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Voicing Silence 7

Thursday, March 30, 2006

A quick tale 120

For a young girl who recently made a remark about my age.

Eww, I can see her making a face. Wrinkling her nose in disgust. Old women! Yewww! They smell, she thinks. And they got chin on their hair. And they can't control their bladder very well. I know an old woman, she tells her friends, who hauls up her boobs over her shoulder much like a sari pallu. Old women, she says while shuddering involuntarily, have ugly bottoms. They wear lumpy underwear. Old women, she confides at an uncharitable moment, should be banished. Better still, she adds as an afterthought, old women should be made to suffer each other. She collapses with laughter at the thought of withered ladies huddled together like penguins to keep each other warm.

Bah! I tell you this, young lady. Someday, you too will lose your firm skin and start wearing Tena Lady. Some day, I bet, some day.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A quick tale 119

A lift home

It is one of those rare occasions when he is in a car with someone he barely knows. She had offered to drop him home because it was on her way. And he accepted. Now there's 45 minutes of journey time to be filled with conversation. He starts off by thanking her very much for the offer. Oh it's nothing, she dismisses. And that's the end of that. So he sits trying to think of another conversation starter. Her work. How long has she been at the job, he asks. 18 months. And before that? She used to be in a different job. Oh, ok. And what was that, he wonders. Same thing, she says. Oh, ok. And why did she leave her earlier job? The boss harrassed me. He is sorry to hear that. More silence follows.

Should he ask her about her family? May be something less personal. Perhaps cricket. Or politics. Or reality tv. He looks up and remarks how terrible the weather is. Yes, she nods, terrible weather indeed. Nice shoes, he says. Yeah, thanks. I've always liked good shoes, he says, god, I love a pair of good legs. He does not know how the last bit slipped out. Awkward pause. I didn't mean it that way, he stumbles. You have nice legs. And I like a woman with good legs. But I don't fancy you. Not that you are not fancyable. But you're not my kind. He rambles uncontrollably. Do I take a right here? she asks. He can sense the iciness in her tone. Yes, please. The next house on the left. He gets out, thanks her, runs inside and shuts himself into a closet. He doesn't want to see another human for the next ten years.

Friday, March 24, 2006

A quick tale 118

Remembering mother

Some nights I wake up wondering if your nose was as I remember it. Sharp and defined. I remember you used to tie your wispy thin hair with a string stripped from the bark of a banana tree. I used to pull it to annoy you. 'As if I have 6 feet of hair for you to play with! Go away', you would rebuke me while re-tying the sad bunch into an indistinct bundle. And your voice. A while ago, I was worried that I was starting to forget the sound of your voice. But one day, out-of-the-blue, I remembered the children's rhyme you used to sing. Something about running squirrels and yellow pumpkins. I recalled your voice in an instant.

When I look at myself in the mirror these days, I compare my reflection with your photo. Same eyes, nose. And when I brush back my hair, I can see where I get my broad forehead from. Funnily enough, I never inherited your love for coffee. They say that you used to run through the back door to your mother's house for an extra gulp. Did you really do that?

As far as I can recall, you never complained. But you had quite a temper. The other day I heard someone mention that you were an ocean of patience. How we tend to bestow upon the departed a uniformly genial disposition. As your first born, I often bore the brunt of your short fuse. You would pinch me on my thigh and I would howl with pain. I only have to close my eyes and it stings even today. I cannot believe you have been gone for so long. I still remember telling the younger ones that you will be back soon. Because it was getting dark and you would never stay out after sunset. I refused to believe that you were not coming back. I was angry at you for a long time for neglecting us. But at nights, I would talk to you. I told you about my graduation. How I took up father's profession. My wedding. The birth of your first grandchild (he was still born). I named my daughter after you. I tell her that she looks like you. May be I just want her to look like you. She is a wonderful mother. Even if she pinches her little boy on his arm once in a while.

