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.
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…
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.
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.
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.|
|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.|
To mince words, I quit.
“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.”
“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.”
“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…uh, love you too.”
“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.”
“We are always arguing. It’s not you, it’s me.”
“You will never find anyone like me. I can tell you that!”
“It’s not you or me. I think it’s the universe.”
“And yes, for the record, your dental braces did bug the hell out of me back then!”
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.
Disclaimer: All characters appearing in this work are a stint of fiction in all their entirety. Any resemblance despite this to real persons, living or dead, is purely miraculous and incredibly extraordinaire. And yes, coincidental.
Kindly note that this post is not meant to be offensive or rouse up riotous sentiments and be taken in the same way as it was written.
Location: B-1023, Mulberry Apartments, Mumbai.
Word of Caution: Virginibus puerisque, Vis inertiae – For maidens and youths, The power of inertia (why things never change).
The scene is set to hold the living room of a contemporary apartment. Tastefully decorated in shades of black, white and beige, the condo exudes an attitude of minimalism. But the assortment of people- draped on the couch, slumped on a beanbag, arguing over the cell phone, bent over a five-page list on the coffee table, is everything that the flat is not.
The Fashionista slams her phone shut and turns around.
The Fashionista– 26, Socialite by birth, Femme Fatale by chance, Ice Princess by choice. And if it is possible to squeeze in, Drama Queen by obsession.
The Fashionista: (Annoyed, announces to the whole room) Damn these pea sized, overnight successful boutiques! I write about them in my column and they ask me to wait. WAIT!
Aaditya: (Looks up from the list, says seriously) They probably didn’t understand you when you said, “Chuck off Monam Kapoor. I write even about her.”
The Fashionista: (Asks incredulously) What? I did not say that!
Aaditya: (As a matter of fact) Then they didn’t understand you when you said, “Put me in your appointment book before Monam Kapoor.”
The Fashionista: (Defends herself) That’s ’cause she takes a whole day to decide between a pink camisole and a white one.
Her cell phone rings. The Fashionista proceeds to take the call, and moves away from the rest of them.
The Greek God finishes thumbing through a men’s fitness magazine and puts it back on the coffee table.
The Greek God: (Gets up and looks around) Okay, coffee anyone?
Aaditya raises his hand to indicate his agreement.
Malar: (Says gratefully) Black for me. Strong and one spoonful of sugar.
The Dalal Street Executive: (Pauses to think and then speaks) White. Big mug. (Pauses) And, 2.5 spoonfuls. (Pauses again and elaborates with hand gestures) Less foam, but really thick, you know. Medium brown. Equal amounts of…
The Greek God: (Sits down amiably) Right. One black for me as well. And you heard the others.
The Dalal Street Executive glares at him, gets up from the couch and moves toward the kitchen counter. Aaditya and The Greek God exchange cheeky smiles.
The Cute Klutz: (Calls out from atop the beanbag) Wait! I’ll help you. (Follows The Dalal Street Executive)
The Greek God: (reclines on the backrest) Well, I like Monam Kapoor. She’s hot!
Malar: That’s all you look at!
The Greek God: (Grins unabashedly) That’s enough for me.
While we do a background check…
The Greek God– 27, A lower-rung Model, when not busy living off his older brother’s pay checks, graces television adverts along the lines of Zara Zara Peppermints and Bahutbadiya Detergent Bar with his open-shirted presence.
The Dalal Street Executive– 28, Perfect son, Perfect ex-student, Perfect current employee and even the Perfect tea sipper. An Investment Banker job profile couldn’t have asked for a more Perfect person to fit the glove.
The Cute Klutz– 24, Sweet and unassuming, it took her a whole month to understand why her manager baby-proofed her cubicle in the Publication House where she works as a junior copywriter.
Presently, The Dalal Street Executive and The Cute Klutz come over to the living area with steaming hot mugs of various shades of coffee.
The Greek God, fearing Third Degree Burns from an accidental cascade of boiling coffee, rushes to grab the two cups from The Cute Klutz. He hands one over to Malar and sets his own on the table.
The Fashionista, finishes her phone call and walks in from across the room. She takes the Big Mug from The Dalal Street Executive.
The Fashionista: (Sighs theatrically) Ah, I needed that.
The Dalal Street Executive: (Protests with half-emanated garble) Bu..Tha.. my coff..
