Trapped: The Story of a Transgender

Trapped

transgender (image source: Indiawest.com)

(1)

My name is Rani, the Queen. But no, in this birth, the Almighty did not grant me a palace, a king to dote on me, minstrels and servants to shower their lavish attention on me. The blessed people of this world see us among them, follow our dance moves, listen to the claps of these hollow hands that earn us hungry stares, loud jeering and the papered notes of twenty, fifty or hundred. Our loaded mouths cannot contain those filthy curses that our forefathers might have saved for us, or for our wretched birth-parents for bearing progeny like us.

It might have taken some nano-seconds for the doctor delivering me, sucking me out from my mother’s cervical path to declare my sex as that of a boy. A boy, a real boon to my family bearing the baggage of five girls, girls who were like bolted doors, dark and choking like the last accursed night in the family’s small,cramped living space which housed them all. The familiar space where they would find themselves every dawn, at the edge of their sleep, damp, dilapidated, like the last dying embers of a patriarchy they clung to.

“A boy at last! God is not so unkind, after all, isn’t it?” My joyous father said, clasping my frail mother’s fingers. My mother looked at me, her much-awaited newborn, her face pale, devoid of blood. After twenty sickening hours of a difficult labor which had almost killed her and me, her pre-term baby boy, her hands touched my lips, my mouth, trembling with my first cries.

After all these years, their prayers had borne fruit, no matter how late for my middle-aged parents. My father burst out in staccato coughs and laughter as he examined my body from head to toe. A boy at last, a boy who could walk beside him step-by-step in the morning trails watching over the harvest, a boy who could smoke like him with insolence, be his second voice in the flim-flam of everything said. A boy who could pee with him in the street corners while returning from their local market, a boy with whom he could even trash-talk about women and their boundaries.

It was the auspicious eve of the Baisakhi. Virgin dewdrops had glistened on faith’s leaves; my parents brought me home. In the years that followed, they expected me to be snugly fit into the metric lines of a cherished boyhood. They had endearingly named me ‘Veer’, their sher puttar, their tiger cub drinking the milk of human kindness. I was nibbling on the dried-up bones and marrows of a patriarchal home with minimal resources in the small village of Punjab, my birthplace.

They had named me ‘Veer’….Ever since I can remember, they called me Veer Puttar, the brave boy, the sure remnants of a masculine pride. They chased my naked body all day in the open courtyard till I was all of four or five, after which my favorite drapes were my Amma’s soft, unstarched cotton salwar kurtas or my sisters’ flowing, silken dupattas (scarves).

“Shameless boy! I will beat you to a pulp till you turn into a man! Look at yourself in the mirror, your robust arms and chest, your male organ, which ought to be your pride, but here you are, making my head hang in shame! Is this why I had craved for a son of my own after five dark, worthless daughters?”
My father’s slaps resounded in the cramped room where me and my sisters huddled together like fallen angels. I was all of ten, tall, lanky, yet frail, feminine, decked up in a polka-dotted frock in pink and white, the only fancy attire that the youngest of my sisters had. In my lips, the cheap pale lipstick gleamed, that of one of my sisters’.

I was more of their own kin than of my father’s, floating in the dainty dreams of the kind of things the girls of my familiar earth did. I was hooked to the things they wore, the cheap rubber dolls they played with, the cloves they chewed on for a fresh, minty breath, the dough of chapatti they kneaded. In my furtive mind, I had craved to flaunt my flowing tresses like the braids my sisters roamed around in, rather than tying them all up in a turban which was the pride of our cherished ancestry.

“I know why you look so happy today. You are wearing your favorite nail polish, aren’t you? The groom’s family came to see you and approved the match. In a few months’ time, you will be gone from our house. Can you please apply the nail polish on my fingers, badee didi?” I asked my elder sister. I was all of twelve, and she rolled her eyes in a vain anger.
“Baau jee (father) will kill us if he knows of this!” She replied.
“Please, badee didi. Consider this my last request to you.”

The spirited coatings of deep pink adorned my slender, girlie fingers, an unpardonable aberration, a sacrilege to my masculine body, trembling, dying with eager feminine wants. The news spread like wildfire in a congested home where the baggage of such ‘dirty’ secrets were too heavy to bear, and our father soon confronted me, fuming with rage.

“I will teach you a lesson today that you will never forget in your entire bloody life, you scum of a boy!”
He caught one truant hand of mine and dragged me to our common toilet, shoving me towards the old, worn out latrine that we all used, pushing my hand with all his might towards the latrine reeking with the odor of human shit. The hand had the fresh coating of the pink nail polish and I had to pay the price for it, as vomit pushed out of my esophageal tract. I threw up in the toilet, the vomit of years of disgust of being their puppet son marionetted at the whims of their gendered wants.

Before my elder sister’s wedding in the house, my father slapped me time and again, whipped me, coaxed and cajoled me to be that ‘Veer Puttar’ whom my parents were eager to show off to their new relatives, the brave boy who would fend for them with all his budding manliness. I was in dire need of turning into the chivalrous brave boy serving as the perfect antidote to their lives burdened with the presence of four more frail daughters, apart from the one being married off.

In the kitchen where our eldest sister Jaspreet kneaded the doughs of chapatti with our Amma, where my younger sisters cut the vegetables and helped Amma in grinding the masala for the curries, I was denied access as our father took me out to the fields, to the bazar, to the tailors and other places to run errands and most importantly, make a ‘man’ out of myself. One night, just before Jaspreet’s wedding, our youngest sister whom we endearingly called Tanu came up to me.
“Veeru, I am practicing a dance number for Badee Didi’s wedding. You dance so well, please be my dance partner; the groom’s family will be much impressed.” She whispered in my ears.
I looked curtly at my parents, unmindful at the moment, occupied with their nightly chores of dinner. “Dance”, I muttered to myself, the fluttering of my feminine wings which my family wants to strap shut. I was both sought after and called names in the village school I went to, for the swaying of my hips and the practiced curves which defined my body, by the time I grew into a teenager.

The boys at the school would look with pronounced pity when I sat, numb, trembling like a timid girl when they pounced at each other like street dogs, wrestled with each other to suck out the little things that mattered to them, but left me unfazed. The girls didn’t have much clue what to do with me. I was on one hand, a shadow of their own slain selves, dying to retain their mirth. On the other hand, I posed to them an unknown threat, the threat of hanging like a loose flesh somewhere in between the soaring masculinity they knew of and learnt to admire, whatever their vices, and their own random feminine musings.

For me, the girls and I had the same fate, that of cuts, bruises, mistakes and the assurance of a silver lining somewhere, probably in another birth if they could swallow their legitimate femaleness, and I, my illegitimate one, like a bitter pill in this lifetime.

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For days, I weathered the danger of practicing the dance moves with my sister Tanu in the small grassy patch outside our home at odd, uncertain hour. For days, I walked past the same fields and the same dirt roads of our village with my father, while breathing hard against the terror of suffocation at school. And then, the wedding day of our elder sister Jaspreet approached. She sat, demure, bewildered at the decorated marriage altar inside the holy shrine, decked in her bridal wear and the huge nose-ring, an heirloom gift from her new-in-laws, and the groom looked at her with those devouring eyes. Would she endure the same fate as my mother did within a few years of marriage, giving birth to one girl after the other, walking on the thin line between acceptance and abandonment? I wondered while the rituals continued. My other sisters, her close siblings looked at the scene, smiling with hollow admiration.

