Friday, October 15, 2010
And then there is the Bangalorean English - that quaint strangely pleasing English, that, oh, so amuses me.
One of my favourites is 'She is sitting back of me' or 'He ran back of me'...What these really mean are 'She sat behind me' and 'He ran behind me'.. Another is the different types of 'Straight'....in context to asking for directions - people will actually say 'Go straight and when you reach a fork, take the extreme straight, not the diagonal straight'...
Anyways, now that I'm going back to Ahmedabad, I will surely not be listening to anymore nuances of the lilting Madrasi Accent...which I'm sure I will miss...well not too much as I have already plonked down to study Gujju-English.. :)
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
The rusted iron gate has lost many of its bars. It swings open with a lot of effort and noise. I step onto the hard baked earth. The garden is overgrown with weeds and wild plants. From betwixt, small nameless flowers peep, greeting my arrival with a vigorous shake of their stalks. Long gone are the jasmine plants and the marigolds, the champakams and the rhodendrons...
I stand here, looking at the road trundle past the house. A bus gorged with passengers shoving, jostling, talking animatedly, dispenses some of them at the corner and makes its way. Twelve years it has been since I last saw the bus.
The 4 stairs that lead into the house are broken. The cement peels off like old nail polish. Beneath my feet, one gives way, and I almost fall to the ground. Regaining my balance I look expectantly into the house. My Grandmother’s ghost hovers, benign and smiling. While my Grandfather’s frets at having bought no snacks to give to me. I can see him now, readying to go to the nearby tea-shack, announcing to the world that, his granddaughter has come.
I step inside the hall and throw open the large, heavy wooden door. Twelve years of being shut down, fettered, unused. The smell of decay and years of shuttered up rooms is perversely pleasing to my nose. I can almost hear the termites gnawing their way through the wood. I take in the smell, the claustrophobic, clamping smell of damp air, termites’ crap and decaying wood, the smell of oil stuck to the lamps, incense long gone but with the dust from it, stuck to the stand. The faded pictures of various deities hang as they did all those years ago. Faded, they are beginning to crumble and disperse. Blues, Blacks, Reds, Green, and Yellows are all now the same color – faded brown. From behind the brown screen, bright colors try to peep out, only to duck behind in thwarted efforts to display their gaiety. The gods look on, smiling, listless. If they had only bothered to bless our family, this house would have been in a better shape.
On my left the staircase to the upper storey winds up like a coiling python clutching onto its last breath. I am afraid to climb up, but curiosity gives way and I go up. They seem small now, unlike the giant-sized steps when we were kids. The door boards are long gone; in their places are gaping holes from which the wind whooshes in. The bedstead creaks as I sit on it, the mattress smelling of memories of long ago. The floor is covered with fallen plaster and limestone cakes from the wall.
I look out of the wooden screen in the verandah, peering at the world outside, desperately trying to push time back to when we were together and happy and carefree.
I feel like I am murdering someone.
Stabbing, beating, smashing a living thing.
Until all its bloody entrails come out into my hands.
Until I smell death.
Until mashed to a pulp, it dies with a final shudder…..
Friday, April 30, 2010
Shauni sits demurely like a Bride-to-be should, with downcast eyes and a shy smile. She is only fourteen, the perfect age for daughters to be yoked off in marriage to middle aged, paunchy men. Shauni is lucky though. Her groom, Dalmu is only twenty eight and unmarried and still virile.
The firstborn of three sons and two daughters, he had waited until all his siblings were married off. It was a promise he had made to his dying father twelve years ago. Being of the fishermen caste, it was difficult for Dalmu to find proper matches for his sisters, but he finally succeeded in getting a family in the neighboring village and had married them off to two brothers. The Dowry given to the sisters was compensated by the dowries received from his brother’s wives. Now since his responsibilities were over and the mother was getting older, Dalmu agreed to finally get himself a wife. Shauni was beautiful, young and what was more, she was bringing with her a decent dowry. Her father had taken a loan from the money lender at a large interest rate for two years and bought a cycle for Dalmu. This was other than the customary items given by a bride, which included clothes, puja items, vessels etc His mother had already discussed this with Shauni’s family and only when satisfied with the list of items, agreed to the match.
Tonight seeing his daughter being turned into a bride, Shauni’s father sighs contentedly. It feels as if a heavy burden has been lifted from his shoulders. Luckily he has two sons to go and no more daughters. He knows he is lucky enough to have escaped with only one daughter being born. Otherwise his life would have been spent just paying off their dowries. The blood mixed in his betel juice does not worry him tonight.