The Fashionista takes a tiny sip from the mug and throws her head back in dramatic ecstasy, exposing her slender neck.
The Fashionista: Hmmm…hmm.. Nice… (Registers his floundering) Sorry? Did you say something?
The Dalal Street Executive: (Running a hand through his perfectly cut hair, smiles goofily) What? No, nothing. That coffee was for you.
Fiction– Perfect guys are absolutely perfect from their dandruff-free heads to their fungal-free toenails.
Fact– Some perfect guys do have a problem with saying the right thing to the girl they like.
Theory Established– “A Perfect Guy” is most often, a myth.
The Fashionista: Uh-huh, thanks! (Sits down)
The others snicker furtively.
The Greek God: So, how did it actually go with the family?
Aaditya: (Says dryly) It was a One Hour Drama Workshop for Rookies.
The Cute Klutz: (Curiously) Did you invite them?
Aaditya: Are you kidding? I threw myself out of the house before my mother changed her mind and pounced on me for details about the wedding.
The Cute Klutz: (Giggles) Did you tell them you guys live together?
Malar: My mother thinks we send our secret kids to school already. I doubt if telling her that we live together would even shock her. So I didn’t bother.
Aaditya: Phew! It was a weird weekend.
Malar: (Looking at Aaditya) I’m sure yours wasn’t as bad as mine!
The Cute Klutz: (Asks Malar) What happened at your place?
Malar: My brother was waiting for me at Chennai Airport when I reached. He was harbouring a misplaced idea of settling down with one of Aaditya’s sisters over here.
The Greek God: (Chuckles ) And then?
Malar: (Looks apologetically at Aaditya, and continues) It took me an hour to convince him that Aaditya’s sisters suffer from a rare kind of disease.
Aaditya gawks bewilderedly at Malar.
The Fashionista: (Stares at Aaditya doubtfully and asks) Disease?
Malar: (Speaks haltingly) Nothing big right…? Just a variation of… of Airborne Herpes.
Aaditya: (Appalled at her confession) WHAT!?!
The Fashionista: (Springing up and hastily backing away from the group, demands) What?
The Dalal Street Executive: What?
Malar: (Purses her forehead sheepishly and says to Aaditya) Sorry…
The Greek God hoots with laughter, pointing at Aaditya. The Cute Klutz gazes at Aaditya in fascinated horror. The Dalal Street Executive cautiously shifts slightly away from Aaditya.
The Fashionista: (Petrified) Now these are the things that you should really be telling!!
Aaditya: (Turns to Malar) Seriously, Airborne Herpes? Of all the million communicable diseases?
Malar: He was okay with Touch-borne Hepatitis. I needed something more drastic.
The Fashionista takes a fork from the kitchen counter and attempts to pick her evening bag from the coffee table, hoping to put as much distance as she can between herself and the unseen viral condition.
The Greek God: (Mischievously) Err…That won’t work, you know. She said “Airborne”. You’ve been here, breathing in that thing the whole while.
The Fashionista: (Places a hand over her mouth in terror) OhmyGod! OhmyGod!!
The Greek God slumps, rolls on the floor laughing his head off.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
A week later, at The Sub Registrar’s Office, Bandra, Mumbai…
The Cute Klutz: (Disappointed) I was thinking, this place…it’d be just like a movie.
The Dalal Street Executive: Like how?
The Cute Klutz: You know… With some couples eloping, major confrontations, exciting fight scenes and all that.
Malar: (Ironically) Aaditya and I are eloping, in case you haven’t noticed.
The Cute Klutz: Uh-huh. Yeah right. No one even raised any objections to your marriage announcement during the mandatory 30 day period.
Malar: (Complains childishly) Aaditya, our wedding is so not exciting at all!
Aaditya: You think!?!
He leans back in his chair and allows Malar to look at The Fashionista, who is sitting away from the others, at the far end of the waiting hall.
The Fashionista is wearing a Heavy Industrial Gas Mask and has even managed to match it with a brilliantly worked organza silk saree.
The Fashionista notices Aaditya and Malar watching her. She takes a notepad out of her small bag and rapidly scribbles something.
The Fashionista: (Holds the book up like a placard) THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!!!
Aaditya and Malar grin widely at her.