“Jaspreet is a bit fair complexioned than our other daughters, I am relieved she could still stand a chance to win a family for marriage. But what will happen to our other girls who are way darker?” Amma whispered in our father’s ears.

“Just wait for a couple more years so I can sell of a few more assets of mine, and take a few loans from here and there to manage their dowry. Whosoever told you to give birth to so many girls, in the first place? Thank your stars, woman, for I didn’t kill any of them as newborns, like many us I know did….for now, just keep an eye over Veeru…watch him like a hawk, so that he doesn’t imitate his sisters and make a worthless fool of himself. He is our only hope in our older days and he must learn to live up to his name!” He replied.

Amma nodded her head. I could see her trembling, her tired, weathered frame, sometimes in tune with my sisters, sometimes with my own, now ready to strum along my father’s wants. She didn’t have any other choice; she had to ‘live’ the bare remnants of her life with her man in that humble house which was her only shelter.

Outside our small home, the members of two families congregated to bless this union, following the pious prayers. My sister Tanu and I swayed and moved our bodies in sync with the loudspeaker which nearly burst out with the froth of Hindi and Punjabi films songs and folk music. We were celebrating the hour of a holy ritual amid our happy tears, the claps of my girl-like hands mingling with those of my other sisters who joined us. We gyrated our hips and twirled and swirled to the beats of the dholak, relishing the music and the fireworks, the merry moments of a short-lived festivity.

At the wee hours of the night, when most of our guests were gone, following the fireworks, the food and the ceremony, the man who played the dholak, a sturdy middle-aged man came up to me and suddenly held my hand.

Oye puttar, I noticed you dancing so skillfully with your sisters and the others in the crowd. There is something very different in your body movements, in your eyes and your face. How old are you, boy?” He asked.
“I will be thirteen in the coming Baisakhi (New Year) in April.”
“And your name?”
“Veer, you can also call me Veeru like my sisters do.” I said, shuddering at the touch of unknown hands.
“Veer puttar, you are anything but a twelve-year-old boy of your age. I have seen quite some boys like you in my life, trust me, you are God’s special gift. Only you have to understand and acknowledge it, and put your talents to good use.”
“How can I do that?” I asked. I looked into his eyes, brimming with an eagerness to explore things about myself which I never dared to unravel before.
“For that, I am there to help you, if you can only trust me and contact me, any day you want. My name is Manohar. Here, keep this paper with you, it has my details, my address and phone number. I am all over the place in North India, more so during the wedding seasons. But once you call me, I can tell you where you can come to meet.” The man replied, handing me a yellowed, crumpled paper, which I held in my fist, my first gateway to a wonder-laden universe which had waited for me.

(2)

“Dear Baau jee and Amma,

I know by the time I will be gone from your house which has also been my home for all these years since my birth, it will be evening and both of you will be done with most of your daily chores. You might be done milking the only cow you have, after selling off the others for Badee didi’s wedding and for trying to gather some money for my other sisters’ dowry. Baau jee might be done with his habitual trips to the fields and his daily inquiries of the whereabouts of my sisters. He might have already seen them pirouetting by the open courtyard, lighting a diya around the altar of the shady Tulsi plant, praying to Goddess Tulsi for a life of peace, prosperity and fertility in a new home that Badee Didi has found for herself.

It will be the same evening today when you both will stumble on this letter with the crickets chirping all around, with the chapattis being made in the stove. You both will see the same crescent moon peeping from our window-grill (or, will you?) yet it will be a different evening for me. This evening, I will be long past the familiar miles of our neighborhood, past the mustard fields, the tractors and the bullock carts, past our small, smelly train station. I will board a train taking me to a city, a destination where I might rediscover myself and know what I can really do in life rather than trying, in vain, to become the veer puttar, the brave boy of the family which I can never be.

I know only too well how ashamed you feel, Baau jee, every time you summoned me in the house or took me outside to do ‘manly’ things and realized I was incapable. I know how embarrassed Amma felt when she first discovered my keen interest in the kitchen, in kneading the doughs, in cutting the vegetables, frying the onions, grinding the masala. I remember how annoyed she was when she first caught me in the act of trying to wear her blouse with the only fancy bra she had (and yes, I knew about these womanly things only too soon from my sisters). I shudder thinking how desperately she wailed when you meted out those extreme punishments for me, Baau jee, for trying on the ‘ladkee walee harkatein’ (the girlie’ things). I know how hard she has prayed every day to the Lord so that the ‘man’ inside me comes out, not as much for her own sake, but for your satisfaction, Baau jee, so that she can stop cursing her womb for bearing a boy, who is more of a girl than a boy.

Let me tell you one more story of mine that just happened a couple of day before Jaspreet’s wedding. It was late in the afternoon when I was writing my Hindi exam papers in school. Everybody around me was in a hurry to finish the papers. My hands trembled and sweated, as they always did when I was nervous, and I was racing against time to finish the last big answer, and then I felt the sudden lull in the air with the music of a popular Punjabi song echoing from a loudspeaker quite some yards away. My mind struggled to answer the paper with full devotion, while my body caught the rhythm, the music and the language of the song every time the echoes got louder in the classroom. It was like the first blood that Nitu bled a year back, which she described to me like an inner flood, which she had no control of. I wanted to bleed vermilion like her at that very instant as my feet tapped vigorously to that known rhythm. I wanted to chop myself into thousand rainy blood drops as my shoulders and hands swirled in a queer motion, all the while striving to finish the paper.

“How much is left, Veer? Have you finished? The warning bell has rung already, puttar.” Our Hindi teacher came up to me and looked into my eyes with a strange curiosity.”

“I just…I just…have a bit left.” I stammered.

“Ok, I give you a grace period of five more minutes. But be fast.” He whispered to me, and hurriedly collected the papers from all my other classmates.

In a few minutes, when they were gone, my hands trembled again while submitting him my paper, still unfinished. Right then, he grabbed one of my wrists and looked at me with quite a menacing smile as he said: “Wait for two more minutes, I am very curious to know how you do the things that you do. You have to tell me today.” He headed straight to the classroom door and bolted it carefully.

“Sir? I did not understand!” I was perplexed.

“I am dying to know how you walk in those girl-like steps, how your lips always quiver with that girl-like fragrance….I want to know…I want to know what you hide under this ironed khaki uniform that you wear to school every day.”

….I stood there, transfixed, dumbfounded. He now groped my trembling body and started unbuttoning my shirt, kissing me with full vigor, panting, sweating all the time. I whined and grimaced under his tight grip. As a last recourse at resistance, I somehow managed to dash his head against a wall while with my big fingernails, I kept scratching his body till he bled. Those were the same fingernails that bore the punishment of wearing a pink nail polish some days back.

For the first time, while I managed to open the bolted door of the classroom and come out in the open air, I felt proud of those fingers, those sharp, dainty, girlish fingernails. I felt proud of what I did at that instant, looking at my shirt, unzipped, partly covering my queer body. From that day, I had stopped my pursuit of being a man altogether, a manhood that you coaxed me, cajoled me, assaulted me to possess. I understood that a man can be more basal and gross than a hungry animal in search of his prey, and that being a girl trapped in a man’s body, I can at least try to be a worthy human, weak, vulnerable, but saner than the men folk that I have seen, swarming around me.

I am rather happy today, Baau jee, that I dared to transgress my boundaries and dance with Nitu and the other girls at the ‘sangeet’ festival of Badee didi Jaspreet’s wedding. I just got to know that it is not for a reason that the Almighty has made me in a different clay than he has made other boys of my age. I just got to know that he has created me with something unique and special, and I am going out to explore what that really is.