My father lost his mother 50 years ago this Tuesday. He was a teenager then. This is an imagined piece.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A quick tale 117

A plan

Atchoo! she will sneeze as soon as she sights him and then proceed to blow her nose loudly into a tissue. That should bring him to her table. If it doesn't, she will go on to moan and groan in a low voice. That should do the trick. And once he comes over, he is bound to enquire about her health. I'm okay, she will whisper in a feeble tone. But he will not be convinced. So he will ask her again how she was really feeling. To be honest, she will begin, my head feels like it is being pounded by a million little red hot hammers. And my body...she will pause unable to continue. She will wipe an imaginary tear from her eye. He will nod like he understands. I know, he will say, I felt the same last week. You must have caught the flu bug from me. I should never have forced you try the soup from my plate. I'm so sorry. He will shake his head several times in contrition. Why don't you go home today? he will offer. But there's so much work to be done, she will sound distraught. Your well-being comes first, he will insist, take the day off. And she will submit reluctantly. For now, she waits. Drumming her fingers on the table.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A quick tale 116

A bit of a nonsense story

He always felt embarrassed when he used the word itinerary. Like laughing at someone's funeral. Or remembering a dirty joke during Physics class. Or fancying your best friend's wife. He could never bring himself to say the word. Why couldn't it just be schedule? Or timetable? Why itinerary? Was it Eye-tinerary? Or It-in-erary? He could never decide. And the 'rary' at the end was positively vulgar. And suddenly, the word seemed to crop up everywhere. On holiday brochures. Guide books. Rock star tour dates. World cup football matches. Everyone seemed to have an itinerary. Heck, even his 8-year old son was given one before he went on a school trip. What's with the word? What's with the world? Itinerary this. Itinerary that.

He'd had enough. So one day, he took a pair of black markers and went around town striking out the word wherever he saw it. He would go into libraries, search out dictionaries and black out the word and its definition. It was his personal battle. His holy war against a world that had embraced itinerary. Psychiatrists saw a troubled mind. Oprah-fans saw a deeply scarred psyche. He needs healing, they murmured behind his back. Did your mother not read you books when you were young? Was your cat run over by a dentist's car? They asked silly questions to get to the root of his problem. The simple answer was that he abhorred the word. And the more he ran away, the more he was chased. The man who did not like itinerary, ran the headline next to his scowling face. Neighbourhood kids made up pathetic rhymes and sang out 'He's hoary! He's hairy! He's lost his i-ti-ne-rary!'.

It had to stop. So the man scribbled the word all over his house. itinerary itinerary itinerary itinerary itinerary itinerary itinerary itinerary itinerary itinerary itinerary itinerary itinerary itinerary itinerary itinerary itinerary itinerary. He surrounded himself with the very demon he was running away from. It seemed to work. He no longer actively disliked the word. And once, when an American friends casually mentioned it, he did not even puke. But just as he was warming to it came a blow. He choked on an artichoke and died instantly. At his funeral service, someone giggled. They might as well have mentioned the word.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A quick tale 115

Wrapping

It sat in front of her, wrapped in shiny, gold paper. With a little red satin bow perched on top. It sat in front of her, like an obedient little girl.
Go on, open it.
She stared at it.
Go on.
She had never been given a gift like this before.
Aren't you curious?
Sometimes her gift would come in a plastic bag.
Oh, c'mon. Open it.
Sometimes it'd just be handed to her. Unwrapped and naked.
Don't you want to know what I got for you?
But often, nothing.
If you don't open it, I will.
She couldn't take her eyes off it.
A hand drew the little box away from her and started to peel the layers of wrapping. She looked away, somehow it didn't feel right to stare.
Stripped of its sheltering, the gift was thrust in front of her.
Like it?
Shiny, ornate, pretty, nude. A jewellery box or something equally unnecessary. She wished the mystery had lasted a little longer.
Love it.

Friday, March 10, 2006

A quick tale 114

At around 5 one afternoon

It has been a bad day so far and you just heard on the news that British Gas is hiking its prices again and that every minute another 100 hectares of tropical rain forests are cleared to make way for commercial crop. You start tuning the car radio when you hear an old pop song. Something silly about love that lasts till the end of time. You hate the song and you hate what is happening to the world and its rising gas prices. You wonder what's the point of eternal love if you have to pay exorbitant bills. Where do you go with love that lasts forever and ever if there's no world in the first place because the environment is fucked up? And all that news about Irish priests abusing children. And people being killed because they did not like a certain cartoon. And George Bush. And now this song about immortal love.