Under the influence of the arrack, the world seems brighter and colorful.
The wedding takes place the next day morning.
Accompanied to the beat of dholaks, jhillaks and chham-chhams, the groom leads the procession on a bullock cart. This year’s famine has made the bullock’s rib poke out a little, but it walks chewing on the cud, with very little prodding, oblivious to the noise around it. A make-shift mandap has been erected out of a wooden platform and plastic sheets decorated with flowers. Shauni sits wearing her red wedding sari in the traditional Koli style and gold and imitation jewellery. The cheap gold shine of the jewellery, offset against the fierce red sari and her dark complexion is liked by the women and they murmur amongst themselves’ How beautiful the girl is’. Soon the bride is given away by the father, garlands exchanged and the customary feast ensues. The yard has been layered with cow dung, and spaces are allotted to the groom’s family. A mad dash to catch a place in the seating area’ causes panic among Shauni’s family and they try to placate everyone. Soon the revelers calm down and everyone starts gobbling up the chicken curry, rice, pickles and papads. Behind the hut, women cook more rice, more curry, fry more papads and dole them out in steel buckets to the waiting attendants serving food. Sweets are guarded strictly and given only to the groom and bride and the groom’s immediate family. Others who don’t get the sweets stare at them until even the last bit stuck to the moustache or beard or cheek of the eater is licked away.
After the food is eaten, and after the cycle and other dowry items are presented to Dalmu’s mother, Shauni is seated on the bullock cart and taken to her husband’s village. In the hot fierce sun, the Nycil powder on her face mixes with the tears and trickles down in white streaks. Her mother weeps copiously while her father looks on with moist eyes. He waits there until the procession merges with the Horizon.
At her husband’s house, her ‘co-sisters’ and sisters-in-law, at the door apply tikka to her forehead and break a coconut. They pour some alta into a plate and Shauni dips her hands into it and imprints her palm on the wall next to the front door. Her mother in law guides her hand to the space above the palm imprints of the Manhjli bahu and Chhoti bahu. ‘You are my Badi bahu, and above them’ she whispers into Shauni’s ears. She is then made to step into the 'alta' and enter the house, leaving red footsteps behind her. They take her to one of the five rooms in the mud house, and seat her on the embroidered bedspread which smell of mothballs. ‘This room will serve as your bridal chamber tonight’ her youngest sister-in-law tells her. The ‘Muh Dikhai’ ceremony lasts until late evening. Scores of women from the village have come to see her and the Dowry items are laid on the floor. ‘Wah, wah, she will bring luck to you. You can see it in her face. Saakshat Laksmi’ they say when they lift the veil, while her mother-in-law looks on proudly.
Outside, the men tease Dalmu. His brothers and friends wheedle money out of him and buy liquor. Slowly the visitors start leaving. Not sure of what to do, Shauni stays put in the same room until Malati and Chutki bring her supper. Two rotis, rice, dal and curry. They tell her about the house members, about their habits and general daily schedule. After some time, Dalmu is pushed into the room by his friends and brothers. They cheer him on, while the sisters wink at Shauni and leave.
The door is bolted from outside and Dalmu turns towards her. He takes off his shirt.
It has been two months after the wedding. Shauni has synchronized her body and mind to that of her in-laws’. She wakes up at 5, sweeps, mops, washes, cooks. Until the men return home late evening for dinner. Petty squabbles have started, but on the whole her husband’s family is better than most in the village. Maybe the dowry appeased them. Shauni has discovered she is pregnant. Her mother-in-law has had her examined by the Hakim and though his proddings were quite unpleasant (she never understood why he had to slip his fingers inside her to find out if she was pregnant or not), she basks in the new found discovery. Her mother in law makes ‘kheer’ and announces the news to the household. Dalmu catches it just when he is about to leave the house for the day.
In his excitement he bumps into the door, while a veiled Shauni giggles.
Today, Dalmu is a little worried, notwithstanding the good news he has heard from his mother. One more addition to the family, means another mouth to feed. He has to venture deeper and farther into the sea for his catch. And then too there is no guarantee that he would be successful.
‘Let us split today, Dalmu advises his brothers. ‘But Bhai, we have only two boats!’ the younger brother blurts. He is a little scared of the sea and hence does not go out alone.