It will be a new place, a new city where I will have to fend for myself, but there will be someone who will help me. However, right now, I cannot disclose any details to you as I leave. Amma, I know you will shed tears as you will know that I am taking this plunge, and try looking for me, in vain. Baau jee will again rebuke you for giving birth to one more useless child. As for my sisters, I know they will miss me and the bonhomie we shared for some days, shed tears, and then the swift current of the waves of time will overpower them, in their pursuit of being the good daughters, good daughters-in-law, good mothers, rather than anything else. I cannot be any of these, but still remember you had gave me birth with much toil and much love, Amma. Don’t worry about me roaming around the unknown streets like a beggar, for I managed to take the money that I got for my dance performance at Jaspreet’s wedding. The silver karaa (bangles) in both my hands might also be of use, if needed later. For now, I already said I have someone who can help me find food, shelter and my own pehchaan (identity). I am dying to know what it really means, in this big world outside our village.
Paaye lagoon…I bow my head before your feet.
Yours’ ever,
Veer.

(3)

The paths that went all the way from my small native town in the district of Jalandhar, Punjab to the stunning garden city of Chandigarh to the blinding maze of the overwhelming city of Delhi have been crooked, murky. I have lost myself in this arduous journey and rediscovered myself zillion times. Would I dare to call it an odyssey of my life twirling in a spin and disrobing all that you had taught me since birth to hold dearer than my own life? I was hungry like a street dog, yet desperate to flee from the life in the village which was really never mine. I had without any qualms, thrown away the saffron turban which hid my wild, wavy tresses, and came out in the open with my long, unruly mane, thicker in volume than all of my five sisters.

I purse my lips as I remember the train that took me to the alluring city of Chandigarh, the first big city which I was waiting to encounter that day since years…When I fished out a pack of red bindis and a red lipstick from a ladies’ bag and wore both the red bindi and red lipstick, seated in the general compartment, I had seen it all– the inquisitive, even lusty looks of fellow passengers inside the train who seemed like dying to devour the guarded secrets of an effeminate body, dressed in male clothes.

“Where are you going to, dear? Any adult family member with you?” The ticket checker approached me with a queer look of disbelief in his eyes.
“No, I…I am traveling alone…to Chandigarh. A relative will receive me from the station.” I had stammered.
“And your ticket?”
“I…I didn’t find the time to get my tickets, the train had come to…to the platform…and I ran to board it…but I have this with me, you can keep it if you want.” I stammered some more, and got out the silver bangle of mine from my right hand and handed it to him. My heart would jump out of my rib cage, I felt, leaving me a piece of dead meat. But to lessen my sense of terror, he glanced quickly around us to see if there were any intruding eyes watching over the scene, grabbed it and placed it in one of his pockets within seconds.

“Chandigarh is coming in another five-ten minutes. Utar jaa jaldi, varna dekh loonga (Get off from the train quick, or else you will face consequences)” …the train had halted abruptly in a level crossing…he had shoved me out of the train, in the face of an unknown stop, and in the silhouetted darkness, all I knew was that I had to somehow push my way till the apparent destination.

Besides the two silver ‘karras’, I had limited money and resources inside the ladies bag which I had coaxed and cajoled Neetu, my youngest sister and my partner in dance and other such crimes to give me as I eloped from home. I knew the money would be enough to feed me for a week at the most, but I couldn’t care less…All I cared about was to meet Manohar jee, the dholak wallah, the musician at Chandigarh station who had promised me a life of gay abandon which would be at my fingertips if…if only I could train myself to utilize the ‘skills’ that God had bestowed me with since my childhood. From the unknown level crossing to the farthest end of platform number 1 of Chandigarh, I ran through a long stretch of uncharted miles relentlessly, panting like a wounded beast and finally stumbled on Manohar jee, just on the verge of passing off. I groped in the dark for that one elusive word, pehchaan, ‘identity’. I earnestly prayed to God that I would be able to find it some time soon.

“God, you are looking so pale and sickly! You must be exhausted from your journey. But you look so charming with the bindi, my dear! Come, I will feed you some tasty onion pakoras (fritters) from one of these stalls in the station.” Manohar jee placed one of his hands on my shoulders, while I was still panting. I had forgotten to remove the bindi from my forehead, being forcefully shoved out of the train, I remembered then. His touch, his stare was reassuring, as I relished the taste and aroma of street food, quenching my parched lips and my hungry stomach.

“But where will we go from here? Where will you arrange for my stay now?” I couldn’t help asking.

“Ha ha ha ha! Poor one, you are so impatient! You will get to know everything dear. I am here to take you to one of those very interesting places which will give you shelter and train you for a bright future. You will see a few other young boys like yourself there, who crave to do the same things that you do.” He laughed and revealed, with a naughty glint of secret playing in his eyes.

(4)

One of these days, I had been made to sit with a fake smile dangling in my lipsticked mouth, holding in my cold, trembling hands a cup of coffee and a lavish chocolate pastry. I was with a young, bold girl who approached to interview me for a TV channel.
“What do you even want to know, girl? You are one of the enlightened lot. You already know how our clan is made, how they thrive and how they die unnoticed, every single day, don’t you?” I asked her.
“Yes, I have read about lives of people like you in bits and pieces in newspapers, magazines… but tell me about you, your journey, how you landed in Delhi, what made you stay on in the nation’s capital. Did you ever visit your native land after ending up here? Did you ever meet your family again?”

She had a smart, polished urban accent and the nonchalance that seemed too typical of reporters of her ilk. Her questions started killing me, one stroke at a time, but the fake smile in my lips was pasted intact. Over the years, my life had taught me that sarcasm was the antidote to all my pain.

What would I tell her about how I started my life, cooped in an almost ramshackle den with nine other boys who had eloped from home from all parts of north India, just like I did? All of us had more or less the same stories, leaving our homes with the assurance of finding a new meaning of our lives, , egged on by Manohar jee, the charmer. In the days and years that followed, we became family, ‘soul sisters’, we used to call each other.

Rupa, Lakshmi, Radha, Manju, Nadira, Munni, Nargis, Paayal, Monalisa and myself, Rani, we were rechristened with new names. We had been adept at the skills of drumming, singing recycled Bollywood songs, dancing like there was no tomorrow. Day after day, we danced to the whims and the cryptic tunes of our mentor, our nurturer Manohar jee, who would feed us good food and buy us decent clothes if we relented at his cat-calls and stripped ourselves of our clothes for his own sick carnal pleasures. It did hurt a lot, and I threw up a lot, like I use to do, back at home. But after a long while, it all subsided, the sudden shock and stupor of being initiated into the ‘hijra’ rituals by a queer-looking woman in the presence of Manohar jee, the excruciating pain and terror of getting castrated by a quack in a shady den which Manohar jee had called the ‘doctor’s clinic’, an ordeal in which most of our lot was at the threshold of death for days on end. But could death come so easily to us, anyway? We had to live on for many years after this forced death of our old selves. Our resurrection was celebrated with much pomp, as it ensured that Amma, our very own eunuch guru would be hugely benefited from our services, and that Manohar jee would get a decent sum every month from her.

