Sunday, July 23, 2006

A quick tale 152

My mother's daughter

Unlike that woman, there aren't many photos of you when you were seventeen. There is one though, which I remember seeing many years ago, taken just before you got married. You are staring straight into the camera, your jaw set, your posture perfect, your will strong.

How familiar I will become with your unbending will in the years to come! Some might even say I inherited your stubborness. Do you remember how many times you and I have disowned each other? During bitter fights over inconsequential things that would escalate into raging feuds. That we would go without speaking to each other for weeks. Now when I call, we speak like old friends. You tell me about your childhood, your brothers and your sisters. Stories I never had patience for when I was young. I listen to them now, may be because I realise that I may not have forever to hear the last of them. Still, sometimes we lapse into our old ways and one of us hangs up in a huff. And then there would be silence for days. Before the phone rings again.

Growing up I never saw much of you in me. I only saw father when I looked in the mirror. But now, when I speak to my child, it's your voice I hear. I borrow your stories, I sing your songs. I improvise on your jokes. I repeat the threats I heard as a child. I am you. And I'm finally beginning to understand what it must be like to be my mother.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

A quick tale 151


Have you ever wondered, walking past the grocery store, how the man behind the counter could keep his hands off the sweets in the glass jar? Yes, me too. Nearly every morning on my way to school, I would see Chettiar in his crisp white veshti and white khadi cotton shirt, sacred ash smeared liberally over his forehead, sitting impassively behind the counter in his grocery store. He was clearly the master of all he surveyed. And every morning, I would wonder how he was never tempted by the gorgeous little globules that shone out from the bell jars that stood on his table.

In all those years, I never once saw him unwrap a little toffee and toss it in his mouth. Not even during those idle summer afternoons when most people preferred to stay indoors and Chettiar's store would be quiet for want of customers. He seemed strangely immune to the sweet temptations that were so tantalisingly close at hand. How could that be?, I tried to reason. May be he had them when I wasn't looking. That must be it. After all, I reckoned, I passed by his store two or three times a day. And he must be helping himself to handfuls during rest of the day. Just to be sure, I started going past the shop more often. Sometimes, I would turn the corner and observe him secretly. But not once did I see him reach for the jars. This must be some sort of a miracle, I was convinced. Whoever heard of a man who did not grab the treats when they were at arm's length?

I never got to the bottom of the mystery. Some months later, we moved out of the house and subsequently, Chettiar's store gave way to a high-rise apartment. Last week, I saw Chettiar again. I was at the traffic lights when a scooter pulled up next to my car. Chettiar was sitting behind someone, his son presumably, on the scooter. He was smaller than I remembered him. More condensed and shrunk with age. As the two-wheeler raced ahead of me, something fluttered out of Chettiar's hands. It landed briefly on my windshield before being blown away. It was a small square of transparent green crinkly paper. The kind used to wrap toffees.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A quick tale 150

At Ease

I can see you looking at me. With sympathy in your eyes. I'm sure you are wondering what I look forward to in each day. After all, how different can the ceiling look from one day to the next? You feel sorry for me and you come and sit next to me. You tell me about your job, your family, your plans, your future as you hold my hand. You believe this is going to make me feel better. I'm alright, I try to tell you, don't pity me. I too was chasing dreams once. But I'm happy with the way things are going now. I lie back and think about things past. People long gone. No, I don't yearn for the old days. They were stormy and wild. I have good memories and I'm content to be where I am today. It's my time to reflect. I just wish my knees wouldn't hurt so much.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A quick tale 149


What's the word for what I'm feeling right now? Epiphany? Yes, I think that's it. Here I am, standing in a queue to pay my telephone bill on a Wednesday afternoon and in a rare, undisturbed moment, I reflect. On how I came to this point of my life. A middle-aged man who's fast losing his hair wondering how long it will be before it is his turn at the till. How did I get here? I don't remember much of the journey. There are only two more people in front of me now. I check my bill, count my cash, adjust my crotch and look at the receding hairline of the man in front of me. When did the brazen idealist of my twenties give way to this softer, mellow version who takes comfort in other people's baldness? Did it happen overnight or was it gradual? So gradual that I did not notice the change? Bald man moves. I stand in front of the till. Yes?, queries the bull dog behind the mesh. The spell is broken. I place the bill on the counter, weigh it down with a wad of cash and slide it across to her.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Dear Mr Director

...even the confirmed non-believer, the harshest cynic will have to agree that no one makes a child suffer so much unless there is a larger plan for him..

Anouradha Bakshi in a touching letter to a school director.

Monday, July 03, 2006

A quick tale 148

Dear Ammani

A quick tale 147


You envy those to whom decisions come easy. Look at her, you think to yourself, two kids, holding both her hands and the third waiting to pop in the next few months. She probably determined the size of her family over the course of three nights. Her hair is a fiery red. It is likely that she sat at the hairdresser's and chose the colour on an impulse. And not browse through celebrity magazines weeks on end to decide whose style to follow. And those heels on her feet. You are sure she did not spend half-a-day considering if they were practical AND fashionable. You reckon she just pulled them out of the closet and slipped them on.

You watch her getting into a red hatchback. A car she must have picked up after it caught her eye one morning. You are pretty sure she did not climb a hundred showrooms, compare prices, surf the net for deals before picking up a rundown, second hand car that she is not happy with. And when she gets home, you are positive she will already know what she's going to cook for dinner. She will not spend hours agonising over what to feed her family that is both nutritious and still popular with the kids. Someone honks. You really must stop dreaming and make up your mind about which way to go. You reach into your pocket for a coin to flip.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Saturday Poem

Found this in yesterday's paper. Again, I wish I'd written it.


Now and Then

"Now that I'm fifty-seven",
My mother used to say,
"Why should I waste a minute?
Why should I waste a day

Doing the things I ought to
Simply because I should?
Now that I'm fifty-seven
I'm done with that for good."

But now and then I'd catch her
Trapped in some thankless chore
Just as she might have been at
Fifty-three or fifty-four

And I would say to her
(And I have to bite my tongue)
That if you mean to learn a skill
It's well worth starting young

And so, to make sure I'm in time
For fifty, I've begun
To do exactly as I please
Now that I'm thirty-one.

-Sophie Hannah