‘Allright Somu, how long will you be scared, You and Rovai, go in the bigger boat, I will go in the smaller.’
There is no way; we can catch anything if we search in the same place. Let us meet here before dusk sets in.’ Dalmu gets into the smaller boat and pushes off to the west, while his brothers stay back to drink some tea.
‘Be careful, have heard the sea is a little rough that side. There are a lot of whirlpools too..’ The tea vendor shouts.
‘Will take care’ Dalmu replies with a wave and shrug.
Soon it is time to return. The sun starts packing up and tells the clouds to go away. They disperse reluctantly, making faces. Dalmu turns the boat towards what he assumes is the general direction where the land lies. The boat bobs on the sea like an abandoned cork cap. Like a puppet on a string. The small brass bell on a red ribbon that Dalmu has tied to the oar tinkles merrily. It is Shauni who had made it. ‘This charm will ensure you are never separated from me’ she had breathed into his ear’. For a while Dalmu loses himself in his bride’s thoughts. It is only after a long time, when even with the continuous rowing, Dalmu does not see any sign of a land, that he panics. He rows the boat furiously, coaxing it towards his assumed direction. The minutes pass slowly, Dalmu’s heart now sounds like a booming cannon.
Then he sees it.
Like spider webbing, it sucks in all twigs, bogs, cloths, branches, abandoned slippers into its vortex. Dalmu has heard of it from the old Jhoran on one of their drinking nights. But has never seen one. Now he does and he is scared. His boat lurches violently. He tries to pull it back, rowing furiously.
But it is too late.
The boat is caught in the whirlpool.
Dalmu jumps out, praying and screaming to the Gods in the skies. He thinks of his unborn son, his pretty young wife. His mother, father, sisters, brothers and his friends. He prays forgiveness for the sins he has done and tries to bribe the deities he worships. He tries to swim but is caught in the rapid turning hole. Images flashe in his mind. His mother calling out to him as a child. Sitting atop his father’s shoulder’s on the way back from a fair. The vivid yellow of his wedding dhoti. Shauni’s brown eyes. The minutes pass by slowly. Hours have dragged into days, days into months, months into years. For a thousand years, Dalmu’s weightless body turns and twirls with the whirlpool’s movement. The boat is not to the monster’s taste so it is flung out. But Dalmu’s body is, and it disappears into the black pit.
There is no sign of anything, and the sea is as calm as ever.
It is late evening when the sun is about to set that the brothers come looking for him. Their shouts go unanswered, though they can see the boat from a distance. It has left the whirlpool behind and is now nearer to the shore. The brothers do not see any fisherman on it and fear the worst. ‘No he must be asleep’ Rovai stammers n a false voice.
They look around and then into each other’s eyes. They know it is fruitless to stand there and search.
It is a part of their lives. A missing fisherman is a dead fisherman.
Somu climbs into the abandoned boat and they start towards the shore, rowing with no expression on their faces.
Shauni stares at the floor. She has not cried nor asked anything. Ever since the brothers came home she has sat there staring at the floor, unblinking. The women wail around her. Dalmu’s mother beats her chest and tears her hair. In their grief, no one notices their askew veils or saris or blouses revealing skin. Other women from the neighborhood also beat their chests and cry aloud for some time and then proceed to the kitchen to ready the food for the mourners. The men are outside.
It is just like the wedding day, except now the men are talking about their near-death experiences or recounting somber tales of men who have died in the past. Even the children seem affected as they sit silently and stare at their weeping mothers or grim fathers. Shauni is now ‘officially’ to be made a widow. She hears nothing, sees nothing, except the pattern on the floor. The whole room is a blur. She only feels a throbbing pain in her head, which refuses to go away. The oldest of the women bangs Shauni’s hands against the wall and breaks her bangles. Red angry slashes of blood appear on her wrists. She flinches. The sindoor is wiped off. Vigorously so as not to leave any marks. Her veil is pulled off. The old hag takes the scissors and snips off Shauni’s long tresses. Snip Snip. Hair falls in clumps. Black clumps against brown baked mud. The old hag peers at Shauni’s scalp and spits on the blade. She then wipes it. Satisfied that it is clean, she proceeds to shave Shauni’s head. It is a nice shaped head. Looks better without the hair. Nice and smooth and shiny. Maybe not smooth. Nicks and cuts mar the surface and bear testimony to the old hag’s unsteady hands.