“Didn’t the ten of you suspect that Manohar was an agent of this eunuch guru since the day he coaxed you into all of this? Couldn’t you do anything about it, take help of the local police, or go back home, to your parents? Don’t you wish to see them for once, after all this?” The young girl sounded more inquisitive than needed, holding the mic, incredulous, instructing her crew to shoot my profile from various angles. The questions gushed out of her mouth like darts that didn’t know where they would hit. Unlike my old inmates scattered in various parts of Delhi, Haryana and other places, who I know, cuss and break down, I had been an expert in restraining my mad rage and sobs now, especially when confronted by anybody from the mainstream of society. All I needed to cool my senses was a cheap beedi tucked in my mouth and its smoke, spiraling in the arid air around.

“Home? What’s even a home? My parents have disowned me long back, in the years of my growing up. Would I go and complain to them what Manohar and Amma did to me, to all of us? They would spit and puke in my face in the presence of our fierce relatives and have me stoned to death in front of the village panchayat.” I remember the words uttered by Rupa, our oldest inmate years back, as she had hugged me, Payal and Monalisa, the newest entrants at Amma’s den, shivering, shell-shocked at the revelation of the new life of a eunuch that awaited us. We all had wanted to go back home at some point, but we knew we were at the point of no return. Yes, she had been driven out of her home somewhere in Punjab and abhorred the word ‘family’. Three of the others, Munni, Nargis and Nadira had drugged themselves with the lure of ‘ganja’ and homosexuality which would help them conveniently forget their past lives, whatever they were, in whichever part of the world.

As for myself, Rani, the more blessed ‘queen bee’ as Manohar jee had called me, the only intoxicant that glued me to this world was my inborn talent of dancing. My inborn love for dance had made me sever my ties with my parents, and after a couple of years, compelled me to change my moorings from Chandigarh to Delhi. There was great potential to earn much more in the big city, and my dancing skills would fetch him good money not only at marriage functions, or at homes after the birth of babies, but through extra gigs, like joining in the local bar at Dariya Ganj as an extra with the main bar dancer, or pleasing his gay clients at cheap, stinking hotel rooms near the Chandni Chowk or the NCR area. And as always, he gave me a meager percentage from the earnings, as I had sold my body and soul to him years back, when I was still Veer, a naïve, unassuming teenager from Jalandhar.

For quite some time, the flow of my life had assumed the form of the slow-moving, permissive water-body of the Yamuna, on the banks of which I now shared a small one bedroom flat with Rupa, who had come to Delhi a year after I arrived. Sometimes we go out together to earn money, sometimes I roam around the uncertain miles of the city alone, in crowded buses and trains, in the bustling Delhi metro, being one of the many thousands of eunuchs making a living in the nation’s capital. However, there were only a few ripples with which this slow-moving river of my life was undulated for a day just a few months back.

I was traveling that day in the Delhi metro like I did, often, amid the sweaty, noisy cacophony of my co-passengers. I managed a place to stand among men, women and children of all ages and sizes who kept staring with curious eyes at me, my attire, my braided hair, my make-up laden eyes and face. Suddenly, in the crowd, my eyes followed the contours, the dreamy eyes, the conjoined eyebrows, the slender body of a young woman seated in a close corner, trying to feed milk to a prattling toddler boy. She was humming a familiar Hindi song and shaking his toy rattle when the boy threw sudden tantrums, in her effort to pacify him. The song was a very known one, just as her voice was. Just then, the milk bottle of the toddler slipped from her hands and dropped on the ground, and within seconds, when I picked it up from there and shoved the crowd to give it to the woman, those familiar, dreamy eyes met mine for some seconds, and crushed me from deep within.

“Nitu, my sister, my jaan!!” My body, my mouth, my whole being was trembling with a mad ecstasy, compelling me to call her out loud and give her the tightest hug, a hug that would bridge the years and miles of our distance. In my shoulders, I was carrying the same ladies bag that I had hijacked from her twelve years back on the fateful day I left home…I had maintained it like a precious asset, using it scarcely and with utmost care. The moment my eyes fell on hers again and tears had started to well up on both our eyes, I had made up my mind…I had to get down from the train right now, no matter what the station was….I had been an expert in farewells and there was no looking back, lest the filial ties made me more vulnerable, incapable of breaking my earthly shackles.
As I pushed through the crowd and got down the train in a desperate bid to flee from the scene, I felt Nitu’s supple hand clutch one of my shoulders, in her arms, her toddler son resting comfortably.

“Veeru, I know it is you…don’t run away from me, I beg you. I am your sister Nitu, talk to me for once.” She pleaded, the kohl in her eyes smudged with tears.
“What have you done to yourself, Veeru?” Her helpless eyes asked me.
“Call me Rani, please, I have a new life now.” I beseeched her.
Holding my hand with earnest longings, she flopped down on one of the benches at the crowded Rajiv Chowk metro station, her son playing zestfully with the multicolored bangles that I wore in my hands.
“We searched for you all over Jalandhar, Veeru, and Baau jee left no stone unturned to look for you in all the places he thought you could have eloped to. He beat me and coaxed me into revealing your whereabouts, since he knew how close we were, but I remained silent. Even I didn’t know where you had gone, isn’t it, but it was hard to convince them. After a year of frantic searching, he gave up. In his death-bed, last year, his old eyes shed futile tears, craving to see you for one last time.”

Baau jee, no more?” I gulped the lump in my throat, but more tremors were about to ravage my soul soon.
“Amma too, even before Baau jee.”
“Amma too?” I was gulping the poison of bitter truths, my head reeling.
“Yes, she was sick since you left, and when the news of Jaspreet’s death reached us, she couldn’t live any more.”
“Jaspreet?” I quivered, about to collapse. “Jaspreet had given birth to two daughters, and during her childbirth for the third time, in the hope of a son,there was no hope she would survive. But her in-laws wanted a son, at any price….”

The stillness between us was choking us. After a while, Neetu spoke again.
“We did both their funereal rites in Chandigarh; we stayed there for five years, after I had been sold off to a rich Seth jee who had taken a fancy for me. What else could they do, tell me, in their desperation to manage dowry for my elder sisters’ wedding? At least they have been married and settled, and Seth jee has provided well for me. I am going to meet him today in his furniture store in Connaught Place with my son, he was asking about him on the phone and wishing to see him badly.”

In my heart of hearts, I could picture the story of Nitu’s life very well, the quagmire where she was stuck and could never free herself. I was shredding myself into pieces, the tragedy of my own family, the chunks and pieces of the memories of my sheltered life with them many years back stabbing my soul, killing me mercilessly. But I was Rani, the Queen bee, the failed son, the betrayer brother, the tormented woman trapped inside a castrated man’s body who had traded one cage for the overwhelming pain of the other. “Abstain from all family ties, once and for all.” This was part of our mantra, the day I was initiated into the rituals of being a eunuch.

I had to part with her, albeit forcefully, but just before running away from them, the toddler clasped my hands again, trying to pull my bangles from my hand. I couldn’t help giving a peck on his cheeks. It gave me an unbridled sense of joy to hold him close to myself for some seconds, as I have held the newborns after my dance performances. While bidding adieu, I asked Nitu his name.
“I named him Veer, after you, as I missed you so much.” She uttered, amid her muffled tears, clasping my hand for one last time before setting me free.

…..My interview is over now, so is the pack of beedis I was intent on having all the while. The young reporter girl and her crew members hug me with enthusiasm. They celebrate their grand success in shooting my story at a go, without interruptions. Only a few days back, the Supreme court in India had recognized our clan as a third gender. The nation was now obliged legally to see us as a marginalized group, the newspaper had reported, and I had read it out to Rupa in our small, cozy den.

