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Voicing Silence 7

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A quick tale 146

Neighbour

Each time I look at your washing line, I wonder how you manage to spread your laundry out so tidily. Every item of clothing stretched across the line and pinched at the ends with plastic pegs. Smooth and without a crease. As if you had ironed them before hanging them out to dry. This morning I noticed an extra vest along with the usual. It hung limp from the clips that held it. Curiously resembling a deflated balloon. Whose is it? Your father-in-law's, perhaps? How long will he be staying? I noticed that you had brought your silk saree out for an airing last week. Is there a wedding in the family? Are you going to be wearing your favourite mango-coloured blouse again? Remember to mend it because I saw a small tear near the sleeve last time.

Now that the rains have stopped, I hope you will start washing the blankets and pillow covers. They must've gone musty from the damp season. Do you still have the white sheets with tiny blue flowers on it? I liked them so much that I went to the store the very next day to buy the same ones for me. But they were all sold out. They're probably the only blues in your house. Because I know you favour reds and oranges. Except for that pale green chiffon saree that I saw you pick up from the washing line on the 23rd of last month.

Your little ones are growing up so fast. It wasn't long ago that I saw squares of cotton cloth being hung out to dry. Already, there are school uniforms. Do you ever look at my clothesline and wonder about me? Do you notice that there are no tiny frocks or little pants fluttering alongside the man's shirt and the woman's saree? You are probably too busy to indulge in idle speculation. Which reminds me, it was so windy yesterday that one of your handkerchieves was blown across the terrace and landed on ours. Is it alright if I kept it?

Monday, June 26, 2006

A quick tale 145

Sorry

I'm about set in motion a series of events which I will come to regret almost immediately. My bottom is racing towards your sofa and I will be unable to stop it in time. Soon I will sink into the inviting warmth of your cushions. I will just have surrendered myself to the enveloping cosiness of your pillows. When I'll hear a soft but perceptible crack. There will be exclamatory signs across the room. And all eyes will turn towards me. I think I just sat on your glasses. Sorry.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

And now for something different

Came across this little gem in yesterday's paper. I wish I'd written it.
-a

Not Yet My Mother

Yesterday I found a photo
of you at seventeen,
holding a horse and smiling,
not yet my mother.

The tight riding hat hid your hair,
and your legs were still the long shins of a boy's.
You held the horse by the halter,
your hand a fist under its huge jaw.

The blown trees were still in the background
and the sky was grained by the old film stock,
but what caught me was your face,
which was mine.

And I thought, just for a second, that you were me.
But then I saw the woman's jacket,
nipped at the waist, the ballooned jodhpurs,
and of course the date, scratched in the corner.

All of which told me again,
that this was you at seventeen, holding a horse
and smiling, not yet my mother,
although I was clearly already your child.

-Owen Sheers

Friday, June 23, 2006

A quick tale 144

The Collection

The next time you visit Nagamma, ask to see her calendars. What calendars?, she will demand indignantly. The old ones, you tell her. She will deny having such a collection. But persist at it. And at some point, she will relent and will lead you to the kitchen. There, she will say, pointing to the huge pile stacked on top of the kitchen shelf as if supporting the ceiling. Bring it down to the floor carefully. But beware, it weighs a ton and layers and layers of dust would've settled on it. So wear a mask if you are allergic to dust. Clear the cobwebs and you will see that the calendars go back all way to the 1950s and 1960s.

In fact, if I remember right, the earliest one is a compliment from Lakshmi Printers, Erode for the year 1949. It has an image of Lord Siva in his abode in Kailasa. Someone told Nagamma that it was inauspicious to have a picture of Siva in the house. So she put it away where eyes couldn't see it. For Nagamma couldn't bring herself to discard the calendar with its religious depiction. It would surely bring ill-luck, she believed. And that's how it all started. Each year, she would pray that the calendars would have photos of babies, nature, mountain, waterfalls, anything but gods. But each new year brought a fresh lot of calendars and a new set of gods and goddesses adorning them. I reckon Nagamma now has the entire Hindu pantheon stashed away in her makeshift loft.

They have changed a lot over the years. In the 50s and 60s, the goddesses used to look like English women. Pale skin, smooth features. By contrast, the ones in the 70s and 80s all looked like movie stars of that era. Look up the one from 1986, yes, the one from Vijaya Traders, Coimbatore. The resemblance to Sridevi is striking, isn't it? But don't ever tell Nagamma that. She will be furious and she'll have you out on the streets.

These days, Nagamma is too old to climb the ladder and bring them down herself. So she looks up at them, at her outdated pyramid of calendars, and remembers the good times. And the days when the gods smiled on her.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

A quick tale 143

Lift

Three....two...one...ground floor. My eyes follow the lift's descent as it comes to rest with a gentle thud. I wait impatiently for the doors to slide open when I see you scurrying to join me. Damn! Why can't you wait and take the next one? I quickly shuffle inside and look the other way. Which?, I demand. Eighth, you answer. Three floors before I get off. Good. I press the buttons. An awkward silence follows. I busy myself with my bag. Like I'm searching for something important. I find a ball-point pen. From the corner of my eye I see you looking at me. Please don't start talking. I have no interest in you. I'm still looking inside my bag. Sanitary pads, chewing gums, train tickets, spare change, car keys, band-aids, old bills.