Black clumps against a green sari, against a yellow blouse, against a white petticoat.
Black clumps snake their way on a dark brown slender back.
Now the black clumps lie against a white sari.
The shaved head is hidden under a tightly tied pallu. Dalmu’s mother runs to her. All this time her grief had overtaken her anger. But now she spits out venom as she half-drags Shauni towards the door ‘He got married to you and you have eaten him up. You have killed my son. Get lost, you whore. What bad luck you brought to me, you shit-eater.’ The women pry her hands away from Shauni’s throat. Her slaps and beatings jolt Shauni out of shock. She rocks back and forth on her feet. Limp against the wall, while her mother in law rains down blows upon blows.
She sits there feeling only a terrible yearning. That somehow she is responsible for things having gone wrong. For having caused Dalmu’s death. She suffocates under a black cloud of despair. She thinks of the life inside her. The tiny life that Dalmu so wanted to see grow. While the women are busy pacifying and consoling Dalmu’s mother, Shauni walks out into the darkness. The sky has shaken the night out of its cloak. It scatters and settles on the trees, walls, houses gathering up armies of shadows to march against the morning light. Her white clothes make her look like a ghost from afar. She smells the cloying scent of the sea.
As if hypnotized, she walks, totters, stumbles towards it. She hears the waves flinging angry cuss words against the rocks. She hears them call out to her. She feels the wet sand and then the wet waters first on her feet and then her ankles until she is knee-deep in water. From afar she hears Dalmu call out to her.
There he is, to her right, his boat sail marking a white triangle against the eternal blackness. ‘Come here, what are you standing there and staring at?’ He asks, just like he did on their wedding night. Shyly, she walks to him.
But he seems farther and farther away. The water is now upto her waist, but Shauni feels nothing. ‘Wait,’ she calls out to him. But he is too far away to hear. She reaches the boat.
The water is now inside her head and nose and lungs and mouth. It swishes around her petite body, hissing like a great serpent. Her sari comes undone. It makes a long tail of white in the black sea. ‘Dalmu, take my hand’ she whispers hoarsely just before she steps into the boat.
It is old Jhoran who fishes out her body.
Bloated, Black and Swollen grotesquely after four days, the sea has spat it out onto the shore.
‘Suicide it is’ the onlookers whisper. ‘No, Murder’ say some. ‘See how black her feet have become!’ points out one, while another cries ’See her skin is peeling off!’ The police are called. ‘Suicide’ they rule and go away. The gatherers disperse.
As Dalmu’s brothers and Shauni’s father carry the body home, a small brass bell tied onto a red ribbon falls out into the sand unnoticed…
7.15 a.m, I wake up terrified. The whole week flashes in front of my eyes. Just the thought of me huddling over in front of my computer for six long days unnerves me. But I have to go. I don’t even feel sick to call in n say I can’t come to Office. I get up, trundle to the bathroom, still sleeping….n thrust the toothbrush up my nose instead of my mouth. I make some effort of pretending to wash my face, n plonk on the pot n doze off. Jhancy’s frantic banging shakes me awake. I quickly finish my bath n listen to some hip-hop to make me feel alive. Determined to take my car to work everyday, I go down n wash the car with 5 cups of water. Save water, save life…they show on TV. Being a greenhorn, I comply. It’s not sparkling clean but manageable enough to drive by on the road without inviting too many disgusted looks. Like everyday, I ponder over what to wear to work. My problem is, 80% of my clothes are fit for wearing outside for parties or nights out with friends. I settle for the cream kurti n chudis. It’s too hot for jeans anyways.
Usha , Shaly n I throw our lamenting looks at each other. I don’t have much work today. It’s salary-day today. Got to collect the pay slips. I send a mail to ‘ideas’ suggesting why we don’t go for a software access instead of the hr dept sitting like Munshis and tearing out a pay slip to each employee. I mean look at the waste paper generation. I know I am not even close to any great conservationalists around, but I do feel pangs of guilt when I come back from someplace and find I have left the bathroom light on or the TV. Its irritating to see that people are not even bothered about this. I mean if we run out of paper or water, who will suffer? Obviously our grandchildren n their children. We all sit inside our closed wells and conclude that this well is our world. I do my bit to conserve some electricity or water by turning them off, even if it means I have to get up from my bed and walk across.