But what would that even mean? Was there now hope against hope, that we would find a door somewhere, open it, and claim our rightful places in the universe?

Freed from the TV crew, I walk out into the open city streets. The red, yellow neon lights in Connaught Place, the heart of the city wink at me, and the traffic grows wilder every moment. I walk in giant strides and mingle with the crowd, a transgender, fractured between my lost life and my new birth, like pieces of an unsolved puzzle.

Amor Mio: Short Story

man-and-woman

Man and woman. Image source: 

litttle-princess.deviantart.com 

 

A naughty sip of sunshine kissed her pouted lips as her eyes looked far, far below at the sun-kissed dome, the long, defiant tower with its crane-like neck housing curious visitors of the city in its esophageal tract. The voluptuous sculptures, the fountains yet to squirt their orgasmic waters, seen from afar, filled her with a desire to open up with spurts of gushing, forbidden rain. The streets of San Antonio, Texas bore the remnants of the last night’s copulation with the Christmas lights, everywhere the happy star dusts of a faded, died out light of the earth blinked, as if inviting her enormous trailing memories and yearnings. The throngs of passion broiled, dying till their finishing embers as she woke up, disembodied, groggy from sleep and the night’s own coercion into a practiced, empathized, mutual intimacy.

Slowly, diligently, she shoved herself away from the crumpled bed and stood up to walk a few feet to reach the giant, wall-to-wall transparent glass door of their hotel room that overlooked the city’s bustling downtown. There, the illuminating Christmas lights and music had created a heady concoction the previous night as they came back from their indolent strolls from the Market Square, the quaint Mexican market and the tourist’s hub, the cascading Riverwalk.

“Let’s raise a toast to our new beginnings, my wife, and a happy new year to be merry and blessed.” Neil had touched his glass of margarita to hers and made a clinking sound, which converged with the music being played in the local pub-cum-restaurant, the symphony spilling over the place.

In the fresh morning sun, Shalini looked down at the floor right next to the bed where her flip-flops, her silk blouse, her red, flowing skirt, her silken lingerie lay scattered since the wee hours of the night. She couldn’t remember if it was Neil who undressed her, layer after layer, as he would often do, or if she had done it herself. All she could remember, following the hangover of the previous night was that he had untied her hair and caressed its strands, each stroke of his finger awakening a bruised, pent up libido within her as the tears in her eyes eclipsed everything around her in the silhouetted darkness of the room like a thick, unforgiving mist.

Was it a tiny flickering of a being, a struggling embryo that died in its mother’s inviting womb yet again, gushing out in clotted blood and crushed, maimed flesh?

Was it a soft, rainy dream, trampled yet again from the ruthless remembrance of a life she had lived, as if in a previous birth?

Was it that dangerous liaison of years back, rearing its ugly face, when all that she had brought along with her as she ran away from it relentlessly was a breathless, deadening terror? Was it the terror of being slashed, the terror of kicking feet and abusive fists, the terror of the bulging walls of a dream that came crashing down, yet again?

What was she thinking in the waning moonlight that glimmered in the languid waters of the Riverwalk as she sat at the patio of the restaurant? What did she say to Neil, looking unmindful at the other tourists who came to dine out, holding a lobster tail dipped in garlic butter in one hand, while with her other hand, she grabbed the glass of Margarita, wishing to crush the glass to shards till her palms bled to death? She didn’t remember. She only remembered that a loose, waxy dribble hung from her mouth as she chewed on the food, one that housed memories, slanted truths, all drowning under the bottomless pit of her mouth.
Threadbare, barely out of the clumsy wraps, she wandered amid the ruffled skin of the clowns on the streets she has stalked the previous evening in her little pursuit of happiness. She thought of spooning out the thick cream out of the pie with the fork dangling in her cold hands that she remembered with queer, practiced clarity as she roamed amid the humming semblance of the relics she might have visited in some previous birth. And as she sat in the ferry amid unknown faces, relishing the placid waters of the Riverwalk, she hummed the lyrics of a dead singer-composer’s songs, reverberating in the air bustling with conceited human cacophony and charbroiled animal meat.
In the deadly quiet of her hotel room in the twentieth floor, it was all about silence and waiting–a long, silhouetted wait to sleep sublime under the cocoon of thousand unknown stars in a faraway galaxy, stars who do not know the tainted flesh of the humans. Late into the night, the game of thrones between two bodies had scoured the arid air inside the room, the body of an Adam and Eve of the spoiled, betrayed earth.

For once, she longed to tumble down, far, far below the wall-to-wall stained-glass door and see her naked, unbound soul go out to hug her nemesis, to touch and grip the utmost rim of her life. For once, she longed to plant a long, wet, last undying kiss on the dribbling mouth of her man fumbling with the used bedsheets in his sleep. She glanced at him with the corner of her kohl-smeared eyes, as she longed to smash open the stained-glass door with a gash of her bleeding wrists, to slide down the expanse of the building, falling down, violent, headlong, in the vortex, waiting with sure, steadfast arms, waiting to engulf her in an avalanche of sleep.

*****************************************************************

As always, Neil did not sense the first changes that sprouted in Shalini’s mind. As a norm, he should have been the first to notice them. But his pretty, ‘eccentric’ wife moved through her days in an unperturbed stance, her hair dangling in loose, dark brown curls on both sides of her shoulders as he came back from work, wishing in his mind to love her some more, but ending up not displaying his affection. He didn’t always know how her mind was cutting through, traversing in dangerous directions. Neil, on his part, lovingly relished the affectionate licks and hugs of their pet dog Bruno, the moment he would fling open the door. He would see only her frantic, squirrel-like movements all around the house, quietly inhaling the steam from the coffee being brewed on the cooktop, and the wafting aroma of her strong feminine essence that he recognized as he entered their domestic domain.

Did he know since the first year of their wedded life in the quiet, suburban town of Texas which became their home, that she was strumming her obsessive thoughts in the deep, innermost recesses of her mind? Did he know the dormant volcano inside her when she peeled potatoes or onions in their kitchen, worked on simple dinners of chicken and rice, when she vacuumed the carpets, or bought home her choicest vegetables from the farmers’ market? Or did he care less? Because when the two bodies brushed against each other, exploding, contracting, towering above each other in the dark, frenzied bed as they made love to each other in the messiest, yet most delicately loving way, and he savored all her feminine juices, all he thought then was that there was a glimmering, inviting light at the end of the tunnel, one that would suck away the most debilitating abyss that she sometimes surrendered to?

…… “So, for how long would you say such things have been going on with her?”

At the psychiatrist Dr. Jones’ plush office cabin, Neil sat, suddenly cautious of the urgency of his visit, woken from the stupor of his momentary daze following the long wait.

“I told you already, she had an abusive past, and she had a really hard time, struggling with it, and breaking herself free from it…I should have…I should have noticed it a bit earlier, I think.” Neil replied.

“Hmm, I see some of that in the case study my assistant had prepared, and it is quite common too, to have a history of this sort, for manic depressive patients that we see on a regular basis…but yes, in your wife’s case, she seems to be acutely sensitive.”

“First thing, can you tell me how is her equation with her family? Anyone in her family except you, with whom she has had a painful history? What do you think?”

