Friday, February 16, 2007

A quick tale 178

One evening, around 6 pm

It’s her height that grabs your attention. Else, how would you notice her among the crowd waiting to cross the road? The traffic light in front of you turns red and you smooth to a halt. She steps on to the road from the pavement. Her posture is erect, just like you remember it. When she looks in your direction to check for oncoming traffic, you see the same severe expression on her face that you recall from all those PE lessons, way back in high school. What a terror she used to be back then. Making you run laps around the track while she stood in the middle sipping coffee. I have eyes in the back of my head, she would threaten. And you sincerely believed it. She is just about to take another step when a bicycle comes speeding past her. Causing her to lose composure and retreat swiftly back to the pavement. She decides to wait for a quieter moment to cross the road. The lights turn green and you gradually pull away. As you drive past her, you notice that she is shaken. Just another frail old lady waiting to cross the road. How you wish the illusion had not been shattered.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A quick tale 177

Inspired by these two hilarious posts.

On going to see Tripurasundari

My dear Tripurasundari,

That was silly of me, I admit. Turning you down because of your name. Wondering how the immigration official will mangle its exquisite multiple syllables. Worrying if I'll ever find a satisfactory nick name for you. How could I have been so blind, O beautiful goddess?

You know, I haven't stopped thinking about you ever since I came away from your house. Everyday when the weathergirl on tv mutters 'rains in Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura...', guess who I wish was sitting next to me, sharing my rasam sadam? You, my fair Madrasi chick!

I am 38 and still single. Every Vanitha and Sunitha I said yes to didn't wish to marry me. I have excellent credentials and an unblemished past. So if you are still available, may I invite you to a fine cup of filter coffee at Mylai Karpaga Vilas? They also serve excellent keerai vadai there.

Please don't say no.



A quick tale 176

Shopping for sarees during a sudden downpour

Do you have this, you ask pointing to the deep blue saree in your hand, in light green or baby blue? The saleswoman nods yes, draws a stool, climbs up, reaches into the top shelf and pulls out two sarees. One is light green and the other baby blue. She hands them to you and you look from one to the other. Unable to decide, you put down both sarees on the counter, on top of the 32 others you have been looking at over the past half-an-hour. You take a step back and inspect the colourful mound. You sigh frustratedly and then with your eyes closed, you pull one out from the bottom of the pile. It's yellow with purple flowers on it. You hand it to the saleswoman and say, I'll take that one. My wife will like anything I gift her. Five minutes later you walk out of the store with a saree you don't need, for a wife you don't have. And it has finally stopped raining.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A quick tale 175

When your knees were a bloody mess

I often say, no regrets. That's a lie. I wish I had met you earlier, in your growing years. When you wore your hair long and your trousers short. The time when you took your bicycle to the playground and came home walking, having forgotten that you had taken it. Or the time when you jumped into a ditch to retrieve a ball and came out with your calves and knees in a bloody mess. How I wish I had been there to wrestle with you and race you to the finish every time. All those adolescent nights you spent debating the mysteries of life and such like. I wish I had been part of your gang, wide awake with excitement and possibilities. And the time when you lost that man you loved, respected and adored. I wish I had been there to hold your hand. But I'm glad I met you when I did. Happy birthday, mister. There's no one else I'd rather wake up with.

A quick tale 174

Why you are ringing your son at this time of the day

Do you your remember that day when you told him, 'Not now. I'll buy you one on the way back'? It was a hot, sticky afternoon and the ice-cream cart was parked in the middle of the road. The little one had asked you for a cone when you made the promise. But on your return you took a different route and forgot all about the ice-cream. Today, as you went past the same road, you recalled your words from that day, all those years ago. You take out mobile and dial the 14 digits that make up his number. You just want to hear the lilting familiarity of his voice. And be reminded of the days when his palm was small enough to fit into yours. And he made quiet demands of you.

A quick tale 173

Cars are colliding on my stomach

Right now, your toy cars are cruising on my arms, my chest, my legs. The landscape of my body shaping your imagination. I wince as one of your cars collides with another on my stomach. Uh-oh, an accident, you proclaim before proceeding to summon a crack team of autorickshaws to the rescue. I lie back and watch you play. Who taught you these games? How do you know the difference between a Polo and a Mini? When did you learn to change your voice when you speak for the cars? You've abandoned your game now and have gone on to something else. Tomorrow morning you won't remember any of this. A year down the line, you may not even be playing with cars. A decade from now, you will positively recoil at the mention of your childhood stories. And one day, when you are grown up, I will tell her about how you raced cars on my body. She will nod in polite courtesy. And you will stand next to her with that familiar look of boredom and beg me to stop. You're just like your father, I'll tell you then. Just like your grandmother did to me.

