Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Stolen Berries that leave behind Purple Stains.....

       Black eyes Meet Brown. Through the Green Foliage. Through the thorns of the rose bush. A fair hand adjusts the Veil across the face. Red Lips tremble. Anklets jingle. Bangles clink. Feet patter and I run away. I am scared to be caught sneaking in the orchard eating berries on the sly. The last berry gets stuck midway down my throat, I cough, gasp and run towards my room in the servant’s quarters. I hear the sound of running feet behind me, I hear a voice, male, husky, accented “Wait”. Rough hands catch my arms. Turn me around. Drag the veil off my face. 
“Wait, What’s your name?”. 
“Dhingli”, I whisper.
 
       He is dressed in shorts with a lot of pockets. A white unbuttoned shirt. Rubber sandals. His hair is spiky like a porcupine; I know that he has applied the same thing that Chhote Maalik applies on his hair. They call it ‘Jail’ or ‘Jel’ or something. It makes your hair stiff and stand up in any way you want to. I know because I once applied a little to my hair, when I was cleaning Chhote Maalik’s room, when no-one was looking. I washed it out immediately, as it made my veil stand up like I had grown a cactus on my head. “Dhingli”. 
       He rolls my name in his mouth, Rolls it, Swirls it around like it is one of those orange colored toffees, Maalkin gave me sometimes when it was too old to be eaten and is ready to be thrown out. “Saab, please do not tell Maalkin that I was in the orchard eating berries, Saab, please.” 
       He laughs. His eyes crinkle at the corners when he does so and he ambles off in the general direction of the house, nodding his head.
***
       It is time to make tea. The afternoon siesta shows signs of ending with Maalkin having ‘rustled’ into the kitchen. I had just started working in the house after my mother died of tuberculosis. The Maalkin had taken pity on me and my Mother’s reputation meant that I did not need any recommendation. I tried to live up to her name. But I was curious about all the things I the house and there were a lot of things I had never seen or eaten in all my 18 years. Mother had never taken me to the house where she worked. Hence I was very new. Though it was off-limits to the servants, I occasionally indulged my curiosities once in a while. I especially liked to pluck the ripe berries and mangoes or even a rose, making sure no one ever saw me doing these. I was always careful, except today morning.
***
       4 perfect gleaming white cups. 4 delicate matching saucers. 2 perfect white sugar-cubes. 4 familiar faces. I try not to look at him. But he stares at my face when I serve him tea. I am scared that he will tell everyone what I was doing in the Orchard. I almost hear him saying’ I saw this gal sneaking into the orchard to eat berries’. I imagine the Maalkin’s look of disapproval and anger. 
       But nothing of that sort happens. 
       “Bring some tea into my room at dusk, Dhingli”, he commands. 
       I do not want to go. I must not go. I cannot explain what it is, but I feel goose bumps whenever I am with him. I blush and stutter when he is around. My heart beats fast. 
       I want to scream” No Maalkin, I do not want to go near him again”. 
       But strangely, I am looking forward to it. I cant wait. 
       I feel something new in my body. A Thrill. A kind of Pleasure. 
       Suddenly my eyes fly to his face, and I know that he has read me. 
       He knows exactly what I am thinking. What I am feeling.
***
       I look into the mirror. Chutki didi keeps saying I am very beautiful. So I know why all the men in the Village look at me every time I passed by. I know why Raamlo sighs and dies to talk to me. He will make me his wife someday, he says to me everytime he catches me at the well. When he has enough money to take me to the city, he will marry me, he says. 
       I always laugh in his face. I dream of Sahibs in suits and boots, showing me the sights of Bombay. I fantasize of Sahibs who would buy me necklaces of diamonds bigger than what Maalkin wears.
***
       He is reclining on the sofa, reading a book. I place the tray down. Grass-flavored breeze comes in from the open window. I go to clasp them shut. Outside the birds are returning home, the cows are calling their calves. Dusk falls. The setting sun sets everything afire. He has a beautiful view of the pond and the fields beyond. 
