Posted in Anecdotes

Coffee At Home

MB visited our new house for the first time yesterday after I moved in last week. By our new house, I mean the place we have rented recently. And by moved in, I mean shifted all our things into. I continue to spend the nights with him at his hostel as his shifts continue to be erratic and it’s near-impossible to drive down to the new place even though it’s less than twenty minutes away. But it’s closer to my workplace, so I can come home for lunch and hang out here till late in the evening, and probably even make dinner before heading to the hostel for the night.

There were no urgent calls from the Intensive Care Unit, so I suggested we go for a small ride, and maybe have coffee at the new house. I expected him to say no as usual, but he agreed. We grabbed coffee and bonda from a restaurant on the way, and I put two chairs out onto our terrace-balcony. It’s my favourite part in the whole house. There was a cool breeze, and we watched trees swaying around us. I pointed out a squirrel to him on a coconut tree across the road; its tail kept twitching in rhythm with every shrill squeak. We sat in silence, sipping the coffee.

He searched for an old book in the shelf I had decked with our collection; the other place had hardly any space and all the books had still been in the boxes that came from Pondicherry an year ago, till I finally let them out now. He picked one and went back to the terrace, reading. I bent down to put my chin against the top of his head, my arms loosely across the chest. I pressed my cheek to his and smiled as he absentmindedly kneaded my arm as he read. The world seemed to shrink within the terrace parapet – all that existed were the breeze, the quiet, the neem leaves, the squirrels, and us.

Ten, perhaps fifteen minutes, and it was time to leave for his evening ward rounds. A quick kiss on his cheek and I got up to clear the cups and lock up.

I suppose perfect evenings look a little different out here. Sometimes all it takes to create one is two cups of coffee and a home.

♥️

Posted in Anecdotes

Playing Dead a.k.a Am I Really Right In The Head..?

I play dead. I wonder if it’s something people do in general, or just a habit of mine.

What I mean to say is, I pretend to sleep or be unconscious when I feel like it. Or rather, when I don’t feel like it – when I don’t feel like getting up, or talking to people, or facing certain situations. I close my eyes and will the world to leave me alone.

When I think about it, I guess it mostly happens when there is an impending social interaction that I’m too tired/lazy to be a part of. Sometimes at home, sometimes while visiting other people. And it’s rarely ever premeditated. I might be resting on the bed when I hear someone coming in to call me and then pause. They’d call my name softly, but I wouldn’t budge. I’d make my eyes stay where they are, make my breathing even, and sometimes turn over to a more comfortable posture as if I’m simply tossing in my dreams. I’d listen intently to the hushed voice of my mother telling the relative that I seem to be asleep, and then the door closing softly behind them. I don’t break the act. I lie there awake, with my eyes closed, for as long as I feel like – usually till after the visitors bid boisterous goodbyes and their car drives away.

Some people are persistant. They suspect you’re fooling them, and keep trying to wake you up. I’d pretend not to hear my name till 4 or 5 times. I’d subtly bite the inside of my cheeks to prevent myself from smiling. The right approach in such cases is to half-open one’s eyes and shoot a grumpy look along with a groggy “whaaaat”, or “leave me alone” or, the winner “string-of-illegible-syllables-delivered-with-a-side-of-groans” and finish oft by turning to the other side and non-chalantly shutting those beauties again. Utmost care has to be taken that any utterance comes out in a slur with deep baritones.

Bonus tip: the groggy-groan phrases work well when you’re dealing with phone calls from people too.

So that’s sleep. Pretending to be unconscious is a whole different ball game altogether. The following stunts are performed by a manic professional; please do not try them at home.

I have done it twice. I think I was around 10 years both times, or perhaps just a tad younger. The first time I was at the town hall at the vaccination camp to get my tetanus shot. They gave every child a candy before getting the shot. The smell of hospitals and spirit always made me queasy (funny how that worked out career-wise) and I’ve always hated needles. I get the shot, feel nauseated and kind of melt into a lump on the floor. I’m alright in approximately two seconds, but by then my uncle has picked me up and put me over his shoulder, heading to the doctor in charge. I lie quietly with my body perfectly limp, and as I relax my hands to make them seem more realistically ‘limper’, the candy slips out of my fist. I hear the distinct sound of the wrapper hitting the busy floor, but now I’m in too deep to break character. I get placed on a table, a doctor checks my vitals, and decides I seem to be alright. Till date, I feel for two things – not knowing whether the doctor bought my little act, and the fact that I lost a perfectly good candy and had to look on as my cousin sucked on his.