A quick tale 172

Today as I sipped my coffee

I don't know how long they have been sitting there. The plate in front of him is empty and he is waiting for her to finish. He does not drum his fingers or click his tongue impatiently. He stares into the vacant distance. Her head is bent and her eyes focussed on what she is eating. Once she is done, she places the spoon on the plate, sips water from her glass, wipes her mouth with a handkerchief and looks up at him. He raises his hand signals to the waiter. A short while later, small porcelain plate with a flapping piece of paper is placed between them. He leans to one side and brings out a wallet from his back pocket. He counts and recounts the money before sliding it on the plate. They get up and leave. All the while I was watching them not a word was exchanged. It was as if conversation between them had dried up a long time ago. And neither one had noticed.

A quick tale 171

Shirts, skirts, socks

In the far corner of her cupboard there is a shaggy pile of clothes that have remained untouched for years. Shirts and skirts and socks that have settled so well into their folds that it is no longer possible to iron them out. They will never be worn again. Now that their wearers have grown and gone. Their once small hands now too large to slide down the hollow of the sleeves. Their bodies too big to be contained in tiny frocks. But she guards her little pile fiercely. And on days when she fears she is losing her grip on her memory, she buries her face in it. Mingled with the moth balls is the faint scent of her children. From the time when they needed her more.

A quick tale 170


"She's 28. There must be a reason why she's not married yet. "



"But he said that she used to speak a lot with a guy from Account's Department."

"Yes, agreed. But can she cook?"

"Don't want anyone too ambitious."

"Too educated."

"Only a graduate."

"A bit on the heavy side, don't you think?"

"Her grandmother has some skin disease, did you see?"

A quick tale 169

In a cafe next to your office

She finds herself sitting in a table full of strangers who are discussing the relative merits of PJ Harvey's songs. Winsome, awesome, terrific, soporific are some of the adjectives bandied about. She, on the other hand, has developed a sudden interest in her shoes and nails. During a lull in the conversation, she is suddenly gripped with an urge to say something. She could have said "exceptionally pulsating with energy". But instead says, "I tried listening to her CD once. And it was horrible. Painful, actually". Her utterance is greeted with stunned silence and then one or two heads nod in tentative agreement. How she wishes she had done this earlier.

A quick tale 168

This morning at 11 am

In that superstore on that busy road lined with trees, one particular skin cream is selling fast. The woman in front of her has just bought two jars. And why not? The cream promises to reduce scars, fine lines and wrinkles by 40%. Perhaps using two jars' worth may wipe out twice as many lines and half-way through the third, the skin will be smooth as a baby's bottom. She picks up a jar and looks at the photo on the packaging. I am rich, successful, happy, the jar-woman seemed to say. I am also debt and wrinkle-free. The jar holds out such promise, such hope that she turns around and grabs another one. She rushes home and runs to the mirror. Her fingers dig out a small mountain of the cool pomade. She lifts the sleeve of her blouse and spreads it on her bruises. Any moment now, her life will change.

A quick tale 167


You and I, we're about the same age. I'm older than you by a few months. But how different are our lives! Your photo graces the cover of every other magazine. And me, I'm the kind that reads the magazines while waiting at the school gate for my children to return. My body has borne the scars of two childbirths. My skin is sallow and my boobs resemble used tea bags. You on the other hand, look stunning. Everything about you is pert and taut and pointing north. You are every schoolboy's fantasy.

But someday all of this will go. You will struggle to retain your looks as it slips through your splayed fingers like fine sand. You will languish for hours in front of the mirror dreading the arrival of a new crinkle, a new crease. You will spend an inordinate amount of time fighting it. You will seek help surgically, pharmaceutically, therapeutically. But eventually, you will succumb. What a rude shock that will be!

And one such day I'll open a magazine and inside it, I'll find a photo of you. Wrinkled, looking more your age. And I will smile at the little caption at the bottom.'Former Beauty Queen'.

