics was already taking the elevators up, back to their routine and day.

Positioned askew on one corner of a heavy mahogany frame, the picture showed me the scene of a bright summer’s day. The sky blushed a boundless vivid blue; the sort of hue brought out by an intense long bearing sun. The clouds shone a brilliant white against the Capri- large fluffy bundles of cotton, ready to collapse into for a cuddly slumber, if only they were not so evasive to the physical touch. A woman, with her back to me, stood on a grassy berm observing all this, the same way as I was taking it all in standing behind her. Her long dress was painted in rivulets of silky golden fabric, the material flowing around her playfully. Her dark, waist length hair fell down her back in loose, wavy curls, and a few stray strands had caught a gentle gust of wind. Her arms were wide open, long golden scarves wound around her wrists billowing out, completing the image of a forest nymph, basking in the absolute beauty of her sweet home.

Why would anyone want to throw this away?

I checked my immediate neighbours off one by one. Mrs. Chadha, who lives opposite my apartment, is ancient and an insistent hoarder.

No, she would even make space for it digging out hollows inside her walls, but would never throw it out.

The young business consultant couple across the hallway on the other side of the elevator lobby is never home at all. I have only ever seen them lugging a trolley bag, one each, dashing to reach their cab or getting out of one in a hurry. I doubt if they even have furniture in their flat.

The Nirulas, who live in the tenement facing the living-out-of-the-suitcase couple, are a brash, noisy family of five. Their impudent sons had once played wild cricket on our floor, and wrecked two of my favourite potted plants. As an apology, they gave me a voucher for one free milkshake at Lala Land’s Soda Shop, Connaught Place, Delhi. I bristled under the revived onslaught of these bitter memories, and made up my mind.

This painting is way too classy and chic for them. It’s definitely not theirs.

But, it does have to belong to someone. Who could it be?

I remained there, indecision coursing through my thoughts.

What do I do now? Do I deposit it at the Apartment Association office? Ummm. Can I take it? No, don’t be such a cheapo. Okay, can I?

I pretended to feel that the painting, with its surreal, other-worldly charm, was drawing me towards it. The fledgling idea was slowly beginning to feel right; of course I could find a place for it on one of my walls. As doubtful that I was of its current ownership, I became convinced about one thing.

I am going to have to make sure I never invite any of these people home.

I bent down and gingerly tugged at the painting, holding onto its edge. It was heavy and I hesitated. My grandmother spoke for a second time, her steady voice telling me in no uncertain terms to not do this. A rush of overwhelming determination rose up, and I allowed myself to be heaved into its deafening surge. She became a distant figure on the shore which slid further and further away. Plucking the picture up from behind the carton, I grunted in restrained surprise, and shuffled the few meagre steps to my flat.

I had left the front door ajar, when I came out to drop off my garbage bag down the chute. Shouldering it open further, I found Syrup sitting solemnly awaiting my return, her long ears two perfect pigtails down the sides of her head. I anticipated her customary mad excitement (two minutes or two hours that I spend away, it is all the same for her), and was in no mood to be accosted by it with the heavy monolith in my arms. I opened my mouth to ask her move, but she was quick to the punch. She stood up, calm and sombre, and took one step back, with almost an uncanny human semblance to her motion, and sat down again. I was mighty impressed. The dog psychologist whom I had consulted, with whose help I was training Syrup, had come highly recommended. I now knew why. She was fast learning my moods and reacting to the vibes around her.

Good, now follow me and watch where I put this up.

Syrup tailed me on cue, her paws making zero sound on the matte tiled floor. I made a mental note to call Ms. Narayan and share this latest development with her. Ah, the pride of a parent, of an animal companion or a human (well, hearsay, of course), is a warm feeling. 

I maintain my study as a contradiction of sorts- clean floor and minimal furniture while the walls are a mayhem of pin ups and assorted décor. This gives me room to move around and yet have my experiences tacked to the z-axis. I removed an old mechanical cuckoo clock from its nail head and pulled out a 101 Things to do in Chandni Chowk poster to make space for my new acquisition. For all its bulk, the painting settled itself in quite a lithe fashion. I stepped back and surveyed my handiwork. The cluttered wall had never seemed more fascinating. It had riveted even Syrup’s interest. When I left the room a little while later, congratulating myself on the clever little addition to my ‘art’ collection, Syrup was still sitting there, her liquid brown eyes gazing at the painting. I shook my head in amusement, thinking about her otherwise five second attention span. She was a packet of surprises that day.