The second time was in class. Math teachers pulled this clever trick where they would write a sum on the board for us to do, and the first few to finish them get a tick mark on their notebooks with THE RED PEN. It was such an honour, and it was often quite an aggressive competition. So a random day, she gives us sums, I hastily complete mine and rush over to her desk to get the tick mark. In my excitement, I fail to notice a bag that lies across the path, trips and falls flat on my face.

Now, this is happening bang in the middle of the class. In that split second I’m so embarrassed that I do not feel like getting up and looking at everyone laughing at me. So what do I do? Not get up. I lie on the floor on my face and do not budge. Kids crowd around me, and the teacher runs to pick me up and prop me against the desk. Still nothing. Then I feel the cold sprinkle of some water on my face, and decide it’s time for act 2. I blink, look around, and then blink some more at the worried faces around me. A few more minutes of making sure I don’t have a concussion, and then the show’s over, and the crowd disperses. I avoid eye contact with anyone, and start doing my sums again.

Oh what’s that you say? I’m a drama queen?? I wish I could respond but I’m kind of fast asleep right now, so.

Oh well. Snore, snore.

Posted in Anecdotes

An Epitaph, Overdue

My uncle didn’t deserve to die.

It’s close to 2 AM and I’m finally getting down to penning an urgent document. I open the Word file, and all the collected references, and begin.

“Patients with cirrhosis are at a high risk of developing bacterial infections. They present recurrently to the hospital with life-threatening conditions.”

I come to a halt. My fingers hover over the keyboard, unsure. I don’t need all these articles to tell me this. I know. Now I know.


I’ve heard that my grandmother was considered barren for a great many years before my uncle was born. Ten years, to be exact. They visited famous temples and prayed to umpteen gods before she finally wore him in her womb. I’ve heard how he was a charming boy in their village – fair, handsome, well-mannered, quiet-spoken. Everyone thought he was worth the wait.

My grandmother was thought to have turned barren again after his birth. My mother arrived twelve years later to prove them wrong.

My grandfather was rapidly ageing by then. He wasn’t ready to be father again; so my uncle took his place. He pampered his little sister, gave in to her every wish and never let her want for anything. One day, when their parents were away, the back of her little frock stained with blood for the first time. He ran down to the town and came back with a cover of sanitary pads and a long piece of cloth. When she came in wearing the the newly stitched big-girl skirt, he picked her up by the waist, stood her on the dining table and kissed her forehead.

And when the little sister had a little girl of her own, he treated her like a princess. He held the tiny baby in his chubby arms in their frontyard and showed her off to the early morning sun. He bought her a doll that slept with its eyes closed as it lay near her, and accompanied her in her dreams. She would blush and squirm as he recounted her talents, her marks, her brilliance to everyone who listened. He travelled miles with a birthday cake every year, even after she grew too old to be blowing candles, because the shop at his town baked the best ones. And when she stained her dress for the first time, he brought enough sweets to feed a village, and an exorbitant silk skirt embroidered with fine golden thread.

If there is one thing that I would never forgive my father for, it’s introducing my uncle to alcohol. He was too naive, too soft. He was the fair, handsome, well-mannered school boy; he wasn’t a callused ruffian to survive its onslaught.

I remember the days they would slip quietly into my room as the rest of us played in the hall; how they would pretend that we couldn’t know of the quiet clinking glasses. I remember laughing at the way they behaved when caught. I remember feeling clever that I knew exactly where the bottle of brandy was hidden in my cupboard. I don’t remember ever thinking of asking him to stop. Maybe he would have, if I had asked. Only, I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t know what happened to well-mannered boys when they started playing with ruffians. I didn’t know he could get hurt.