Where are we now? Still only on the 4th floor! Why are these lifts always supremely lethargic? You cough. I can feel a question coming. Something inanely pointless. That strangers stuck in a lift together feel compelled to ask. Usually about the weather. Please don't start. I'll ignore you. I promise I will. Look, we're on the 6th floor already. Not long to go. So don't start now. You cough again. Oh dear, don't. Ah, yes, I've just found my mobile phone in my bag. I'll start fiddling with it. That should deter you from trying to make conversation. The lift is slowing. After an eternity, it finally eases to a stop. I can feel my shoulders sag with relief as I see you walking out of the door. And that's when I notice. You stuff your mobile phone into your shirt pocket. As if you had been fiddling with it all along.

Friday, June 16, 2006

A quick tale 142

Sometime between 7 and half past, this morning

It had to come to this sooner or later. But you've been putting it off because it just seemed so wrong. After all, he's been your milkman for as long as you can remember. In the early days, the milk would be there no matter how early you woke up. You had a little competition going on with him (though he never knew of it), to see if you could catch him delivering the milk. And on days when you saw his little milk float pulling up at your gate, you marked a little star in your diary. But over the years, the stars have become more and more frequent. As his delivery became increasingly erratic. And some days, the little glass bottles would reach your doorstep at noon. You've tolerated it for so long, inventing excuses for him. Oh, the poor missus must be ill. The rains have wrecked the roads, delaying him indefinitely. He really must do something about the cough, it is slowing him down. But today, with the fridge empty and the kids waiting for their breakfast, you've had enough. You sit down to write a note asking him to stop delivering milk. You just wish you knew where to begin.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A quick tale 141

Rumination on a pair of shoes

This morning, while on your jog, you notice a pair of shoes sitting on the side walk. You look around to see if there is a pair of feet that is meant for them. You see nothing. What an unusual place for them to lying in, you murmur before bending down for a closer inspection. The sole is slightly worn and the mouth somewhat askew. From where you are crouching, the trainers looks like two old men sleeping with their mouths wide open. Who could have cast off a perfectly good pair of shoes?, you wonder. Did she, in the middle of a fierce row with him, grab his shoes while aiming for a more crucial piece of clothing? And having grabbed them and yanked them off his feet, did she fling them out of the car? If so, how did they land next to each other? As if someone had placed them tidily, side-by-side. Or did someone out on a morning jog, full of philosophical rumination, see in a moment of blinding clarity, the futility of footwear and discard them by the sidewalk? Did he then go on cast off his other irrelevant possessions? His mobile phones, ipods and fabric softeners? What could have come over a person that he abandoned his shoes, arranged them neatly by the side of the road and carried on with the rest of the journey? You look up at the road ahead, you've still got a mile or so to run. You turn your back on the shoes and decide to walk instead.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A quick tale 140

This morning, at breakfast

A man, his name is irrelevant to this story, has just heard on the news that comedian Jerry Lewis has been taken to hospital with pneumonia and is expected to make a full recovery. He is surprised. Not because he doesn't think an octogenarian can survive pneumonia. No, he is not the kind of man who mocks old age. Nor does he question the abilities of modern medical science to pull any man from the brink of death. He is merely surprised by the fact that Jerry Lewis is alive. You see, all this while, he had been under the impression that Jerry is no more. Not that he had actually thought about it. But he had simply added Jerry to the long list of famous people who were no longer active and hence presumed dead. He feels so bad that he sits down to write a long letter of apology to Jerry. And while he's at it, he also decides to look up the state of Jimmy Carter, Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall.

Friday, June 09, 2006

A quick tale 139

Contrition

It's probably nothing. Well, that's what you tell yourself. You see, this morning when you came into the kitchen, you found that the tap had been left running. A steady trickle of water had been flowing down the sink all night. About 10 or 15 litres of water gone waste, you reckon. Enough supply for a small family in drought-stricken Africa to survive on for atleast a couple of days. With prudence, it could have even lasted them a week. But now, all that has gone down the drain. You sigh and tell yourself that it's just water. One strong spell of showers and the deficit would even out. You even put out a bucket out in the garden hoping to catch a few drops in the next drizzle.

Still, you can't seem to shake the image of water-starved children out of your head. Why me, you wonder. What about all those idiots who are using up water to wash their cars and shampoo their dogs and sprinkle their lawns? And who could forget that moron who left his tap running for days in the name of art? How come none of them ever seem to worry about dying Sudanese children? And yet, that evening, when they mention Darfur in the news, you switch channels and look away.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Meanwhile...

I'm sitting on a straightback chair, glass of water in hand and staring vacantly at an empty wall. I'm wondering if I should tell you about the lady who liked to leave tea bags in her mug as she drank from it or about the time when a man woke up with a distant memory and spent the rest of the week trying to remember it all. The glass in my hand is nearly empty and I'm getting up to refill it. I open the tap and watch the glass getting full. I turn it off before it overflows. I'm back on the chair, sitting erect, drinking glass in hand and wondering if I should hang a painting on the empty wall. I'm yet to decide on a story. I will share it with you when I do. I can hear a drip-drip-drip. I'm getting up to check on the tap.