At 11.00 a.m, I decide I will commit suicide if my life in office is so drab, so I suggest to Shaly that we should grab a quick beer at Jimi’s n have a cribbing session. Usha is also included in the master plan. We are quite excited and can’t wait the whole day. Then at 6.15 my boss just walks away slyly without informing anyone. It is so hypocritical, I mean if the office timing is 6.00, what is there to hide? Even when they go to Coffee day, they take a pen and notebook in their hands, as if they are going for meetings. Whatever. So then, Shaly n I get out at 6.15 and Usha is still stuck in Office. We reach Jimi’s and in great style I order beer, n Lo, It is Election day and there are no drinks being served. Great! We curse and give them some disgusted looks, disperse and go home at 7. In the middle of all this, Reethu calls (she is back in town) n suggests we go to Mr Beans. I had actually agreed to meet her at 9.00 which now became 8.30. Its nice to see her. I love that girl. I can be completely genuine with her. Anyways, So Rashmi, Reethu. Neena and I trundle into the car n we go pick up Neelam and Teffi. We have a roaring time at Mr Beans. The Sheesha was a ‘phusss’, but we enjoyed the time., most of which was spent in Neena’s wedding blues, n plans for the engagement n of course much scoldings directed at me for not being able to attend the function. Somehow I think May 1st being a saturday and off, can be used to go to Coorg. Let me see if the car holds up, it would be easier. We decide to meet at Mocha the next day, and trundle home.
I reach home to find Ambli watching a Telugu movie and Jhancy in the middle of her fight with Gautam. With no one to talk to, I tuck into bed, reading a book n conk off. One day conquered. Five more to go!
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
I sometime feel I am actually some spooky spirit let loose on earth. Every time I think of a song or person or movie or actor or anything at all….I hear or read about it shortly afterwards. It is not eerie when you read this, but I do find it a little uncanny. I mean, yesterday I thought about how difficult it would be for SRK to maintain his 6 packs, since he doesn’t have any, there he pops up on the screen in his yellow pants and red tee. Or about the Pari Hu Main song, which no one plays, and Lo the RJ plays it on the radio. Or about Britney Spears wasted life, n then she appears in the newspaper announcing her wedding or breakup. Unluckily I have been thinking of my salary Hike quite often, but nothing seems to happen!!!!!!
Maybe this is what is called growing old. You start liking the things you hated ten years ago. Music, clothes, attitude. And then everyone younger to you gets free advice from you. On every thing from their hair to their jewellery. You nag, you rant, you curse, you frown, become slouchy, grumpy and foul-tempered the older you grow. Many a time, you miss everything you experienced and get angry at the new waves of change sweeping across the world. Then you look around you and all the kids who peed on you when they came into this world, have suddenly metamorphed into lanky teenagers with breasts or facial hair or both or none at all depending on whether they are straight or gay or lesbian or transgender or transvestites (anyway these groups are in majority politically and socially). You conveniently forget you are sprouting more grey hair than all of their body hair put together. Of course, that is something you notice only when a 8 years old kid calls you Aunty. What cheek! What manner less maggots their parents are! Why, when you were a kid, you used to call everyone ‘Didi’ and ‘Bhaiyya’, unless of course they were wrinkled which then elevated them to the status of ‘Uncle’ and ‘Aunty’. So what is different with the times now? And why do you now get that irritating feeling about looking too dressy or too flashy or too silly while dressing up in bright colors or caught having fun? Why do you need to sober up and act prim and proper every time? You panic when you see some strands of grey hair, you check in every mirror to see if the crowfeet and laugh lines are spreading. You buy bigger push up bras when you see sagging boobs on other women. As if that were not enough the trainer at your gym gives you a discount for being overage. What do you do then???