“Shalini, my wife is the only child of her parents, born in Delhi, India. Her mother had succumbed to kidney failure in India quite some years back, and life was difficult back there with her alcoholic father. She had a godmother in Delhi, an entrepreneur woman named Ms. Padamsee who had introduced her to Rajesh, her first husband in a local jalsah, a poetry reading and musical event of sorts, in Delhi.  After a few meetings in regular intervals, she had thought of Rajesh as the antidote to all her pain at home. He appeared to be a sweet-talker, and had his ways with women. Also, he owned a corporate event management company in Houston, so he was quite well-off, financially. They didn’t wait for much long after the courtship. Her godmother arranged for a quick registry marriage and she flew away to the US as soon as she arranged for her visa in the country.”

“I can understand…I bet she was lured, and why not! So, do you know if she tried to get in touch with her family, or her father in India after her husband started abusing her?”

“It was of no use, actually. In fact, her father is in this country now, for the past four years, and seldom visits her. He married Ms. Padamsee, her fairy Godmother, who was no more a fairy now, and they both moved to Connecticut soon after. The last time I had got in touch with them was to invite them both for our wedding, and a Thank You card reached my home, along with a gift card from Macy’s. That was the end of it all.”

“That is sad….Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to ask you if you think something in the recent past might have triggered her sudden neurotic phase?”

Neil paused a bit. “Ummmm, not very recent though, but she had a miscarriage, quite a traumatic one, before she separated from her first husband, and she….she remarried…me.”

“Hmmm, I see….so does she speak of it to you? Or get hyper-sensitive?”

Neil nodded his head in assertion, gulping a steady influx of unsaid words, words which he would perhaps gather and break, construct and deconstruct, striving to know the rumbling, pent up thunder that was Shalini’s world.

“And also, may I ask, have you both as a couple thought of having a baby after all this? Now that you have been married for over two years?”

“Yes, we have…we have discussed this, quite a number of times….” He stammered a bit.

Some weeks back, when he had parked his car in their garage in a rather quiet, chilly winter evening, the loud, erratic barks from Bruno echoing from a distance seemed a tad bit unfamiliar. As he walked into the passage leading to the family room, the dog was in tatters, distressed and lost, literally dragging him to the far end of the passage which led to the main bedroom. There, in the hardwood floor, between the space of the dresser and the bed, she lay, her long tresses disheveled, her eyes loosely shut, with crystal drops of tears coating the corners of her eyes, streaming down her cheekbones. She sweated profusely in her sleepwear, which was the first thing which struck Neil as he stooped down to touch her, and then, discovered the whitish, semi-liquid discharges spilling from her mouth, all the way to the nape of her neck.

“Oh God, she must have thrown up a bit, just a while back”, he said to himself as Bruno started to scratch on some sticky remnants scattered on the floor where she lay.

“Shalu, sweetheart, wake up! What did you do to yourself, you crazy girl? See, I am back home! Look at me for once, damn it!” He had blurted out.

In the wooden dresser to their left, the container of her blood pressure medicines and a number of other medicines she took lay, angled, the lids opened. He looked at the remaining number of the pills, mocking the tumbled down promises of trust, love and the life-long companionship with which they had vowed to each other the day Shalini had come to his two-bedroom apartment in Sugar Lane, Houston, burying her face in his inviting chest, desperately pleading him to arrange for her divorce, so that she could free herself from that scumbag of a husband, Rajesh.  He had felt an inexplicable chill climb up his spine with her tight, cozy embrace, sweetly teasing him before the torrents broke open in that deep, sultry July evening almost three years back.

“It doesn’t rain in Delhi, the way it does here.” She said.

“Well, it doesn’t rain in Durgapur, my hometown too, the way it does here.” He replied. An alien rain with a familiar promise would unite them some day soon, they prayed together.

He knew in his heart of hearts, since the night they had met each other in the news year’s eve party at Rajesh’s furnished condo where Shalini moved around, awkward, with submissive, cat-like steps following her husband’s commands, that she was a lost soul, stuck in that quagmire of a home that was not really hers. He would whisper in her ears months later, in one of their passionate, clandestine weekly meetings that one day, if he could claim her absolutely, they would set their new house built together, brick by brick, on fire. The fire that would consume both of them on a high tide night, when they would drown in each other’s essence.

….He raced up to dial 911 and call the emergency. “There has been a medicine overdose…yes, my wife. We need to save her, quick.”

******************************************************

“You bring me good news from the clinic,
Whipping off your silk scarf, exhibiting the tight white
Mummy-cloths, smiling: I’m all right.
When I was nine, a lime-green anesthetist
Fed me banana-gas through a frog mask. The nauseous vault
Boomed with bad dreams and the Jovian voices of surgeons.
Then mother swam up, holding a tin basin.
O I was sick.
They’ve changed all that. Traveling
Nude as Cleopatra in my well-boiled hospital shift,
Fizzy with sedatives and unusually humorous,
I roll to an anteroom where a kind man
Fists my fingers for me. He makes me feel something precious
Is leaking from the finger-vents. At the count of two,
Darkness wipes me out like chalk on a blackboard. . .
I don’t know a thing.”

Gazing at the pages of her favorite Sylvia Plath’s book of poems, she lay in her bed, beneath the bland linoleum ceiling, the lonely, cryptic walls of her room in the hospital engulfing her, tearing her into shards and bits…Did her story begin in the night of her nuptial bed four years back on that grey, permissive December night in that lodge in Noida where, in between the rough, unburdening crests of sex, she thought she had been one with her man, Rajesh? Her man, who would revere her, nurture her like the sacred touch of the wine he had made her sip from his glass?

“This is the best birthday present I could have ever asked for, Minal masi!” She had splashed her long, curly hair around Ms. Padamsee’s gleeful cheeks and bid her goodbye, along with the handful of other wedding guests and slid under the plush cocoon of the lemon-froth curtains of the hotel room where the man, her new husband watched her peeling away, bit by bit, pouncing at her, laughing.

Did her story begin in the following spring of the next year, when she flew all the way to the United States, crossing the anonymous crowd, grasping in her palm the frothy bubbles of the promise of a new light inside her that was flickering inside her queasy stomach?

Inside the banquet hall of a very posh convention center at Herman Park, Houston, where the classy corporate guests of Rajesh were busy raising toasts to their own symphony, she had turned down the glass of Bloody Mary.

“You know, I am six weeks pregnant. I was dying to tell you, but checked myself. If I did, you wouldn’t have allowed me to fly all alone from India.” She had said, wrapping her arms around Rajesh’s neck as he started to crouch on the bed beside her.

“What? So soon? Are you sure it’s ours, and do you want to keep it?” She remembered him frowning, irritation flickering over his face as she tried hard to gobble the first hard chunks of the truths surrounding him and her moorings in the pale, yellow light of the room.

He had crushed her, trampled over her night-gown, tearing it apart, as her petit frame lay in the middle of all his cussing, temperamental, hysteric bouts, pleading to him in the obscure dark of the bedroom where his kinks, his fetishism spilled all over her. She wondered if her story began when he would suddenly come home early in the evenings, with pink and white roses and a resplendent diamond ring for her, looking at her middle finger with awe as they splurged on exotic seafood in that new restaurant in town. Those were also the dimly lit evenings when she waited for him to come back, drunk, stroking her nape and digging his fingernails deep in her skin. “Bitch…one hell of a bitch. You’re only my bitch.”He would shout, vain, irrelevant.

What were the people that surrounded him in his whims, she wondered, when he bent over to kiss her hair, and then, burst open in a sudden fury?

“Who is it that your hair smells of? Having fun, you whore, when I am not home?”