The pre-recorded voice system announces the next token number and everyone’s eyes is captivated by the number display board on the wall ahead. 306
Aaditya and Malar stand up quickly. Linking fingers, they look at each other, happy and nervous.
The Greek God: (Cheerfully) Okay, that’s us! Let’s get you guys married.
After a brief walk down a passageway, they all gather to stand in front of The Marriage Officer and his mammoth desk.
The Marriage Officer: (Reads their names from the list) Mr. Aaditya Mathur, Ms. Malar Mathrubhootham, I see you have submitted all the necessary documents.
Aaditya: Yes, Sir.
The Marriage Officer: Alright, you can sign in the register next to your names.
With a heady sense of excitement, Aaditya and Malar sign in the register.
The Marriage Officer: Will the witnesses please come forward and give their signatures?
The Fashionista and The Dalal Street Executive step into the view of The Marriage Officer.
The Marriage Officer: (Frightened of The Fashionista and her image make-over) Madam, you would have to remove your mask and show your face.
The Fashionista indicates a “Why?” with hand gestures.
The Marriage Officer: (Worriedly) Madam, I’d have to see your face because, you’d be signing on a legal document.
The Fashionista shakes her head from side to side, reflecting a “No!”.
The Marriage Officer: (Stares at her queerly and then asks the others) Is she sick? Does she have any dangerous disease or something?
The Fashionista whimpers angrily from behind the mask.
The Marriage Officer is now utterly convinced and is pretty alarmed about The Fashionista’s face being unmasked.
The Marriage Officer: Madam, sorry. You don’t need to remove the mask. But I’m afraid we cannot have you as a witness. (Looks at Aaditya) We can have one of your other friends as a witness.
The Fashionista stamps her stiletto-clad foot hard on the floor, with marked annoyance. The others try very hard to stifle their laughter.
Aaditya and Malar request The Cute Klutz to fill in, instead of The Fashionista.
Post all formalities, The Marriage Officer, allows them to choose a mode of traditional ceremony to complete the wedding.
Aaditya takes the Mangalasutra out from a jewellery box. He smiles tenderly at Malar and she blushes, bows her head dutifully. Holding the ends in both hands, he puts it around Malar’s neck, fastening it at her nape, when suddenly…
Mrs. Mathur: Nahiiiiiiiinnnnn…!!!
Mrs. Mathrubhootham: Adi paaaaavvvviiiii… !!!
The Dalal Street Executive: Somebody here asked for some drama, didn’t they?
Disclaimer: All characters appearing in this work are a stint of fiction in all their entirety. Any resemblance despite this to real persons, living or dead, is purely miraculous and incredibly extraordinaire. And yes, coincidental.
Kindly note that this post is not meant to be offensive or rouse up riotous sentiments and be taken in the same way as it was written.
Location: A rented, leaky, shack-y, nameless house, Chennai
Mood: Bi-polar & Schizophrenic
Word of Caution:De asini vmbra disceptare – To argue about the shadow of an ass.
The bony, hawk-like woman, stops pounding the wet, bunched-up towel on the gargantuan stone in the backyard and screams herself hoarse.
The biggest bubble amidst the soap suds quivers, teeters on the edge and bursts, bringing to limelight the power of her sonar radiation; quite a miracle essentially, considering her emaciated frame. One might wonder if her current mental condition could be attributed to the general cantankerous emotional state brought upon by acute food deprivation. She throws the half beaten towel aside and walks forward, every step furnishing positive encouragement to the BG music – a heartrending melody coaxed out of a solitary Nadaswaram in a recording studio.
Mrs. Mathrubhootham stops at a distance where it is possible for Malar to count the blackheads on her mother’s nose. She places her undernourished hands on Malar’s forearms and gives her a powerful shake. And she asks the Omni-usable questions.
Mrs. Mathrubhootham: (Stares severely into Malar’s eyes) How could you do this to me, Malar? Where did you get the courage to even attempt such a thing? Is this how I raised you? Answer me!
Malar: (Softly) Amma, I couldn’t help it. It just happened.
Mrs. Mathrubhootham: (Upset and at a loss to comprehend her eldest daughter’s behaviour) Amma, please talk some sense into her. Why is she doing this?
And the frame zooms in on The Sympathetic Paati – Mrs. Mathrubhootham’s mother.
