Was

I am travelling to Madurai for my colleague’s wedding. She is not a friend; I pass reports across her to my manager sitting beyond. That is it.

On all sides of the chugging compartment are people from my office. Even my condescending manager and his officious assistant are there in an undisturbed corner. My two neighbours keep their energy in check, unable to do anything exultant with me beside. You would see the energy of people increasing as you go farther and farther away from me.

Had this journey happened a fortnight ago, my mother would have called me on phone for every station I passed. She becomes passionately restless if her knowledge of my whereabouts and well-being starts to become unsure. However, I still think of her in the present tense, as if she still lived; but somehow, ‘She was’ sounds very odd.

Death is always happening, but the instantaneous stop takes time to register; much time if the dead is your mother.

She always had this pure, well-meaning concern for brides known, or heard or dreamt. She would begin a sincere prayer for the life of the bride, and would express satisfaction whenever she heard the woman was doing well. I think it was because her expectations from her own marriage were shattered by itself. Well, with a doubtful lawyer for a husband, doubtful not only in court but also at home, expectations are meaningless to expect. He still doubts my mother had a lover as a young girl, but I knew she was a ten, and he was so imperfect and ill-fitting for her.

We are travelling to the mandapam the marriage is to take place in. Homogeneous people busily go and come and sell and smile. But nothing sticks, except images of mother-son duo wherever seen. As we pass urbanised rural areas, I see a cat frantically running from under a tree to the next with the nape of its littlest kitten so carefully caught between its lips. Mothers always seem to be anxious.

After bath we join the ceremony. A reception is happening, and now we are standing in a line to wish the couple and present our collective gift. The manager has not joined us; he must be sitting somewhere with his officious assistant stooping beside.

We are in the dais now with the couple. The man is in a suit and my colleague – she is not happy exclusively by my presence there, but shows her teeth nevertheless – is in a north-Indian garb. We take a group photo, the gift is handed over, hands are shaken and warm embraces are made. As we begin to descend on the other side, I don’t know why but I stop. Taking my mother’s golden ring, I present it unthinkingly to the bride. She looks at me for too long, so I drop it onto her palm and leave. Mother would have done that; nice and kind she is. Was.

Reflections of a Mirror

I don’t know how else I would have talked if not for this long worldly association of mine. In my period of pristine shining, the entirety of my following expression would have been reduced to two sentences of uninvested commentary.

Well, what I was going to say was, I don’t like this boy. Very unlike his disciplined grandfather and piteous father he is. I have observed his grandfather right from the days of his schooling. He was virtue itself in the shape of a man. After his bath, he would pull me, and from the cupboard within, take a bottle of coconut oil and apply a palm of it to his dense straight hair. With head bent, as if in the presence of superiority, he would tie the towel round his vitals and exit the bathroom without a glance at me. Upon marriage to a girl after completion of his Law, he would very occasionally look at me when he came in the night. Maybe, at these times, he saw his little wife in me, because he used to show some of his teeth and redden at the sides. Such a product he was. If I had had eyes, they would have emptied themselves on the day he died.

His son was not unlikeable. I have been seeing him from that night he was considered mature by his parents and was introduced to the usage of our eastern toilet. In his college he studied not Law but Medicine. He would come in the night and practise his proposed manoeuvres aiming in his mind the attainment of his lady junior’s hand. He used to bring in roses and extend them to me a thousand times, all done differently without exhaustion. He used to squat without purpose and write love letters and later hide them in the joints of the cupboard within me. But his attempts stopped at these, it seemed. Because he ended up marrying a woman of his father’s choice, while his was tragically married off to another.

However, his son – the boy who makes me close my eyes every time he stands before me (the frequency of which exceeds the cumulative scored by his previous two generations) – is very different. I can’t know what is happening outside this bathroom, but with strength I can say the world is spinning in the wrong direction. He does things here in the bathroom that make me ashamed. I haven’t learnt the words to describe them, but I know he is self-obsessed and dreamy and perverse. Daily he takes a marathon of smokes, all in secrecy, hides the stubs in the joints of the cupboard within me and makes me smell so bad. At nights, particularly at late hours, he brings his classmates – boys with tattoos and girls of polished arms. Well, I don’t have problems with tattoos and polished arms, but I certainly mind the dark liquid they take turns to drink before me. On one such night, the boy locked the bathroom and took from within me a cylinder of perfume. He sprayed too much of it that he began to sneeze ceaselessly. Sprays of phlegm were sprinkled on me. I couldn’t stay there, held by wood, thinking I was having on me the despicable’s droplets! But, soon after, a girl came in to pose in all ways before me, with her hands on various places of herself, and then raised her camera to capture a pout. At last, in an attempt to simulate the touch of her opposite, she blindly walked her long fingers all over me and finally took them to her face. In her excited process, she wiped me clean.

Whatever the case is, I certainly don’t like this boy. I prefer his grandfather in his place, which, I admit I am aware, is impossible. To this day, like a true romantic, I breathe in the present, but live in the past, of days when the air smelt of coconut oil and the word ‘bathroom’ meant what it meant.

Empty White

With body under cuffs

from days of unrest

and mind poisonously stale

from guilty nights spent

away from my wooden,

I bend over sheets,

for time – the wanted,

the suspect, the robber –

is caught in my grip.

 

I look for light

for my mind wants to fly,

but in the night that sits

I only see empty white.

Parker point scratches

while my eyes stare walls.

I look down for words,

but what I see

my baby could have done.

 

Another wrinkled ball

joins that hateful bin.

My wife’s aroma kindles

the cement doorstep outside.

Surprise rents her face, for

with paper and pen I sit.

‘A story? A poem?’ escapes,

but not from my mind.

A weak smile. She gets it.

 

Four little paws crawl

eagerly to my wife. She,

brightening, picks the doll.

Sounds she makes, names

she calls. More Joy is the reply.

When their eyes meet,

I know something happens.

But what it is, neither says.

Evening. Flowers. Music.

 

Freshened from their sight

I begin again. Words seep:

‘With body under cuffs…’

A tumbler of coffee sits by.

Purity lies on love’s lap.

As two eyes close in peace,

the lullaby carefully shrinks.

Our eyes meet. I know this.

Night.Mattress. Silence.