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Tide - 27

Part - 27

The woman Padmaja spots in the far corner of the music hall looks familiar. The hair is the same as she remembers, only it has grown wispier and more threadbare in the intervening years. The woman wears a saree that seems to have been hastily draped like a giftwrapper that's too big for a small parcel - bunched up here, crumpled there. But did someone just refer to her as Dr. Gulati? Padmaja hears the woman's throaty laugh and that clears the last of her doubts about her identity. As if on cue, the woman too recognises Padmaja and quickly peels away to get closer.
“Padmaja! How are you dee?”, Sudha demands hugging her.
“Sudha, how are you? You're now Dr. Gulati?”
“Yes, Punjabi husband. Kept the name, lost the man. You look the same.”
Sudha is a professor of Anthropology at a University in Delhi and she is in town for a conference with her American friend Brad.
“Come visit me in Delhi, Padmaja. My project will be over soon and once Brad goes back...”
Seeing Pa…

Tide - 26

Part - 26

“When I was little, my mother used to talk about someone called Ammani athai”, Padmaja begins while attempting to reduce the volume on the car stereo. Saktivel deftly twists the dial to zero and in the hum of the car's airconditioner, Padmaja continues.
“Ammani athai was my mother's aunt who never married and lived with her brother - my mother's father and his family - until the day she died. Amma would bring up Ammani athai's name whenever she would tell us about the perils of not marrying young and the dangers of growing old lonely. My mother used to say that we all need to get married so we can grow old with someone.”
“We all fear that.”
Padmaja shook her head.
“You see, loneliness has nothing to do with being around people or not. My mother was wrong about Ammani athai. She was old but she was far from lonely.”
Padmaja turns the volume dial so car is filled with sounds from the radio.
“Doctor, if you can drop me off at the next bus stop, I should be…

Tide - 25

Part - 25

“Let me do that”, he says taking the light bulb forcibly from her hands.
The light has blown a fuse that evening when Dr. Saktivel has dropped by at Padmaja's flat on his way back from a late meeting at the hospital where he is a consultant.
Padmaja drags a step ladder but Dr. Saktivel (“please call me Sakti, like everyone does”) insists that he is too tall for it and instead just raises himself on his tiptoes while trying to screw the bulb into the groove. The bulb slips out of his hands, landing on the floor into a thousand scatterings.
“Sorry, sorry, I'm much more trouble than help.”
Padmaja does her best to reassure him but he wouldn't be pacified. And in an attempt to redeem himself, he offers to fix the light bulb properly this time. He gingerly climbs on top of a dining chair (“Please listen, I don't need a step ladder. I'm too tall for it, really.”), holds its back to steady himself, stretches to his full height and inspects the job he has o…

Tide - 24

Part - 24

They are sitting in an auditorium as it begins to fill up, soon it will be swarming. Good thing they were able to get in early and settle into the best seats.
“That there is Samyuktha's mother”, says Sanjana pointing out to a someone a couple of rows in front of them, adding quickly, “don't look, don't look, Amma. I don't want to be asking her how she is and then have to listen to all the details of her father-in-law's hernia operation.”.
“Remind me once again what's Tara's role in the play?”, asks Padmaja looking away as directed by her daughter.
“She's playing Soorpanakai. Guess who's got the prized role of Seethai? Yes, Samyuktha, of course.”
“I'd rather she was a feisty Soorpanakai than a placid Seethai, any day.”
Soon the bustle dims, the lights mute, the curtains heave and the musical commences. Tara has transformed herself as Ravana's fabled younger sister. With her hair unbound, her face tear streaked, Tara conveys th…

Tide - 23

Part- 23

Out of nowhere, a memory comes unbidden. Padmaja is newly-married and she is visiting a temple along with a clamour of uncles and aunts and their children. They were to travel eight hours in a dusty bus to reach a far out temple in a distant village where the ancestors once lived. All through the journey, Padmaja sits next to Sudha, a 16-year old girl from her husband's family. Sudha is a thin girl with clothes that seem to float around her. Her wiry, windblown hair defies any attempt to be subdued into a plait. Her face bears a scowl throughout the bus ride and when she smiles, her frown remains frozen while the lower half of her face thaws into mobility.
“I don't care for this trip, I just want to go home”, Sudha mutters as they ease out of the bus for a toilet break. The men stand with their backs to the bus, urinating luxuriously on a dilapidated wall as the women shuffle out quickly, looking for a semi-private space so they may squat quickly and discreetly.