       I stand transfixed, lost until I feel the hand on my shoulder, jolting me awake from my reverie. He is so close to me I can smell him. I smell him underneath that cloying scent he wears. His hand stays at my shoulder; I cannot shake it off. 
       Simply, I turn to him. He brings up my face to look at him. The veil falls away with a tug. I look into his eyes, his ever knowing eyes. I avert my gaze and try to move away. But end up against him. His hand circles my waist. Tighten around me. 
       I know he knows what I am thinking. I feel his stubble on my neck, my face. I try to push him away, yet, I pull him to me. My body awakens. I feel like I never have. 
       Suddenly the window pane bangs. 
       I come to my senses. I run out of the room, my veil trailing behind me, my heart in my mouth. I turn into the storage room, trying to catch my breath. It is wrong, a small voice in my mind says. I tread softly on the stairs and go to the kitchen. Maalkin is supervising the evening’s dinner. No one notices anything amiss. I still tingle with the feelings that reverberate in me, in the places he had touched me. 
       It is wrong, there, that same small voice. My hands tremble. 
       Somehow I survive the Inquisition.
***
       Chhoti Maalkin waves her fat little arms from the window of the car. “Tata,Tata” She waves to me. “Don’t touch anything in the house, until I am back. Sweep the house clean, and make sure the plants are watered. We will be back in 2 days” Chutki didi, who is now the eldest servant in the house, after my mother's death, instructs me. I nod obedience and return to the empty house. 
       Everyone, including him, is gone. Every 3rd month, Maalkin fasts for 3 days and holds a puja in honor of the Family Deity. I miss Chhote Maalik and Chhoti Maalkin. I scrub the house clean and by evening, the garden is swept. I sit on the first storey verandah, overlooking the orchard, when the I hear the sound of a car in front of the gate. Quickly, thinking it might be some visitor, I run to the front yard. 
       It is him!! My heart leaps out and my hands fly to my mouth. He is alone. I hesitate to open the gate. “What happened, Saab? “ He doesn’t reply. Then he says” For God’s sake open the gate, Dhingli. What are you staring at?” I do as told. “I didn’t feel like going”, he justifies.
He goes to his room. ‘Bring dinner up”, he calls out. I go to the kitchen to cook. 
       I feel a strange sign of foreboding. 
       I think it is my foolish heart jumping all over. I think it is because of what happens to me whenever I am with him.
***
       The rain comes unexpectedly. The wind shrieks like a banshee. Palm trees sway like mad women tearing their hair. The lights go out. I light the lanterns in the house and lie on my cot wondering about the small voice, about all those feelings inside my body that surface every time I touch him? “Dhingli". I hear him calling me. I go up to his room to ask what he wants. He is not inside the room. The door to the verandah is open. Rain water tries to seep through the doormat, and fails. Droplets of water ride on the back of the gusts of wind. I see him on the Verandah looking out at the sunset. He is drinking. I see the empty bottles scattered around. I pick them up. He stretches out his hand at me. He trails his palm on my breast. “You are so beautiful”, he mumbles. He smells of alcohol and cigarettes. I say nothing. He holds me to him, “I will take you to America, Will you come with me?” he asks. “Saab, this is wrong. I should not be here. Pls let me go.” I plead. 
       I know now, suddenly, that it is wrong. He holds tighter. He clings to me. I feel the sensations override my conscience. I know this is wrong, yet I fall for it. I let him wrap his arms around me. I let him feel me under my clothes. I swoon, I know this is wrong, n yet I gasp, I whisper his name. I push him off, then cling to him. I shudder and tremble and I call him to me, I tell him to show me what he always wanted to. I tell him to do what he always wanted to. My mind is pulled in two different directions. I no longer wait to judge my actions. I no longer want to. I listen to my Body, my Heart. I let go. He gropes in his drunkenness, enters me, hurts me. I moan, cry out in pain, whimper. He slumps on top of me, his breath rushing into my ears. I am breathless. I push him off. He rolls over, sleeps, snores. I arrange his clothes. I stumble out of the room. I am surprised the feeling is nothing like what I expected. 