The Sympathetic Paati: (Worried and secretly proud of her rebellious granddaughter) What should I tell her? She’s old enough to take her own decisions. She’s been taking care of herself for quite some time. Do you think she will even listen to you now, after so many years?
Malar covertly sends a grateful smile to her grandmother. The Sympathetic Paati winks back.
Malar: (With more conviction than before) Amma, I love Aaditya. I cannot live without him.
Mrs. Mathrubhootham: (Eyes flashing with offended anger) Malar!
The pressure cooker in the kitchen chooses that minute to emanate the third whistle. Mrs. Mathrubhootham abruptly leaves the backyard and enters the house.
Malar and The Sympathetic Paati stay back.
Enter, The Jealous Thangai. She mentally crosses off the next checker box in her hate list. Porcelain-white complexion & Beauty, Check. Popular, Check. Job in Mumbai, Check. Amazing Love-life, Check. Eligible to be murdered, Check.
The Jealous Thangai: (Sugar coating her words with diabetes-prone-sweetness) Akka, you know about Amma. Try to think from her point of view. Do you really think, all this love thingy would work in our family?
Enter Mrs. Mathrubhootham. She pounces on Malar with renewed energy, now that she has an ally in The Jealous Thangai.
Mrs. Mathrubhootham: (Addresses Malar) Learn from your sister. She’s younger and she cares about me. How can you belong to this family and yet be so selfish?
Malar: (Soothingly tries to placate her mother) Amma, I really care about you. But I care about Aaditya too. You will like him as well. Trust me.
Mrs. Mathrubhootham: (Angrily) Aaditya Aaditya Aaditya! You have only been chanting his name all this while. What do you know about him?
Malar: (Slightly offended) I know him enough to have fallen in love with him.
Mrs. Mathrubhootham: (Sarcastically) Really? Do you even know his full name?
Malar: (Coldly) His name is Aaditya Mathur.
Mrs. Mathrubhootham: (Quizzically) Mathur-a?
Malar: Yes. Mathur. He, umm..he’s a north Indian.
The Mathrubhootham backyard takes a few moments to digest this piece of spellbinding news. (At this point in screenplay, the editing team must take pains to add scenes of frozen movement of the following:-
a. Birds flying high in the air
b. Waves lashing on the beach
c. Niagara Falls)
Mrs. Mathrubhootham: (Whispers in horror) He’s a Seth Paiyyan?
Malar: (Aghast at her mother’s conclusion) Amma, Aaditya is a Punjabi. His family moved to Pune some twenty five years back.
Mrs. Mathrubhootham: (Groans in anguish) Punjabi-a? Adi paavi! Where have you kept your brains?
Malar: (Hastily tries to pacify her mother and explains) Amma, Aaditya is from a very good family. He’s well educated and placed with a great company. He is sweet, gentle and takes care of me so well.
Mrs. Mathrubhootham: (Cynically waves away Malar’s explanations with a hand) All these north Indian boys might look good. But they are up to no good.
Malar: (Voice breaks on a sob) Amma, please. That’s really not fair!
Malar walks away from the argument, trying to stem her tears. She moves into the house.
Mrs. Mathrubhootham wrings her hands in frustration and annoyance. Everything caught in the lens frame beyond this phenomenal moment, freezes. The camera slowly pans like a creepy poltergeist, taking in the entire domestic backyard. Having had its fill of the cheap detergent foam, cracked-up well, three glaciated human beings and thanking God for the lack of olfactory devices on its body, the camera then moves into the house through the back door.
A small courtyard allows light into the perennially gloomy interiors (A power cut at 9:00 a.m vouches for siphoning off a whole day’s EB). And here, a few benumbed members of the Mathrubhootham family (other than Malar), are brought into focus.
The Chimerical Thangai– Wears a nightgown. Holds a frayed version of Vogue (a 2003 issue) in hand and dreams of the lead role in Kani Patnam’s next movie, Shakuni.
The Ambitious Thambi– Wonders whether Aaditya Mathur has any younger sisters. Meet one of them and consequently facilitate the perfect passport to settle down in Mumbai.
The Romantic Thangai– Wishes hard for more Aaditya Mathurs in the world. One each for every Mathrubhootham girl.
A waft of wind blows into the house and everyone unfreezes automatically.