Tide - 22

Part - 22
“How old were you when this photo was taken, paati?”
The school had been flooded and Tara was there to spend the day with her grandmother before being collected by her mother on her way back home.
“Let me see, it was taken a week after we got married...I was very young at that time.”
“You look so different then”
“It was a long, long time ago”
“Was yours an arranged marriage or a love marriage, paati?”
“We did not have anything called love marriage back then. It was only invented after people started watching movies.”
A long time ago, when Padmaja was a young girl but not quite a woman, an aunt had once remarked, “poor thing, at this rate he will have to be very blind to marry her” and her mother had laughed along with everyone else. Later that night, lying next to Padmaja, her mother had held her hand tight and whispered that she did not want to offend her aunt and not laugh at her jokes, especially since she had been so kind in lending them some money to tide over tough t…

Tide - 21

Part - 21

“I was going to tell you that my car brokedown nearby. Then I thought that sounded feeble as an excuse, even to my own ears. Then I thought I'd tell you that I was just passing by and thought I'd drop in to see how you were. We are both well past that age of pretending, aren't we? Truth is, I have nothing to do today, so I just decided to knock on your door. Are you okay, Padmaja? I'm sorry if I disturbed you or something. I could always come back another time, you know.”
“No, no, not at all. Please do come in. That's my grand-daughter Tara. Say hello to Dr. Saktivel, Tara. Would you like some coffee, Dr.?”

Tide - 20

Part - 20
“Padma, you know the doctor you told me about? Dr. Velmurgan or something”
“You know very well what his name is, Kamakshi”
“I mean, Dr. Saktivel”
“Yes, what about him?”
“You know the knee pain I have been telling you about? It seems to have worsened this last week. Look, I can barely get to the door without wincing”
“You were absolutely fine till last night when we went walking around the block”
“It has gotten worse overnight, Padma, really. Why would I lie to you?”

“Yes, why would you lie to me?”
“So, will you take me to meet this Dr. Saktivel tomorrow? Before 9 am or after 11 am, preferably. It is Amavasai, auspicious day”
“He is a peadiatrician, Kamakshi”
“Oh, that's okay. He's still a doctor. Shall we go then?”
“No”

“Hello, Padma? It's only me, Kamakshi. Do you remember Jayalakshmi from D block, ground floor? Yes, the fat one with glasses. Yes, the same one whose daughter eloped with her tuition master. You know her, don't you? It seems her grands…

Tide - 19

Part - 19
Saktivel had married Srivalli, a girl chosen by his parents. They had had two sons who were now 32 and 30 respectively. When the children were just 9 and 7, their mother had met with an accident that took away her life instantly. The next two decades, Saktivel juggled his work with bringing up his boys – it helped that his parents were with him but the pain of losing his wife never really went away. It was only a couple of years ago, now that both his sons had families of their own, that he has started to look at his own life.
“I was surprised you asked me in for coffee”, he says, gathering crumbs with his finger tip from the small plate that had not long ago, held some biscuits.
Padmaja does not know what to say and instead bites into a large chunk of biscuit, nibbling which she wonders how to respond to the statement.
The conversation had progressed naturally up until that point. They had each in turn updated the other on their lives and those of their family member…

Tide - 18

Part - 18 When she is by herself, Padmaja does not bother cooking elaborate meals. Often it is just some rice and vegetable. But when Tara comes over, Padmaja brings out her big pressure cooker and the last time she cooked with it, the steam had escaped and it had burnt the bottom of the pan. She had needed a pressure cooker valve and she had gone down to the store to get a new one.
It was her idea of hell. Shopping for a pressure cooker valve in a shop like this one. She wants to stop each and every single one of them and ask them if they really, really needed what they had just bought. Like that slick young man in tight trousers and purple t-shirt. 'Thambi, do you have a big enough kitchen for that vaanali? What will you use it for? Who is it for? Can you cook?'. Or that elderly couple looking at the different models of mixies. Most likely on their way to America to help with their daughter's pregnancy and shopping for a mixie suitable for the American electrical syste…

Tide - 17

Part - 17 “Are you waiting for me, Kamakshi?”, asked Padmaja a little breathless from climbing the stair case. She had never been particularly slim. But lately, she had noticed a tightening of her blouses, particularly around her upper arm that she taken to using the stairs over the lift.
“Hmm? Everything okay? Why do you want me to keep quiet? What is the matter, Kamakshi?”, Padmaja reeled off questions with mounting alarm.
“It's nothing”, hissed Kamakshi between gritted teeth guiding her neighbour by the arm away from her own door. “Come in to my house. I need to tell you something, Padmaja”.
And once inside, Kamakshi's behaviour was even more erratic. She said something about a letter and answering and now meeting someone and the man waiting for her at home.
“Where?”, demanded Padmaja.
Kamakshi silently pointed her finger at her neighhour.
“Where? In my house?”
Kamakshi nodded.
“Have you gone mad, Kamakshi? I gave you the keys in case you don't see me for days a…

Becoming British, Being Indian

The other day I had been to the Indian High Commission in London. I had heard horror stories about the chaos and lack of order at our national HQ in the UK that I was pleasantly surprised at how organised everything was. I took my ticket, found myself a seat and got waiting. It was a long wait and as you do on when you have time weighing heavy on your hands, I got talking to the lady next to me. Mrs. Kapoor had come to the UK as a newly wed in 1969, surrendered her Indian passport when she took British citizenship in 1975 and like me, was there to get her Overseas Citizen of India card. Her siblings and other relatives were passing away regularly and she reckoned, with all the resignation of the frequently bereaved, that she could not be hanging about for a visa to go to India when she was required urgently there and that she needed a permanent visa that an overseas Indian citizenship accorded.

It was only when I had settled into my seat that I realised that…