       I feel like a balloon that is still hanging a week after the party is over. 
       Like an orange that has been kept in the fruit basket for far too many days. 
Squished, empty. 
       I run out into the rain. I remove my clothes. I let the rainwater wash me. I let the rainwater wash my shame, my guilt away. I cry and the tears mix with my blood, and the rain, and run down into the ground. I cry and the tears mix with my revulsion and disgust. I stand there for an awfully long time. 
       When the rain stops, I go into my room, and sit in the corner and stare until day breaks.
***
       Many, many nights later, I stand outside the servant quarters. “Where have you been?” Chutki didi asks, angry, worried. I walk past her into the room. I sit on the cot, and the run out, nauseous. While I retch, she comes running to me. Patting me on the back. Soothing me. She is making me sit on the cot again, when she looks at my belly and gasps. She shrieks. She throws off my odhani, unties my skirt. She looks at my swollen belly and knows. I look at her and cry. “Who did this to you? Tell me. Who?” She rants curses at me. Tells me to die. Asks with what guts I chose to stay alive. I shake my head, not speaking. She rains blows on me, slaps me across the face, pulls out her hair. She wails, and I sit there silently with tears streaming down my face. The sobs wreck me. She drags me to Maalkin. I do not know what they talk about. 
       I no longer want to know. 
       I go out into the orchard, I see the berries. I run to them, I pluck them and eat them. I shove them into my mouth. I am no longer scared of anyone finding out. The purple juice runs down my mouth. My lips, hands, tongue turn purple. I hear footsteps. I do not turn around. I know that tread. I know who it is. I know who this smell and rough hands belong to. “Dhingli, take this. Do not tell anyone about this. You know no one will believe you, even if you took my name.” 
       I turn to face him. 
       I smile. 
       I take the wad of notes he hands out to me. 
       He looks at my purple mouth, and teeth and tongue and hands. He takes a step back. 
       I shove the berries into my mouth. I shove the notes into my mouth. I chomp on the paper. I know paper has no taste. But mixed with the berries, I cannot know. 
       His face contorts in fear. He retreats, stumbles, falls, picks himself up and turns around to run to the front of the house. 
       I untie the rope-swing that Chhoti-Maalkin plays on. The rope bruises my fingers. I stand on the stone ledge under the mango tree. I throw the rope up and it lands perfectly on a branch. I pull down the rope to tighten the knot on the branch and make a noose. I tug at it to check the strength. It will hold good. 
       I step back and admire my handiwork. 
       I bend down and scrawl a single word on the ground – ‘Maalik’. 
       I put the noose around my neck. I take off my feet from the ledge. 
       I float. 
       I see a Sahib in a suit taking me to America. I see an orchard full of berry bushes. I see a rainy night. I see my mother calling out to me. I see a purple neck bruised by a rope. A purple hand pats my belly trying to soothe the kicking feet inside. 
       It soon hangs limply by the side.
***

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Smile Unwanted....

       The advertisement caught my attention. It proposed complete surgery to restructure the lips and fill them with Botox at a very small sum. Well small enough for the wife of a billionaire who made his money through fair means and foul, I am not really bothered.
       I was 28 and good-looking in the way only the rich can look. There were hardly any lines on my face, what with my daily regime of bathing with caviar, chocolate baths, dead coral scrubs, and using an anti aging cream that cost 50000 for each 100 ml. I knew the results were showing, but what I hated most were my lips.
       They were thin and no amount of Botox injections could fill them up to my liking. The problem was the shape of my mouth. It was not to my liking. Instead of the pouty look, God had sent me with a droopy shape that made me look sad always. Often people would look at me sympathetically and ask me if something was troubling me. I hated them, I hated their sympathy and stares. I hated their pretty perfect smiling lips. I hated my smile. It made me look and feel worse. I longed to have a smiling mouth, a warm smiling, attractive, pouty mouth that would make men look at my lips all the time. A smile that could bewitch the most reserved of men. I lived with these very lips for so many years, but it was only when I suddenly realized that none of the men I was going around had ever willingly kissed me on the mouth did I realize there was something amiss.