Enter, Mrs. Mathrubhootham, followed by The Sympathetic Paati and The Jealous Thangai.
Mrs. Mathrubhootham: (Calls out) Malar! Malar!!
Malar: (Walking out of the common bedroom, asks sulkily) What?
Mrs. Mathrubhootham: How dare you walk away while we were still talking? You have changed a lot, Malar! Especially after staying in Mumbai.
Malar: (In hurt indignation) Amma! I have not changed. I’m still the same.
Mrs. Mathrubhootham: (Lifts up a hand) As long as you were in Chennai, you always wore sarees and used that handbag that I bought you, every morning when you went to work. And now?
Malar: (Bewildered at the change of topic) Amma, that handbag got torn and was moth-bitten around the edges. I had to buy a new one. And as for sarees, I don’t wear them in Mumbai. It’s a more cosmopolitan crowd over there.
Mrs. Mathrubhootham: (Triumphantly) Aha! See, I told you. You have changed. Tell me, what’s your fascination with north Indians? Is it because of their grand makeup and fancy jewellery?
Malar: (Unable to understand her mother’s line of thought) Amma, what are you saying? Yes, they do wear lots of makeup and dress up exquisitely. So?
Mrs. Mathrubhootham: We are a very simple lot, Malar. We wear no makeup, even when we go out. We don’t even wear costume jewellery, because we’re allergic to it. Amongst us people, only villainous women can afford makeup and heavy gold jewellery.
Malar: And that is because, we don’t have the good luck of working with people like Dabhu Mepal. He makes it possible for all the women who work with him, to wear makeup and afford beautiful pieces of temple jewellery. It’s all about the choices that we make, Amma.
Mrs. Mathrubhootham: (Warningly) Malar!
Malar: Amma! I’m not really bothered about Aaditya’s background or his upbringing. All that is important to me is that he loves me and I love him.
Mrs. Mathrubhootham: (Groans in vexation) Malar! Don’t you understand? You will never fit with him or his family. You will always be an outsider. A misfit!
Malar: Aaditya will always make me feel loved and cherished. I know that.
Mrs. Mathrubhootham: (Suddenly struck by a horrifying thought) Malar, did you both…?? Are you by any chance…? Is that why…?
Malar: (Objects in embarrassment) Amma! How can you think like that? What’s wrong with you?
An awkward silence ensues for a moment or two.
The Jealous Thangai: (Half enviously) These north Indians, they eat only rotis and always wear rich Sherwanis and heavy-work sarees. They have different customs and rituals. You will feel left out, Akka.
Mrs. Mathrubhootham: What is this all about Malar? A reality programme on National Integration? Forget all this. Things such as “love” don’t work in the real world. You haven’t even known this boy for long.
Malar: (With icy calm) Aaditya and I will work something out. Something pretty realistic. Don’t worry.
Mrs. Mathrubhootham: (Furious at being disrespected) MALAR!!
Malar: That’s the truth!
Mrs. Mathrubhootham: (As a last, desperate attempt) You will have babies smelling of mustard oil!
Malar: (With an air of finality) I will have babies smelling of baby oil. Period.
Mrs. Mathrubhootham: (Irately) Malar!!
Malar: (Sadly, but firmly) Amma! I came here to share what’s in my heart with my mother and sisters. I thought you would listen to me, understand me and accept me as a woman with hopes and dreams of her own. But I guess, I assumed wrong.
Amongst us, the eldest daughter always has to sacrifice her life for the greater good of an emotionally deranged mother, a set of idiosyncratic sisters and brother and the so-called family honour. Isn’t it?
Mrs. Mathrubhootham: (Ignoring Malar, says staunchly) I will never accept that boy in this family.
Malar: (Shrugs with stoic indifference) Trust me, you don’t need to. I am leaving. There’s no place for me here, either.
Malar pulls her trolley bag out of New No 24, Old No 33, Arangetram Road, Chennai, at 5:30 p.m, with pseudo sadness and bogus fury. She gets into the taxi and closes the door after her. And breaks into a string of triumphant giggles.
Taking the call, when the cell phone rings…
Malar: (Happy and gurgling with laughter) Aaditya! Yeah, I’m done with mine as well. My flight leaves in about a couple of hours. Pick me up from the Mumbai airport at 10.
Glossary of Terms
Thangai: Younger Sister