By the time I reached my first year of medical school, he had started developing symptoms. I progressed through my classes, and unknown to me, he deteriorated into a wretched being. He joked over the phone about how he would present as a patient for my final year, that he could be my exam case. I think I laughed. I didn’t know. I think Mother mentioned hospitals and lab reports from time to time. I think she mentioned that the that they were selling off property to pay for the medicines. That his elder son, my cousin, left his education half way to take care of him. I was in college, surrounded by friends. I didn’t really pay attention. I didn’t know. I think I didn’t know.

My last memory of him is a large man swaying at the bottom of the stairs, smiling on a high, and talking to me in slurred tones. I was just about to enter my final year, and home for a few days, meeting him after a very long time. He laughed and told me I could practise on him for my final exams. His fair flawless face was now a dark mess of ailment, sagging prematurely – porphyria and lipodystrophy . His abdomen was distended – ascites. His legs were like two large pillars and the way the skin looked… – long standing pedal edema. Some part of my brain kept ticking off everything I had learnt in my textbooks, even as I looked on in horror, unable to find my uncle in the person in front me.

He didn’t make it to my final exams. I got the call early one morning, and I remember feeling nothing. Not on my 8 hour cab ride home for the funeral. Not when I watched my red-eyed cousins follow someone’s instructions regarding the rituals while holding back tears. Not when I watched my grandmother break down at the feet of her first-born. Not when my mother hugged me and wept like the world ended.

I remember telling myself how this was better. The mounting debts, his son’s broken education, my aunt’s incessant tears – it was better that he died than lived on as a ghost of his previous self.


Seven years later, I stare at the screen of a random assignment and sob uncontrollably into the night.

Posted in Anecdotes

One With The Hills

To me Mumbai was a dot on the map that we were taught to mark for 5 marks in geography class. There it was, just below the large mass jutting out like a misshapen right claw off India’s body. The dot was Bombay when I started school and Mumbai by the time I finished.

You land in a place, and suddenly the miles stretch farther out; it goes from being a single dot and two syllables to an ostentatious display of sights, tastes and colours. I watched majha Mumbai expand in front of me and become a cluster of entities with their own standing that I got to know just a little bit – Dadar, Worli, Kaala Ghoda, Vashi, and yes, Navi Mumbai. That’s where my friend SR lives, a new Mumbai in its infancy, all timid buildings as opposed to the coastal city’s skyscrapers.

Even before I arrived, I had decided that I would be visiting SR. It was only later that I realised she lived over an hour away. We decided to meet halfway to shop for some work clothes for her, and then go from there. The travel from Dadar to Vashi tired me out. I had skipped lunch in favour of starting early and beating COVID curfew, and there was the heat and the traffic – I ended up sleeping half the way. By the time I met SR, I didn’t possess half the energy I initially had while heading out, and we didn’t make it in time before closing time either. Police patrolled the streets, ensuring everyone stuck to the evening curfew, while shop owners hid inside closed shutters – occasionally smuggling potential customers in through backdoors and make-shift curtained corridors, after careful communication with a counterpart who kept vigil outside. We wandered the market playing hide-and-seek on a Sunday afternoon.

It was when we reached Kharghar that I truly came to life. The ice cream cone that I managed to have on the way helped, but if there is one thing that can revive you truly, it’s the thrill of discovering green hills where you least expect them. After two days in Mumbai, I was used to tall buildings and narrow lanes, but there it was in front of me as our cab approached – a shiny green hill right by the road in all its monsoon glory, set against the bright blue evening sky, speckled with trekkers. I remembered S asking me in if I preferred beaches or mountains, and in that second I knew where my heart truly belonged.

SR saw the sparkle in my eye, and agreed to head out there immediately lest twilight should fall. She had been living right there for close to a month and never thought to go there! She was never a fan of trekking, but it was an easy route worn down by hundreds before us, so I coaxed her up to halfway up. And then sat against a rock taking in the green landscape dotted with nothing but tiny pink flowers and fellow dreamers.

A cool breeze blew through my open hair, as we clicked each other’s pictures and sat exchanging stories. A lone hen wandered a short distance away; we wondered about what seemed like its home in a tiled house at the bottom. I watched the wind create waves and ripples on the all across the smooth green meadow, like a hand caressing a lover’s locks.