I was on my way to work when I realized the pavement was blocked. There was a tent that had sprung up on it. It was definitely not there the night before, when I was walking home. It looked interesting and curiously pretty. A dirty brown thing in the middle of the pavement that flapped in the breeze when the wind threatened to uproot its pegs. The entrance was another patchwork of myriad fabrics gathered in the course of the owner’s lifetime. A cloth banner hung across two trees like a hammock. It proclaimed the inhabitant had permanent cures for all kinds of diseases, illnesses, sicknesses that could or would plague the world ever. Just when I crossed the entrance, I saw the ‘Doctor’ walk around inside. He was dressed in bright colorful clothes, an orange dhoti, a yellow and red embroidered vest, a green overcoat, all embroidered, mirrored and sequined. His hair was matted and long and adorned with colorful beads. His hands jingled with equally strange amulets, bracelets of aluminum, iron, brass, copper, as were his ankles. If he was actually so knowledgeable, he wouldn’t be walking around carrying this tent on his head. How did he manage to live or eat or pay for anything he required? It can happen only in India – you can put up a tent anywhere and make it your home and stay as long as you want right under the Traffic police, the Regular police, the BBMP; everyone’s noses. As long as you give 20 bucks to the police patrol every night, you can breed, excrete, and dirty the place without anyone batting an eyelid. I wondered how long he would be there. The citizens are much wiser now and taking a more active part in social service. But still I assumed he would be there for some days at least until someone made an issue about it. To my surprise he was gone when I came back that day. What had happened, I wanted to know. Maybe some concerned citizen thought his tent was an eyesore n an inconvenience and got it removed. Or maybe he was a fool for having set up his Quack Practice in the midst of an educated, civilized bunch of folks. But I wonder where he went. I would have definitely liked to see him Practice.
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
Swarna sat watching all this.
Deepika was perched on a rock and throwing stones into the river. A little distance away, Roshan and Ezekiel catapulted at imaginary birds in the sky. The four kids played everyday in the afternoon. Ezekiel was the potter's son who stole out from the toddy-reddened eyes of his father when his friends passed by. The two girls decided to play ‘House’ and soon set about collecting ‘twigs’ for the ‘fire’, leaves for food and sticks for spoons.
Swarna asked her ‘What’s wrong, Deepika, now you are all right. You did not die, so why are you crying?’
Friday, February 19, 2010
Wednesday, February 03, 2010
I wake up a long time later. My lips are cracked, my mouth is parched. I see that the ceiling paint is flaked. The walls are supposed to be white, but are now brown and yellow at the corners and where the floor seams into them. The tiles are small and square shaped with patchwork bits of other tiles on them for design. The joints between the tiles are brown and grubby. I am thirsty but there is a gag on my mouth. It smells of dried saliva, crusty spit. I pass out.
Hands slap me, Someone splashes water on my face. It is her again. She scowls, shakes me, screams at me. ‘Get up you bitch’. I hear. I open my eyes. I see a man. A fat short man with an protruding belly that matches his protruding lower lip. He stinks of liquor, unwashed armpits and beedis. ‘This is the girl, How Much?’ she asks him. He pulls up my frock, feels my thighs and says’Four’.She shakes her head’. Too less, seven is what I can give you for.’ They bargain for sometime. They go away.
I wake up. This time it is a bigger room, painted gaudy orange. There is a yellow border all around. Bottle green heavy curtains flap in the breeze. I hear sounds of traffic, people shouting, hawkers selling. To my surprise I am not tied or gagged. I stumble towards the curtain, part them aside and find a barred small window. It opens into a by-lane that looks like an old part of the city. I see dirty stained one storey buildings with similar windows. I smell dirty gutters running down the street. I shout and scream. A girl’s face appears in the window opposite to me. I shout at her, ask her to help me get out. She smiles sadly and closes the window shut. I slump onto the floor.
The door opens. I turn around. A woman with a gentle motherly face comes in with a covered plate. ‘Where am I, Who are you?. Why am I here?....Questions come pouring out of my mouth. She puts the plate down, places her hands on my shoulders and gently nudges me to sit on the bed. ‘Do not ask anything. It is for your own good’. I am told that you are ‘Laila’, You will be taken care of provided you listen to what the Mistress says. You will get clothes, money, food everything.’ She takes the plate and hands it to me. I push it away violently. It clatters to the floor. Someone screams from the corridor’ What is that?’. I hear feet pattering in the direction of the room. ‘It is the Mistress’, says the woman on my bed. An ugly woman with a big mole on her cheek and warts around her neck appears. She comes directly at me and slaps me across the face. ‘Why, you, little vermin, I am giving this to you for free and you actually have the cheek to throw it away? Well, Sonabai, make sure this worm doesn’t get food until she appreciates its value.’ The woman in my room scampers away to clean the floor. ‘Let me make one thing clear, I have paid a big price to you and I will make sure you are worth it.’ She stomps away. I cry. I sit in the corner with my arms wrapped around my knees. I miss my parents, my brothers, my sisters. I miss playing with them. Even though my father used to beat the hell out of me, I miss him. Even though my mother cursed me and taunted me, I miss her. I miss them in the way only a fifteen year old can. I try to remember how I came to be in this hell. I only remember playing with Babli next to the pond, and the guy who comes to me and gives me a candy. I do not remember anything since.