Friday, February 09, 2007

A quick tale 166

Aged 76

Don't listen to what they say. They have no clue how good this makes me feel. Ignore your mother. For what does she know? I know people think it's odd that you should address me by my first name. But what's their problem if I'm fine with it? You see, when you get to my age, there are few people left to call you by name. Just the other day I met a friend of your mother's. And she introduced me to her husband as 'So-&-So's Amma'. I don't think she even knew my name. I'm sure there are a whole lot of others to whom I'm just 'Mrs So-&-So' or 'Such-&-Such Aunty' or 'This-or-That Paati'. Sometimes I long to be just me. I yearn to hear my name called out. Like my mother used to. When she wanted me to come inside because it was getting dark. Like my father would when came home from work and didn't find me rushing to greet him. Like your grandfather did when he wrote all those wonderful letters to me, all those years ago. You, my child, take me back to the time when I too was a young girl. And everybody knew my name.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A quick tale 165


It's depressing if you think about it. This chunk of cake in my hand has about 225 calories. I need to run for 30 minutes on the treadmill at 6 miles per hour to work it off. I could have chosen an apple for dessert but I had to pick this one. And a large piece at that. I look down on it and see that I've already chomped my way through half the slice. I go to the kitchen and I cut out an even larger piece. I offer it to you. Your eyes are glued to the TV screen and you take the plate from me without so much as a glance in my direction. From the corner of my eyes, I watch you eat it. I wait till you have finished your cake. And then I take bite from my own. It tastes much better already.

A quick tale 164

Morning Story

From where you are you can hear muffled talk next door. The kids are up, you note. The older one giggles. You smile. She's just like her father. Somewhere in the house a door opens. Milk, you tell yourself. Soon you will have to be up and pursue the various strands of domestic activity. You'll have to get hold of the plumber today and fix the dripping tap. It has been leaking for far too long. You have also got to remember to pay the electricity bill. Which brings to mind, where did you note down the reading from the last quarter? The kids will have to be woken up, dressed, fed and dropped off at school. After that you have to do some grocery shopping. You are running low on cooking oil and rice. On your way back, you must remember to stop by at the old neighbour's house and enquire about his well-being. It's been a week since you found out that he fell down and broke his ankle. But you cannot spend too much time there and you'll have to excuse yourself pretty soon. Today's Thursday and tomorrow is the last day to send in the application that you have barely started filling in. And in case it needs to be written in black ink, you have to remember to buy some black pens when you are out in the market. But for the moment, you lie back in bed, savouring the last vestiges of sleep. Your day is about to begin shortly.

Monday, February 05, 2007

A quick tale 163

Hello, hello

You are in the shower after a long day at work. The phone rings. Let it ring, you think. Let that damn thing ring. Five trings and the phone stops. You start to wonder who it might have been. You look at the clock. It’s half past nine in the evening. Who would have wanted to speak to you at this late? Could it have been the boss? No, he’d have used the mobile. Your best friend perhaps? No, she’s out of town. Was it your mother? Possibly, yes. May be she wanted to speak to you urgently. Why? What could have happened? Is she ill? Did she fall down the stairs? Did she break an arm? Did she feel a shooting pain down the left side of her body and reach for the phone to call her daughter who was too busy relaxing to answer her desperate call for help? Thoughts are racing through your head when the phone goes off again. You dart out of the bathroom and lunge for the receiver. It’s a telemarketer. Would you like a new credit card?, he asks. At least mum’s alright, you think. Sure, you answer, but let me get myself a towel first.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

A quick tale 162

Sun TV is on Channel 56

Your daughter is sleeping in her cot at the moment. She has had a difficult morning. She was very tetchy and wouldn’t let me put her down. I had to carry her around in my arms as I went about the chores. I think she is teething. The reason I’m telling you all this is because I don’t want you to worry about her after I’ve gone back.

How funny that I should be the one reassuring you now. Do you remember how it was when I first came here? You had to teach me everything and would call me from work almost half a dozen times a day! Don’t put the metal spoon in the microwave oven. Don’t burn your incense inside the house (that will set off the smoke alarm, I now know). This is for hot water and this for cold. Sun TV on channel 56. Dial 911 for emergencies. It was like being a child again. You even had to teach me how to use the bathroom without getting the whole place wet.

At first I was worried about being left alone in your large house while the two of you were away at work. The silence was unfamiliar and overwhelming. I found myself frequently in tears. But with every passing week and with the arrival of the new born, I’ve grown accustomed to the surroundings. Days slip by quickly and I look forward to the weekends when you take me out. I get a chance to look at the country I’ve heard so much about. I’m proud of how far you’ve come my child and I love you dearly. Soon I will have to leave you. I will miss you. But I will also be happy to be back home.


p.s. Don’t put off having a second child. Your mother is getting old. And the winter here is very painful on her knees.