* * * * *

The call with my editor took longer than necessary. I spent an hour in vain trying to convince him that the draft I had sent him was the final one. I was getting exasperated with his references to “fresh alternate ideas”. If my draft were any fresher, I would pipe cream cheese topping on it and take a big satisfying bite. We ended the conversation only because there was no way we could physically punch each other over the phone.

I hit bed when the clock ticked towards one in the morning. Syrup’s night walk had not been as exhausting as usual, and yet when I snuggled under my duvet, I was worn-out. The mercury levels had gone down dutifully with the tide of November, and it seemed to be a pretty tame night.

The horse’s galloping jangled my bones and my teeth chattered. I tried to hold the reins tight, but my fingers, however hard they tried, could only grasp a loose clutch. The men chasing, were gaining on me and the adrenaline rush did nothing to my own speed. I could feel the wind tossing my hair in its brutish strength and the floor thudding underneath the hooves. There was a violent shake as my horse jumped over a hedge border. We landed without any trouble. The bed shook again, this time for a moment longer. I awoke a split second later, and dimly registered a repeated thumping sound from down one side of the bed; the sound of a dog enjoying a late night scratching session, her leg mildly coming in recurring contact with anything solid.

“Syrup, stop it,” I murmured, annoyed with her. It had been a fantastic chasing sequence in my dream.

She continued to scratch, paying no heed to my annoyance. The gentle hammering was persistent. The dull undulating motion was being faithfully transmitted through the bed. 

I called out in a sharper tone. “Cut it out!”

The waves of vibration, lateral underneath my body, were giving me a nauseating sensation. I sat up, pushing the covers down.

“Syrup, I said stop!”  I yelled.

For a moment, I startled myself, my voice loud and hollow in the quiet room.

The thumping ceased.

Hearing a soft snuffle, I turned to my other side and found Syrup curled up in bed, close to my hip, and apparently sleeping. She opened her eyes and cocked her head askance enquiringly.

My heart stopped beating.

The Communiqué

December 26th, 2012
tags: , ,

Dear Mr. Narayan,

Three years earlier…

The first time I saw you, I must admit I was decidedly overwhelmed by your passionate talk on the company’s upholding of diligence, employee-relationships et al as the foremost entities essential for the growth of the organization and its people. I was an impressionable student in the final year of college and thoroughly at the receiving end of the smooth corporate speech associated with campus placement.

I bawled loudly on the courier delivery boy’s shoulder when I received your job offer letter. I could not begin to explain to the startled fellow what it meant to me, to work as an Associate Consultant (Software Engineer) in this company.

Now…

I know you are not chronologically equipped to even blink at this letter. I have, thereby, chosen to garner my appreciation into the neat little table below, which, I am sure, would help you assimilate the information before your computer automatically opens the next email by pre-emption.

From the company’s Vision Book aka What we are required to comprehend

What I essentially understand

Work Perseverance It necessitates absolute physical devotion to the personal laptop, the remote access control gadget & the mobile phone even during a half-a-day family road trip to Veera Narasimha Perumal Temple.
Communication It conforms to emails, phone calls, IM, repeatedly at 3:23 AM, rousing me up from an impromptu power nap when my face would have had just met the dinner plate at 3:15 AM.

Ironically, I have not yet reached a position in the hierarchy where web conferencing, VoIP and Pod casting are approved tools of interaction.

These are also some of the reasons why I am not going to do anything as disastrous as getting myself a smart phone and ruining my life further than it already is.

I am very pleased to inform you that my ancient internet-devoid cell phone has finger-punched buttons that wheeze out words & numbers in the display very unhurriedly, and I quite like that.