***
       Some 3 months, into the Depression, I saw the advertisement in the newspaper today. The Clinic pictures looked posh, the machines sophisticated, the Doctor knowledgeable. He seemed to be quite famous in Bombay, as I later learned from friends and had just returned to Bombay last month to open up the Cosmetology clinic. He promised instant results. I was ecstatic, I immediately called him up and booked an appointment for the coming week. I couldn’t stop hopping around, grinning with my ugly lips at everyone and anyone. O, how I wish now that I could have that ugly smile back!
       I liked the Doctor Immensely. He kept throwing in a lot of technical jargon which I did not understand, but did much to Impress me. I have always been one to conlude based on Impressions, so you can be sure, I came away fixing up my appointments for the next 8 weeks which was the period he would take.
       The sittings were fixed thrice a week. The first part of the treatment consisted of continuous massaging for 3 weeks, then some sorta glue would be injected into the skin to help the surgery be easier. This would be for 3 weeks, followed by the surgery and then post-recuperative injections and massages. The weeks went by in a haze and I believe the psychological effects it produced, were enough to make me look younger, beautiful…I was on cloud nine….and I smiled all through.
       Soon it was time for surgery......the first thing I asked for, after I regained consciousness was a mirror. I was transformed! I looked so alluring, so beautiful, so bewitching! Now I would spin my web and send men into raptures! And the women would burn with envy! I loved it. I danced around the room, I kissed and hugged the nurses. I was happy I no longer had to put in any effort to smile. The Doctor had given me beautiful smiling lips that stayed put. I loved going to parties, I never missed an opportunity to socialize, I applied bright shades of lipstick, I had never done this before, I basked in the compliments.
***
       The call came through at night. The maid picked up the phone. I could hear her mumbling, her replies sounded as if someone had broken shocking news to her. Maybe her drunken husband had died. Then she should be happy. I went to check. She turned back and told me, very simply, “Madam, Your brother is no ore.... He was involved in a major accident and the doctors have confirmed there is no possibility of him surviving...”Tears poured down my eyes. I hastily pulled on some dress and drove through the pouring night. I reached to find my Mom’s house enveloped with a thick cloud of Sorrow and Grief. Relatives, Friends, Neighbours, Well-wishers all haed started pouring in hordes. In the middle of all that, lay my Brother’s body. The accident was so horrific that all of his 6 feet, 90 kgs body mass was enclosed in a single bedsheet. My dam broke, I wailed and screeched for a while and then went into a numbing silence. My mind went back to memories of childhood, of our years growing up, fighting with each other all through our school days, college, hostel. I suddenly was so distraught at him having gone from our lives so suddenly, my mind went blank and I was like a vegetable through the proceedings.
       All the time, my smile intact.
       I realized I couldn’t shake it off, no matter how much I tried to frown, or cry or wail or screech, the moment my face came back into its natural shape, I smiled. I tried to wipe it off,     I clawed and scratched at my mouth, trying to wipe it off. It came back. Every time.
       I smiled when my Brother’s body was being carried off to the crematorium. I smiled when my Mother fainted. I smiled when the ceremonies were being performed. I smiled when they brought back the ashes.
       I went back smiling to my house. My Heart was empty, My mind wandered off, I talked and cried in my sleep, I smiled through it all.
       I smiled when I found my BF in bed with my Best Friend. In my house, In my bed. I smiled at Deaths, Losses, Bereavements. I smiled when the Doctor said the Operation was Irreversible. I smiled when inwardly I was jealous, sad, gloomy, depressed. I smiled when tears streamed down my face. I smiled at strangers, at pimps, at shopkeepers. I was tired of my smile. People were tired of my smile.
       I don’t know what to do. I just want this smile off my face. I don’t mind if I look uglier than before , or if my lips droop more. I just want to be done with it. Done with smiling.
       I don’t know what to do. I just want this smile off my face.
       I just want this smile off my face.