In that moment, I was the wind, I was the grass, I was the rocky earth beneath my feet. I was the little pink flowers peppered around me, and the coolness that enveloped it all.

I was calm, I was spectacular, I was the throbbing of a thousand hearts.

I was alive.

Posted in Anecdotes

Piecing Together A Memory

While searching for an old picture for the previous blogpost, I came across a photograph from three years ago. I was in the middle, clicking the photograph and on either side were friends. One was my senior at college and the other my hostel room mate at the time. I had no recollection of how, why or where this came to be. Behind us, against the dark night and pale silhouettes of trees, there shone a sign that read “Tanto’s”. Aah. My memory flickered, and I saw us having dinner – mine was the special for the night, seafood pasta with crunchy crab shells in the juice that I loved in the beginning and got tired of towards the end; someone ordered a small pizza that came with tiny purple squid tentacles sticking out; there was a pannacotta whose cream I loved and sour topping I hated. I remember that the bill wasn’t cheap, either.

But why did we have dinner together? These two were from different parts of my life. A play. Yes, there was a play. Of course, we had decided to check out a performance scheduled at the Adi Shakti Theatre in Auroville. I remembered the little indoor theatre, the lighting, us sitting on the floor. Of course, now it made sense.

I forwarded the photograph to both my friends. More montages started appearing.

“They gave us each a card at the end of the play, didn’t they?”, asked SE.

I wondered briefly where mine could be. “Something about love, yes.”

“This is the play where they had the moon lamp”, added SE.

“What?”

“Towards the end of the play, a woman came holding a round lamp that looked like the moon. You mentioned how much you liked it, and that’s why I gifted the same last year”

“Oh.” I was stumped. I recollected a woman and a man, husband and wife, writers and actors of the play in an exploration of their love, but nowhere in my memory was there a moon lamp.

M’s reply was regarding something else altogether.

“That’s the night we saw the actor! She came in and had dinner at the corner table, remember?”

Yes.. I remembered. Her hair cut short, wearing a large hat, sitting against the corner wall. It was exciting to see a movie star at random.

“And the bike broke down”, she added.

I was puzzled. The bike. Yes, something did happen to the bike. How did we manage to get back home? The rest of the night was fragmented beyond recovery.


Memories are so odd. The three of us experienced the exact same things, and yet had such vividly different recollections of the evening. The Booker Prize winner, The Sense Of An Ending deals with the same; the inconsistencies in our memories, the obscure algorithm they follow in deciding what bits to keep and what to let go. To the point that we might even be left wondering about their authenticity, and have difficulty discerning them from dreams.

Isn’t it interesting how every detail of our life gradually fades into a hazy illusion?

Posted in Anecdotes

A Tale Of Two Cellphones

The phone that MB had been using for around two years had issues with its charging port for the second time in four months. I went ahead and ordered a phone that we had been eyeing for this scenario, while taking the old phone to a doctor as well. It turned out that issue was with the charger and not the phone which, the tech doctor reassured me, had a healthy life span of at least another year, and we had a second brand new phone worth one-third of my monthly salary on our hands.

Exhibit A

Now. He is happy with his old phone and doesn’t particularly care for the new one. My own phone works well enough, although it needs to be hooked up to the wall twice a day to prevent it from dying on me and happens to have a warning label on top telling me it’s dangerously low on space. Not just low, dangerously low.

Exhibit B

If common sense prevailed, I would spend no time swapping my current three year old for the flashy newbie, but I’m not able to do it. I feel guilt, of all things. Omg, I’m so middle class.

But, maybe it’s more than that.

I have difficulty reaching for what I want. Sometimes it’s the fear of rejection. Sometimes it’s the overwhelming sense of insecurity or incompetence I feel about myself. Sometimes it’s the voice at the back of my head saying I don’t deserve it. A lot of the time it’s a fear of change.

Well, that got dark quite quickly. *Nervous laugh*

It took me two weeks to even open the package and look at the contents, and they freaked me out so bad that I put them back in again. I wasn’t ready for things that were all pristine and shiny and white. What had I done to deserve them anyway. *Sigh*

A month later, I actually drew up the courage to move on finally, only to realise, as I switched it on, that it has no slot for a memory card and one of the two sim cards is supposed to be virtual. Gaaaaah. This blithering idiot of a machine. I’m a millenial! I’m not supposed to be this bad at handling technology!! Blistering barnacles!!!