Team Building The other day, for a change, I had swivelled around in my chair and was surprised to find my cubicle station empty. Apparently, two of my teammates had been transferred to the Chikmagalur workplace (we have a branch there?), and the third, a girl, had taken it off on account of maternity leave. I did not even know she had got married sometime in the three years which I spent nose-glued to my computer monitor.My team so far consists of the night watchman who manages my entry into and exit from the office building for all the emergency meetings at all odd hours and the client’s undying voice on the other end of the line.
Goal Orientation
  1. Short term goals: To run to the cafeteria five floors below, get myself a cup of acidic coffee and a plate of oily samosas and race back to my desk, en masse within the gap of a pause between two words uttered by the client over the phone.
  2. Long term goals: To nearly recognize my friends and family if I chance upon them on one of those rare occasions when all of us are in the state of consciousness at the same time in the same time zone.
Safe Environment The work ambiance leaves me with no doubt as to the ample security that it provides. After putting in about 119 hours of white collar labour per week, I do not get so much as a glance from any member of the opposite sex. Currently, I am so hard of hearing that my archetypal biological clock has probably got to amplify its ticking noise several fold.
Incentives
  1. I get to keep my independence and the right to make my own decisions since I don’t even have time to meet any prospective suitors for marriage, forget getting married.
  2. It is funny how the client thinks I am on his company’s pay and bonus scale.

To mince words, I quit.

Yours faithfully,

Meenakshi Thothadri

Burned Out

Over a cuppa

December 19th, 2012

 Coffee Tumbler“Do you think, um…, would you like to have a drink with me?”

“Only if it’s black with two spoonfuls of sugar. I’d like to stay sober while you explain why you are not an axe murderer.”

Ah, may I take this opportunity to compliment you on the excellent choice of beverage that you have ordered to your table?

I, by the way, am a cup of coffee.

I look like it, an innocent ceramic mug/steel tumbler/disposable commuter mug/cutting glass full of equally guileless hot/cold/medium tempered liquid specifically designed to make your time spent hovering over it memorable; at least for the period that caffeine takes to rage about and settle down in your system.

But I am not. So naïve, I mean.

The instant I am set on a counter, meant to be consumed, I become privy to knowledge at once so all encompassing, it gets excruciating like being placed on a scorching stove (right, that) and you would find me just desperately waiting to be drunk.

Conversations ensue casually over my aromatic presence, while I am increasingly made aware of my support as an acoustic prop not so different from the fabric wrapped around the seating. Wafting together with my redolence are serious, funny, flaky, momentary, even tasteless talks concerning life, love, secrets, bonding, socializing, and feelings. Particularly feelings; of love, between two members of a species, caught in the tangled web woven for a basic cause along the lines of procreation on a macro level.

My vantage point on the countertop allows me to be a witness to some of the most passionate exchanges in the Eukaryotic jungle.

“I…umm, I love you! There, I said it.”

“Awesome! You get to pay for my espresso now.”

Or

“I love you! You can sit there thinking of all the nonchalant responses in this world. But, there’s got to be an answer from your end.”

“You’ve got a point.”

Or yet

“I love you. Say something!”

“Err, Sir, I’m just the serving assistant. The lady accompanying you, I guess, has gone to use the restroom.”

My past interactions, with humanoids who imbibe me, have led me to believe in the power of persistence nonetheless. As I continue to exist in a perpetual phase of dispassion, the tenor of the colloquy above me moves through altering modes.

“I…-”

“I…uh, love you too.”

And

“What would you like to have, honey? They have the best lattes here. Especially the peppermint flavoured one.”

“Oh, anything you like. Peppermint sounds interesting.”

“It tastes way better than it sounds, trust me.”

In addition to

“Damn, I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting. Was I very late?”

“Oh, spending two hours and twenty minutes waiting outside the café, in the rain, because they refused to let me linger at a table inside during peak hours is nothing. It’s okay, my love.”

Gravity, as a law, sustains convention by holding on to everything in the manner of its own assets, thereby reserving the right to pull anything back from its roaring crescendo.

“But, but you said you’d wait a lifetime for me.”

“That was then. This is now. I can’t believe you let me be here twiddling my thumbs for ten minutes.”

Better still

“We are always arguing. It’s not you, it’s me.”

“You will never find anyone like me. I can tell you that!”

Toward

“It’s not you or me. I think it’s the universe.”

“What!?!”

Until

“And yes, for the record, your dental braces did bug the hell out of me back then!”

“What the..-”

Clink. Splash!

I finally break from my state of inertia as the contents of my receptacle are hurled spitefully onto the human’s face. But for the fact that the act ought to be considered as an insult, I find it curiously more comforting than being slurped into the oral cavity. In one split moment suspended in time, I experience an elation otherwise denied to me in my mundane existence.

I have arrived.

The Periodic Table of Filmy Stereotypes

August 18th, 2010

Note: Click on the Image to Enlarge.

Original Image Courtesy: Dmitri Mendeleev, 1869.

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