With the song ringing in your ears and spinning in your head, you get out of the car. It's pouring outside and you walk aimlessly. Crying for the world and marvelling at how beautifully awful life is.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A quick tale 113

A letter

Last night I lay awake thinking about you. Wondering where you are right now. Perhaps married. With kids. May be a daughter? Is she the same age now as I was when I met you? 11? Do you worry about what happens to her when she travels by bus? Or walks home from school? Or gets stopped on the road by someone asking her for directions? For you must know what happens to girls in public. How they get fondled. Their breasts touched and squeezed and pinched. How they get rubbed against. From the back. By strangers who press themselves against young girls. Leaving an ugly impression on their minds. Confusing the girls. Who are too young to understand what is happening to them. Too young to have the words to explain to others. Leaving them feeling ashamed and dirty.
Do you accompany your daughter when she goes to tuition class?Do you tell her to carry an umbrella with her no matter what the weather? Do you tell her why?
Do you lay awake at nights wondering about the girl you touched all those years ago? Do you wonder where she is now? And whether she is married and has kids. And if she warns her daughter about the men who don't see her as a child? Do you worry about it coming back to haunt you? It always does. As I write this, there's someone watching your daughter. And she is about to lose her innocence. Very, very soon.

Related link: Blank Noise Project

Saturday, March 04, 2006

A quick tale 112

Parcel

‘This came for you by this afternoon’s post’, said the elderly neighbour handing her a parcel. She thanked him and was about to leave when the old man said ‘it seems rather bulky’.
‘…’
‘It was quite heavy when the postman gave it to me’, he continued.
‘…’
‘He was about to leave when he found your apartment locked. I offered to take it in for you’
‘Thank you for doing that’
‘Is there anything breakable inside?’
‘No, no’
‘It’s a little late for a Christmas present’
‘…’
‘Unless it’s your birthday or something’
‘No, no’
‘It’s from the USA…it says so on the package’
‘…’
‘Must be expensive. The postage cost’
‘…’
‘I used to send blood pressure medicines to my brother in England. The stamps used to cost more than the medicines itself’
‘…’
‘You look tired. Would you like me to carry the package for you till your door?’
‘No, no, I’m fine’
‘Look, they’ve misspelt your name on the package. Two As instead of one’
‘…’
‘I don’t know how they managed to wrap it so well’
‘…’
‘The package has travelled half way across the world and still not a single tear’
‘…’
‘It must be something very important for it to be shipped from America’
‘…’
‘Are you sure you don’t want me to carry it for you?’
‘No, I’m fine, really’
‘You see, the package must be…’
She didn’t wait for the old man to finish. She sprinted down the hallway to her apartment holding the parcel close to her chest.

**

‘Looks like you were up well past midnight’, greeted the old man as she was leaving for work the next morning. ‘I saw the light burning in your apartment’.
‘…’
‘Must be that thing in the parcel…’
‘…’
‘Listen, why don’t you come home for dinner tonight? Sheela has made some excellent halwa and you can have a taste of that. Yes? Good. See you at 7 tonight’

**

‘Have some more rice. Look, you are so thin…’, said the old man piling her plate with delicately spiced rice.
‘But...’, she protested weakly.
‘None of that. Sheela, serve her some more rotis. Yes, two more’
‘…’
‘At your age, I used to eat 20 chapathis in one go. These days you young people hardly eat anything. So little food, so little sleep. And all that staying up late night…’
‘…’
‘So were you working last night?’
‘Mmm’, she said, thankful for the food in her mouth that stopped her from saying more.
‘And that parcel?’
‘…’
‘It must’ve been work papers then’, he reasoned, more to himself
‘…’
‘But from USA?’
‘…’
‘And the parcel rattled when I shook it. Cannot have been papers inside…’
‘…’
‘Nothing fragile either. It did not say ‘Handle with care’ on top. No papers, no glass…’
‘Will you stop going on about the parcel? Can’t you see? The girl is getting tired. She has to be up early tomorrow for work’, chided the wife bringing the old man’s grilling to an abrupt halt.

**

‘They took Shinde-saab away in an ambulance this morning. Must be around 6 o’clock…’ The watchman gave her details of the hospital where the old man had been rushed to after he complained of chest pain.

**

She was one of the last people to see the old man alive. Around 3 pm that afternoon, his wife Sheela wanted to go to the toilet and for a brief period the old man was left alone in the company of his young neighbour. She bent down low and whispered something in his ears. He passed away a few hours later. They said he looked peaceful, just like was sleeping. Some mourners even noticed a faint trace of a smile on his face. But they dismissed it as a figment of their imagination. They shouldn’t have.