(Oh yeah, nothing like a Tintin reference to prove I’m from this century.)

I’m rambling. The truth is, I started this post more than a month ago when inspiration struck, and that specific flash of lightening dissolved into darkness way back. Long story short, I did end up using the phone, but only because the other one finally died on me at a crucial moment with disastrous consequences at the workplace for all involved. But it was still difficult for me to cut the cord, so now I use the new one as a back up, and the old one as a regular.

Yes, now I have TWO phones on my hands that I need to charge and keep track of. So the moral of the story is, maybe I’m the blithering idiot.

P.S. It’s actually not too bad, owning two phones. Texting while on a call has never been easier.

Fin.

Posted in Anecdotes

‘How A Web Novel Saved My Life’, and Other Anecdotes

I was always a binge reader. Our school had a reasonably well-stocked library for its times, with all major classics and most of popular children’s fiction. We were each issued a mandatory library card that could be used to borrow one book at a time, even though less than 5% of students ever set foot in the library at all. I blasted through books to the tune of one per day, on average. Lord Of The Rings took me three days.

Our school librarian, sadly, was less than impressed. He would flatly refuse to let me exchange books if I came back the same week, and I would stare at him in exasperation, wondering why someone who got paid to loiter around books all day would be so dastardly and soulless. I quickly came up with strategies. When his back was turned, I would hide the books I wanted in crevices between or atop shelves, and then coerce/bribe non-reader classmates into visiting the library with directions to retrieve the hidden goods and smuggle them out using their virgin cards.

Ah, good times.

The problem with the habit was that I never did learn to read casually. Once I start a book, I become incapacitated for any alternative duty till I finish it. Once I joined college and had the liberty of choosing what I wanted to do with my time, everything descended to chaos. There reached a point where I couldn’t bring myself to start on a book, simply because I knew how I would simply veer off of whatever I was supposed to be doing. Being exposed to wonders of technology and alternative addictions like texting, wikipedia (ahem), and YouTube saw my reading habits dwindle further, and at some point, crash to a stop. I couldn’t afford to read, simply because it was too much of a commitment.

Worm changed all that.

The magnificent web novel by Wildbow was a random suggestion that popped up in a WhatsApp book group. Having never read a web serial before, I googled it out of curiosity, read the first chapter, and was hooked. The binge was on. It was a life-saver for someone clutching at voids at the time, and being just so darn fantastic was a golden bonus. I pored over the pages every waking minute of every day, at work, at home, in bed. ALL THE TIME, EVERYWHERE. I was racing at a pace of over 10 really long chapters on average per day, the thrill building, just lapping up the tension and sometimes glossing over details in the race to finish it… except it wouldn’t.

It was after I crossed a week and 150 chapters that I decided to do a background check and realised the entire web serial ran for over 2 years and amounted to… 1,680,000 *beep* WORDS.

This picture demonstrates the necessity of doing some basic background research before flinging oneself into commitments, literary or otherwise.

I had met my match.

The realisation that putting my life on hold till an end that seemed to be nowhere in sight had me slow down. It still was my go-to whenever I needed respite from reality, a distraction from recurring thoughts, or when I had an extra 15 minutes on my hands as a meeting started late, or when I needed something to calm my nerves and lull me to sleep. (Not particularly blissful sleep, I may add. Reading about maniacs with superpowers does not exactly translate to the ideal pre-somnolescence routine for someone with a predilection for long winding dreams)

I stuck through, though. 40 days later, I was though the purpoted 7000 pages and 1.7 million words. It was an exhilarating journey that gave me a story to fangirl over, drew me back to life, and taught me how to read books with the self-destructive mode switched off.

Books are back in my life in a big way, and I couldn’t be happier. I just finished Inheritance by Balli Kaur Jaswal. I have four books that I began that are currently competing for my attention – a Wodehouse novel, a memoir-ish non-fiction called Ants Among Elephants by Sujatha Gidla, The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak and Chidambarasmarana by Balachandran Chullikkad. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury was delivered yesterday and seems eager to join the vying. A much awaited poetry collection, Silk Route by Aleena Aakashamittayi, seems amenable to a couple of daily shots. Around 20 titles sleep meanwhile on the shelves of Kindle and Moonreader apps and a few rest in Amazon carts.