I sit for six days in that room. Locked in. Shut in. Hungry. Sleepless. Peering out of the window. Crying myself to sleep, Screaming my lungs out. I am surprised that no one bothers to even ask what I want. People look up at me from the lane below and passy by, shaking their heads. I pass in and out of consciousness. Hazy images of brightly colored sarees, people’s faces remain in my mind. The seventh day, I knock on the door, and agree to doing whatever Mistress wants me to. That night, I get to eat for the first time in ten days. I lunge at the plate, lick it clean. I ask for more, and I get another plate. I am taken to the bathroom to be washed. I get to wear a new silk skirt. I do not like the colors, But I am happy they are clean. I tie golden ribbons in my hair. I try on heels for the first time. Sonabai applies lipstick and rouge and powder. I do not know why I am being made to get ready, But I am afraid to ask. Mistress comes into the room. She applies kajal to my eyes. She seems very pleased and makes me turn this way and that. She takes me to her room. She opens her dresser and takes out a bottle of ittar. She applies it to my neck, wrists and between my legs. ‘Now you are ready, my darling.’ She grins and I see her red tobacco-stained teeth. I dare to ask her why, since she is in such a happy mood. ‘Oh, today is your debut. Hasn’t that old hag told you anything?’ I shake my head in wonder. ‘She throws back her head and laughs. ‘All the more better, All the more better.’ She says and takes me into a room. A red colored bed sheet is draped over the mattress. Jasmine flowers are littered on the bed. Blinds filter out the noise from the street outside. She instructs me to wait on the bed. And walks away locking the door behind her.
After some time, a man comes into the room. He has a grizzled beard, gray hair. He stinks of liquor. He locks the door behind him and I hear someone bolting it from outside. I know something is wrong. I run to the corner. He lunges at me, drags me by my hair, and flings me onto the bed. He lies on top of me, and leaves slobbery kisses all over my face, neck. He removes my clothes and lies on top of me, heaving like a great bull, trying to part my thighs. My lungs are crushed under his bulk. I scream out. He seems not to care. I feel a sharp stabbing pain and a trickle of wetness between my legs. I feel something flowing onto the mattress. Like always, my body comes to my rescue and I pass out.
I wake up to a soreness and a sickening sensation. To the realization that something horrible has happened to me and will continue to happen. I now know why that lady at the window smiled at me. She already knew my lot. She has seen many like me in such rooms. I let my tears flow until I am exhausted.
Today I will turn twenty two. I do not have anything special to look forward to. It is going to be another night with either no customers or too many customers. I am now allowed to go out wherever I want. Except that Rinku always accompanies us. He-She-It has been with the Mistress since He-She-It was twelve. Thirty Years is a longtime to be in this business. Especially for Eunuchs. But it seems they are the toughest survivors. I like going to the temple. But the priests do not allow us to come inside. So I stand outside and hear the bells ringing. It gives me a sense of Déjà vu. I know I have done this somewhere, maybe when I was a little girl. I try so hard to remember, but my mind remains stubbornly blank.
I am Mistress’ favorite. I bring in the Moolah with my looks. Being the favorite means I have three to four customers most nights. While the others have only one or none at all. Some of the customers are my Regulars. They share their stories of grief, betrayal, love, revenge all in the two hours they have. Many come just to talk to me. Some have weird fantasies like this old man who wants me to only scream ‘Have Mercy on Me, have Mercy on Me.’ He was thin and frail enough for me to blow him out with a sneeze. Sometimes I get hurt by the Perverts who let out all their frustration on me. But the next night I am ready again. Many of the customers are the Policemen who shoo us away and call us names and arrest us in the day, but come whining to us at night. Mistress’ contacts with them ensure we see as much less Police raids as possible.
I no longer miss home. I no longer remember home. My colorful life ensures I have many things to reminiscence or regret about. When I am too exhausted I Drink. When it is too much to bear, I take Drugs. I have a bigger room and an even bigger window with a view of the main street, not the bylane. Of course I spend much time gazing out.
I run to the window. Yes, there is a girl in the window opposite me.
Like a monkey in a cage, she peers out, cries out for help. She wants to be free.
She sees me looking at her. She pleads, stretches out her hands to me.
I smile sadly at her.
I draw the curtains across and clasp the window shut.