“You know it’s not true, Rajesh. I work from home and do not go anywhere without you.”

The deep beige walls, the milky white of the window blinds and the murky red of the designer curtains creaked with her hollow shrieks. She had been a doll of his twisted desires, a doll with the perfect pout and the thick, mascara-laden eyelashes which housed her burnt-out days, days when she woke up to his obsessive compulsive wants, days when her limbs, her torso, her abdomen and her loins strained with the pain of bearing the seed of his obsessive wants that he had fostered inside her, in the name of matrimony and the sweet seduction of a sanctioned love. Then one day, in a violent daybreak, the seed, almost a half-grown fruit inside her, spilled out of her in bursts of blood.

“It cannot be mine, it is never mine, you bitch! In every party I take you to, in every party I host at home, you have to catch the eyes of a man and flirt with him, eh? You just used me as your easy ticket to fly away from your filthy, middle-class home, didn’t you?”

His vehement kicks and rash shoving, slapping hard at the lyrics she had woven with him in the narrow alleyways of suburban Delhi, had sliced through the half-formed body of a cursed embryo, breaking it into splinters and shards.

The next day, Rajesh had come to visit her in the hospital. He held her pale, fragile hand and kissed the diamond on her middle finger again, convincing her that it was he who had admitted her, after all, begging of her to forgive his drunk, disastrous aberrations, give her one last chance. She lay there, groggy, scraped off, not knowing how long she would have to grit her teeth and hold on to whatever semblance of sanity she still had within her.

…………….Was it the smell of the fresh beige paint of the walls yet again, two years later, in the quiet suburban home that Shalini had built with Neil in Plano, Texas, as she discovered, working with her books piled up, working with the soapy bubble of the dishwater, that yet another seed was sprouting in her body? Would it be the true token of her deep, basal yearning to live, shedding her morbidity aside, she wondered. Bruno, the pet dog wagged his tail and smelled her belly, as if sensing an omen, while she washed him clean in the bathroom, craving for some fleeting moments to dance to the music being played amid the sweet household mess.

************************************************

“You are finally mine, Shalu. What would be the first thing that you would wish for, in our new life together, tell me?” Neil has asked as they had roamed, carefree, hand-in-hand amid the gentle sea breeze in Galveston island near Houston, guilt-free, elevated with the dream of their togetherness for the first time since Neil had met her in the presence of Rajesh as one of his ex-clients.

“To get the hell out of this city, and make a home in another part of this state, or a different state, for that matter.”

“You know what, I just had this surprise for you! I had applied in a few places since the court proceedings of your separation was going on, and just got an offer from an insurance company in Plano, near Dallas. What do you think, we should move there?”

“Yes, it’s about time we do that, maybe.” She said, with a sweet, lingering sigh.

“Okay, your highness.” He had replied.

Shalini still felt the sweet tug of that moment, with the sea purring like a naughty pet cat, the music, the pull of the sand beneath her toes, as the salt still stung in her eyes. She had never again visited the island after this. Her divorce with Rajesh, obtained with the help of one of Neil’s friends in Houston, now a thing of her past, choked her at times like a sudden siren rushing on in the distance. But Neil had often, in the bed and in the other rooms and beyond, spoken about, wanted to usher in new beginnings, despite being shut out from his orthodox Bengali family in Durgapur, India for marrying a divorced north-Indian woman, almost two years older to him. A new beginning, a luminous oasis in the midst of a desert, a new child implanted in her womb again, at the zenith of the consummation of a love affair that made her change her moorings all over again.

“It’s ours.” Her deep, resonant voice cut through the musky scent of his bare breast. A He, or a She, doesn’t matter, she thought to herself. Since its inception, Neil had kissed the welcoming spring in her tummy, and flaunted in its ownership. The thought of the new being inside her had engulfed her like a thick, rolling fog, like the shoulders of the lovers who had switched roles in her life. The antidepressants that their family care practitioner had prescribed for her during her tremendous trying times went off her shelves, and the hypertension symptoms she had, emerged at times like a secret tide, then slowly dipped underground again.

“Can I talk to Indraneil Sengupta? This is the nurse from Dr. Rogers’ office, it’s regarding your wife’s pregnancy.”

“Yes, speaking. What is it, please?” Neil’s voice shook as he received the call during the first hour in his office.

“Well, Mr. Sengupta, the preliminary ultrasound of the baby your wife is carrying was fairly good, with a steady heartbeat and all. But the recent prenatal screening she was scheduled for last week came out with some…some findings…and we would…”

“What do you mean? What happened to our baby?” He shouted, cutting the caller mid-sentence.

“Well, Mr. Sengupta, I am afraid there are good chances of the baby having a genetic birth defect, or a chromosomal disorder. The test results indicate a type of down syndrome, but there can be more specific findings…”

“And can I ask, what are the chances?”

“Well, as of now, the tests indicate a good 80% chance of the fetus growing with the disorder…”

As he stood in his cubicle, gripping the cell phone, his feet staggered. “I am sorry again, Mr. Sengupta, for…for having to tell you this…” the nurse stammered. “We know the medical and psychological condition of your wife already, so we decided to contact you first, regarding this. But you both have to come and visit Dr. Rogers to discuss the condition in details, and your wife has to go for some further tests, so that the diagnosis is confirmed further. And then, we would discuss with you what options you can consider.” She added. The last part of her words, a blurry melange of words and sounds, failed to register in his senses. He flopped down on the floor, close to his desk.  …………………………………………………………………………………………………

The thin mist of the fall was rearing its head as Shalini looked up at the contours of the sky kissed by the skyscrapers and the evening lights which were just beginning to explode in the nightscape about to descend on them, a cool, gleaming red, blue and fluorescent yellow. At the topmost floor in the observation deck of the Reunion Tower, five hundred feet above the city of Dallas, an icy stillness settled in her heart as Neil caressed her shoulders lightly in the presence of other onlookers.

“Please try and understand, be a good girl and listen to me. We cannot keep the baby, it would be too risky for you to give birth to a genetically challenged baby, and too risky for us both to nurture it for life. Please, Shalu, not this time. We saw the videos and the slideshows of a baby with such conditions, didn’t we? How could we cope with the fetus developing abnormally, with a number of physical and mental problems? How would we battle with it all our lives, have you any idea?” Just a week back, he had pulled her towards him to let her thaw, melt in his arms in the blanketed warmth of their bed. He took some time off from work, to coax her into the termination of her pregnancy.

She walked straight towards one end of the geo-deck, brushing aside the other visitors immersed in the panoramic views of the cityscape, capturing the illuminating wonders of the Thanksgiving lights in their cameras and smartphones. “Happy Thanksgiving!” The couples and the families romancing around, taking pictures, were flashing cheesy smiles while bumping into each other, the way Neil had done with her too, in his attempt to pull her away from her pitch-dark private hell.

From the vantage point, she was seeing the city lights, the sleek glass layers of the urban buildings, the dark luster of the veil of the glass window, and wondered what to be thankful for at that moment. The doctor whose surgical instruments probed deep inside the far end of her cervix and ripped apart her half-formed embryo just three days back, the flesh parts and the blood, gushing out of her, controlled with the intervention of nameless nurse attendants? The icy, steely stare of Neil and the doctor while they discussed the procedure of this termination and signed the paperwork? Or the litany of his monosyllables with which he bulged into her wound on their way back home? Their hands that moved together, seeming out of sync now, the practiced curves of their bodies reunited in bed again, with hopes woven again, much against the diktats of their ruthless times?