“Marooned”. Pun intended. Get it? Get it??

It feels amazing to be back amidst books. As if I have travelled back to a time before heartbreaks, when nothing but the musty smell of paper filled my life. Stories to add colour to my own, sorrows to set against the odd rainy day, someone else’s insecurities to sigh about.

Everyone has a book, I remember reading on a bookstore’s caption. Every day, too, has a book, I say. For the happy day, for the forlorn day, for the day when it all gets to be too much and you seek an escape.

As long as there are unread titles out there in the world, how could we possibly not survive?

🙂

Posted in Anecdotes

Choice

There is something magical about being out late at night, especially when you’re alone. Something powerful about it. Maybe that there are so few people about, and you’re one of them. Unafraid. You feel eerily happy about how safe you feel as a woman, being out at night. Perhaps it’s simply that – being able to rebel, being able to look people in the eye and shake them off as you stride past, fearless. Back when I was in Pondicherry, there was one night when I felt like the world was collapsing around me. I needed to escape, and I rode alone to the beach at midnight, and sat there for an hour watching the waves crashing. It was exhilarating, to not be confined inside walls by twilight.

I just stepped out to get some medicines. It’s only around 8 in the evening, but it feels like midnight because of the lockdown. The roads are easy to cross for there are only a few stray bikes, almost no one is about, and the lamp posts seem to shine extra bright to make up for all the missing headlights.

As I walk to the pharmacy across the street, I see a homeless person on its steps, drinking what’s left of a bottle of water. He immediately extends his hand towards me, and I turn away by instinct. That’s how you deal with poverty in India – you pretend to not see it until it moves away from the perimeter of your eye. You see them, they see you. They know you see them. You know they know you see them. But it’s still somehow easier to pretend, than to look them in the eye and say you don’t care.

Pharmacies are allowed to run normally during the lockdown while grocery stores close down by noon, which explained the huge array of snacks stacked on a table near the counter; I was impressed by their responsive demand-driven marketing. I swiftly pay for the medicines, and add a packet of biscuits as an afterthought. Thirty rupees. Ten for the paracetamol, twenty for the biscuits. As the guy processes the bill, I catch myself wondering if anyone would actually give twenty rupees in cash to beggars. Probably not; they tend to be valued in coins – one, two, perhaps an occasional magnanimous five. Never twenty.

But we are large-hearted when it comes to helping in kind, aren’t we. It gives the sense that we aren’t encouraging people to beg, but simply helping them in their fight for basic needs. Besides, giving money might mean that they spend it on alcohol, and I’d obviously not want that.

Another part of my brain smirks, thoroughly amused at that thought, at this power dynamic that is obviously present even as I play the altruistic, anonymous stranger; deciding what a homeless person may or may not do with the paltry sum I might graciously decide to bestow upon him.

As I get out of the store, I see him moving towards a street vendor, gesturing him for a free banana. My home was in the other direction, and for a second, I wonder if I should simply go home. The moment of hesitation draws the attention of the man again, and he immediately reached out to claim the biscuits, as if he already sensed they were his.

As I slowly walk back, I can’t help wondering if he even liked Good Day butter cookies, and what flavour he might have gone for if he had been the one making the choice.

Posted in Anecdotes

Pearls

I point out to Mr. Beloved that the chances of him winning the Nobel Prize are between zilch and zero, and that he might need a consultation for delusional megalomania on having such a bizarre thought in the first place. He meditates on my suggestion and rejects my hypothesis.

That’s when the sudden scuffle ensues. He twists my hand and holds me down and asks why I would say something like that and crush his (nonsensical) dreams. I reciprocate by attempting to pinch his skin and/or tickle his belly – my go to moves in times of such crises.

And it just so happens that a swift movement causes me to lose my drip on a little fake pearl ear ring that I had been holding in my hand.

“Now look what you’ve done!”

