She Face

On my 22nd birthday I said ‘Nothing,’ to my father when he asked me what I wanted for a gift.

I have spent all these years in unfelt luxury – so part of home, school, (the car trip between) and family vacations that luxury metaphored as life for me.

But in this one year I have been working, doors came open; new people, those from unfamiliar backgrounds, new ways of carrying out life fell into my view, bringing to my knowledge the carefully knit blanket of my own social ignorance.

This sudden exposure has made me question everything – from the increasingly capitalistic working of day-to-day life to the innermost intentions of every human interaction; like a curious baby wanting to touch and feel every part of its world.

So here I am, an unbridled horse, let loose and galloping wild in its capacity of youth, with an unsettling doubtfulness tagging along by the tail.

Sometimes to rest the mind, this horse goes farther. To places and characters well-defined, in contrast to life, and neatly put down in papers. Flaubert is a tonic. In my most self-conscious moments, as I think of my new surroundings and my role in them, I fall into the comfortable trap of considering myself a romantic, as a protagonist making sense of life in the sort of experiences he has only been reading about.

(Given the times we live in, it becomes imperative to declare I am not drawn to the romances of Bhagat and Singh and their cohort of self-proclaimed bestselling authors. I would like to think I belong to the classical period, the finer ground.)

Opposite my house is a newly constructed bungalow. On the first floor, in the façade, opens a baroque-like window showing me a face, which when I turn away and collect my thoughts I realise stands for concrete meanings, an embodiment of my mature imaginings and which, in a moment of truth, belittles my self-worth and makes me feel inferior.

I find it difficult to look at it at a stretch, afraid she would catch me, even though she is always bent down, perhaps fixed on the garden below.

I see this portrait twice every day; very warm when I start for work, nightly cold once I am back. At all times, her face carries a cosmetic of sadness and poses a mystery, making it all the more attractive and intriguing.

The she face

Original illustration by Swathi Venkateswaran*

I see her father is a proud man, expectedly snob. His wife is nothing less. However, in my comparison, I guess our riches could be matched and that my family would not be embarrassed in calculating for the girl’s hand.

A week before today her parents crossed over and visited mine. They were very happy to invite us to a party they were throwing.

Today evening, I dress to my best, thinking I would get to say hello to the girl, and if lucky, shake her hand.

It is a very swish party; the music is contemporary, maybe even futuristic; red wine keeps flowing from bottles to perpetually empty glasses, bringing to mind the generous stock of blood in a Tarantino; cummerbunds, with rinds for faces, sail on the lawn, always attentive to any turn of the head; young women, trending with 1970’s Hollywood fits now, are supple in their movements, their practised English creating a cacophony; some old women, all with cropped white heads like an agreed uniform, discuss post-millennial Indian feminism; the lights are minimalistic and that aches my searching eyes.

My mother and father have gone into groups that take people like my mother and father. My counterparts, young men and women, are in a gel, and as if by a tacit understanding I ignore them and they ignore me. It is very amusing to see how people of my age instantly categorise me as a foreigner.

She is still not here; or maybe I am so used to seeing her framed face that I am not receptive to her whole now –

She is coming out of the house, unaccompanied and hesitant-or-shy. The usual sadness is dispelled, as if she has only been waiting for this night, and in its place is something stronger I cannot immediately place.

I take a step in her direction, assuming two leftovers would naturally feel belonged when together. As I walk towards her, I prepare. As I walk towards her, I am also deviated to her. She is in a gown that is the colour of tea served in Ladakh. Its hem reaches her – she is gone! She jumps into a car that has been noiselessly revving until that moment and it whisks her off through the gate that opens to the road on the side of the bungalow.

A few minutes of murmur later it is revealed to the paused party that their only girl has eloped with one of their drivers.

The glorious notion that I am a romantic has been built on small negative aspects, like nostalgia, but now, when a tragedy strikes so pitilessly, in the form of a driver getting to take away such a girl, when it dawns upon me that the imaginings of mine she represented are turning into pleasant realities for another, the romantic notion is not at all comfortable, it is throbbing.

Another chapter of formative years.

 

*You can find her other amazing artworks here.

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Kalyana Samayal Saadham

Flash Fiction #15:

The most anticipated marriage of the 1997 NIT-T batch was performing in Madurai. Inside the hall, every body smelt of rose water and every forehead of cool sandal (except Mary’s). Festoons of red and yellow patterned every wall and silks of all colours parcelled every woman. Shankar, Ravi, Prem, Hema and other classmates entered the hall as one cheerful group.

‘Poovalan’ Pavan soon started sighting the young ladies of the occasion, as though reliving his college days, and Latha was already sharing recent gossips with Malini and sister Shalini. Gradually everyone melted in the cacophony of music and chatter, but Chandran, in an aisle seat, looked like he didn’t belong there, like tomato soup placed at the corner of a pure non-vegetarian buffet.

A strong yellow glow filled the stage where the bride was posing with her soon-to-be husband. A photographer was clicking endlessly as family and friends from a long line spent brief moments onstage. Hema waved her hand at the couple until Vidhya noticed and waved back. She then nudged Karthik to see their classmates. The group stood up, waved and cheered at the couple. Vidhya and Karthik teethfully welcomed them all. The hall, many guests and Vidhya standing at a distance were but only a confluence of colours to Chandran; like objects seen through a glass of water.

Cups of Badam Kheer with soaked saffron were being served to all guests. Chandran received his and kept staring at it. Prem, sitting beside, swigged his and inferred that the distributing ladies were not as kind as to serve him another cup. Noticing one full in Chandran’s hands, he plucked it for himself. Chandran loved Badam Kheer, but what could he do! it was his friend’s now.

As time passed, the chairs in the hall were rearranged to form batches of circles. Some joined in at the middle of conversations, some excused themselves out for early dinner. Vidhya and Karthik could no more naturally smile; their cheeks were aching from continuous stretching. All through, Chandran alone stayed stiff.

Malini felt it was time they all went upstage to meet Vidhya and Karthik. So the group got up, adjusted shirt sleeves and sari ends, and approached the stage with Chandran at its tail. With Prem’s urging measure on the ladies to march quickly (he feared dinner would fast get over) the group was soon onstage. Embraces and handshakes were conducted. The photographer had a hard time fitting everyone in his frame. Some had to go behind the couple and some bend knees at the front. Their collective gift – a blue velvet case containing a silvery pearl necklace – was proudly displayed before the camera. After a couple of flashes, Vidhya received it with a natural smile.

‘Chandran, put it on!’ Vidhya sounded and Karthik, pure-heartedly, seconded. After all, Vidhya and Chandran had been thick friends in college. He was pulled to the front and handed the jewel. As his hands neared Vidhya’s neck, they seemed to go out of control and shake obviously. While knotting at her nape, the necklace slipped and beads came unstrung. The wire fell dead at Vidhya’s feet while the beads bounced and settled all over the stage.