He lets go, and looks perplexed. This was definitely not part of the plan. He glances this way and that, trying to locate the fallen item and muttering random excuses before feigning sleepiness and slowly retreating out of the hall. The stud cost less than 20 rupees, but it was still my favourite. I make a mental note to buy a new one while heading to work, shout a couple of admonitions in the direction of the bedroom and carry on with my work.

I wake up late in the morning, having burnt the midnight oil (light bulb?) in the attempt to finish up in time for a deadline. As I sit up, he pulls me out of the bed excitedly, walks me to the hall and points to my desk. The stray stud had joined its companion next to my laptop.

I laugh, kiss him on the cheek and go about the day feeling quite ostentatious in those lowly pearls.

Fin. 😁

Posted in Anecdotes, Musings

Maari

“Off we skip like the most heartless things in the world, which is what children are, but so attractive; and we have an entirely selfish time..”

I do not remember when it was that I came across Peter Pan for the first time; perhaps my vivid memory of being shown the 2003 movie at my school in the 7th grade was the first. I obsessed over it for months or perhaps years; enchanted by the concept of Neverland and never growing up. And when I read somewhere that Sagittarians are known to have ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’, I was elated at the discovery. I divulged to every passer-by my noble intention to never grow up or be an adult. The concepts high-schoolers attach to coolness are strange indeed.

At 29 years old, looking back and recollecting some incidents, I am glad that I grew up. This is going to be a difficult write up, more cathartic than usual, because I am going to talk about things that I had blocked out from my childhood – perhaps because it was inconsequential, and perhaps because I knew that all said and done, I was just being a horrible person. We want childhood to be all about magic and innocence and rarely acknowledge Barrie for his realistic reflections in Peter Pan.

.

Her name was Maari. I remember it distinctly because I was taught the word first by my Malayalam teacher. I remember noting it down, in that little ruled notebook covered neatly in brown paper and with a colourful sticker in front that announced the details of its owner.

Naanarthangal (synonyms)”, she wrote on the board.

Mazha (rain) – maari, varsham

I knew her name must mean something else in Tamil, for she was from an obscure village in Tamil Nadu (I never bothered to find out the name), but it always reminded me of what was taught in class. Rain. And although I would love for someone to be named Rain, surely even myself, I did not want to be called that, as my cousin did at times. He would call me Maari to spite me, and I would be indignant. How could he call me by her name?! Sure, she was all of 10 years like me, and perhaps even the same height and weight, but she was darker, she was illiterate, she was the household help. I did not want to be her namesake.

Looking back, I wonder where my innocence lay. Why I could not accept a girl my age and play with her as I would with a classmate. Why I found it weird that she would be reluctant to approach my cousins and I, and would stick to her mother in the kitchen as far as she could. Why I found it hilarious when my cousin would threaten her with a knife or a pair of scissors or a dummy spider and she would retreat to a corner or squeal like a mouse; why, he was only playing around, wasn’t he? Why was she so scared every time when he really meant no harm at all…!

Perhaps I did not realise that anything can be scary for a 10-year-old living with strangers who speak a different language, because I never had to. Perhaps my entitlement did not allow me to see beyond her skin colour and notice the same fears in her, the same insecurities and the same dreams in her heart as were in mine. Perhaps I was so conditioned to there being two classes of people, masters and servants, that I did not feel the need to question anyone why I went to school and she did not.

I wonder whether I would have been nicer to her if my cousin were not around. Perhaps. Maybe children learn heartlessness from each other, and maybe it is cooler to be cruel than to be nice. And every act of spite eventually gets washed away by our colourful daydreams, and the reality of our childhood becomes that of wonders and laughter and sweet nostalgia.

It has taken me 19 years to come to terms with what I did. I do not know where she is now. All I can do is send my apologies out into the universe, wishing that they would reach another 29 year old woman existing somewhere, a happy place hopefully.

Whenever I come across the question of what I would go back and change, I would always say nothing,. But today, I realise it isn’t true. I wish I could go back and talk to her, be her friend and make her feel welcome. I wish I could go back and have the courage to stand up to my cousin, to tell him to leave her alone. I wish I could go back and tell myself how she and I are the same.

I wish I could go back and make sure that I do not have to write this post with blurry eyes.