The journey back from the loose mirth of San Antonio to the plain, unswerving sameness of their everyday lives in Plano, Texas plagued him like an invisible, surreptitious wound. In between his staccato bouts of making love, and journeying together, they both fumbled for words, knowing they could rip their hearts out while their car raced past the long, stretching sameness of the interstate.

Words, in all their littered ambiguity as he called his parents, his younger brother in India on the way, curtly wishing them a happy new year, wishing the foamy bubbles of their estrangement would disappear at the long stroke of the night. Words, the silky rain and their drip-drop delight which he ardently wished and prayed, would come to their only sister Lily in their old, cobwebbed Durgapur home, washing down the tags of an ‘abnormal’ girl that their neighbors, their relatives, the people surrounding them had hurled on her. Lily, the dim, twisted smile, the dribbling mouth, the frog-like croaks that never became songs as she sat, wraith-like in her pale grey wheelchair amid the din and bustle of the everyday paraphernalia around her, etched in his soul’s canvas like an unresolved story. Lily, who comes back, by and by, to haunt him in the faraway land, the fourteen-year-old, the brainless, ‘spastic’ girl at the threshold of her puberty who had curled up, cold, motionless in her wheelchair one summer evening, years back, with her eyelids shut, the dark, red river of her menstruating cycle splashing the floor as it did sometimes. Only, that day was the finale to the grin painted with her crooked teeth, the finale to the questions in her life’s uncharted miles, questions which she could anyway never ask, burnt to ashes along with her in the crematorium.

“Oh God, did she die, just like that or did they end her life?”

A forced finale, the neighborhood gossiped, something his family might have wanted all along, while Neil, her eldest brother packed his bags and flew away from them all to attend an MBA program in a University in Houston, in search of greener pastures.

Why couldn’t he tear open and show his gashes to Shalini in all these days they had been man and wife? What stopped him as he clasped her hands and strove hard to kill her pain, one stroke at a time as he promised he would tend to her wounds? What stopped him from shouting out, as she sprung up in his arms and wished with all her might that their baby, the conjoined flesh emerging out of both of them must be given a chance to be born, whatever the odds might be? Could he open up to her now, peeling himself in the layers unknown to Shalu, once they reach home, and tell her there was still a bountiful rain waiting for them both at the end of this jagged road they had trudged? A welcoming rain which might usher in, once he confesses, squeezing her tight that he has also been a betrayer in her life, swallowing his own share of thorns.

“Don’t forget the appointment with Dr. Jones, the psychiatrist, coming up on Friday, Shalu.” He said, stroking her shoulders with one hand while driving. The rain might plunder the streets, their home, and their beings, any moment now.

dark rain

Knitted Tales: by Rubina Ramesh

 

KNITTED TALES:

A Collection of Emotions

by

 

 

 

Blurb

What forces an innocent girl to become a sex symbol? Her desires? Or cruel fate? 

 

Is a lifetime enough—for avenging a betrayal? How do you hide secrets that never stopped haunting you? 

 

Can vengeance and secrets of your past devastate your present? How can long-buried crimes of yours suddenly raise their head? Can sinning be saving?

 

Is your spouse your soulmate? What if they never understood your feelings? Can you still live with them?

 

Lastly, does life give only two options? Live or die? What if there is a third?

 

In her debut anthology, Rubina Ramesh tries to find answers to these questions that are often from the heart and yet makes the mind ponder over the solution. Or is it the other way round? Either way, Knitted Tales is a bouquet of emotions that is bound to touch both your head and your heart.

About the author

Rubina Ramesh is an avid reader, writer, blogger, book reviewer and marketer. She is the founder of The Book Club, an online book publicity group. Her first literary work was published in her school magazine. It gave her immense pride to see her own name at the bottom of the article. She was about 8 years old at that time.  She then went to complete her MBA and after her marriage to her childhood friend, her travel saga started. From The Netherlands to the British Isles she lived her life like an adventure. After a short stint in Malaysia, she finally settled down in the desert state of USA, Arizona.  Living with her DH and two human kids and one doggie kid, Rubina has finally started living the life she had always dreamed about – that of a writer. 

Her other published works include:

 

‘Home is where Love is’ a short story in the anthology Writings from the Heart. Ed. by Beth Ann Masarik. 

‘You Stole My Heart’ and ‘Let me Go’. Short stories as a part of the anthology Long and Short of It by Indireads.

‘Wake Me Up’ as a part of the anthology Marijuana Diaries by Fablery Publishers.

You can stalk her @

 

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Park Street

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How can my love hold him when all I have is my ebony morning,

bruised, breathing like a wrecked car? Didn’t I smell like

pungent rain when my poems scratched old wounds, and I

swirled and swirled, stumbling down into our own emaciated shadows?

My voice, the storm of heat, spinning, and spinning into spirals of words

and songs, songs that seep into the cutting edge of me, choke him.

My man, the voice dangling in my furtive black sky, the nameless,

sacred scar I wrap around my asphalt neck, bruises me.

I find him under my crushed ribs, my blood, heart

and scarlet light, waving at the splintered ME.

(Inspired by “A Losing Battle” by the phenomenal poet Kamala Das)

In between the neon lights that burn, fade and resound, in between the petal dance of footsteps and the wildflower kisses of Moulin Rouge, I trudge, forlorn, lost, unveiled. Ah yes, the perfumed streets that house the metronome beats smile at me, like a coquettish woman. The euphoria and the gluttonous poetry of Peter Cat, Flury’s, the dazzling vignettes of the hotels, bars and the VIBGYOR of the shining cafes seep into me.

“Hey, Raai, where are you off too? And when did you come to the city? Wow, one month back? Where have you put up? Didn’t even know you are here!” An old face, a flicker of a few trivial moments, an exchange of a few fading words and a slithering repartee. There, our wandering feet disperse in different routes. Do these faces emerging out of the routine crowd startle me anymore? I wonder. I flash an unaffected smile stamped on my cheeks for a few fleeting moments, babble a couple of inconsequential sentences and move on. An old intoxicating drug works on my mind’s reflexes, as I burst through the haphazard crowd of the sprawling, the innocuous, the nostalgic Park Street.

I make my trail, clogged, blocked, bursting open, in spurts. Lovers chase each other frantically, running restless, stumbling over the silvery labyrinths of the bars, nightclubs, and those unloved, chasing their mocking mirages.

Which is more sweet? The chill running down my spine as I gulp down a few more sips of the frothy margarita, the voice of the vocalist performing inside Trinca’s, the fanatic rain of the acoustic guitar he is strumming, or the taste of the kisses that that assail the lovers’ slippery mouths?

“This is a cocktail mix of a bit of gin, a few ounces of vodka, a few trickles of the juices of my fragrant love, and some more. Taste it, and don’t forget to enjoy it with a handful of cashews. Sheer bliss, you know.”

“I…I don’t think I can handle this…I never boozed ever, in my life.” A young feminine voice mutters, under her raging breath.

“Ah, you never know the magic unless you are under its spell. It’s the New Year’s Eve, my darling, don’t chain your free spirit, not today at least!”

Their trembling hands clasp each other, their breaths press heavy against each other, their ardent mouths and lips smudged in a hot lava of a lingering want, their bodies intertwined, melting in the dim, seductive silhouette of the evening. This evening, the musing of the hour when she becomes a wildflower, is mine too. This frenzied evening, she reclines in the voluptuous embrace of the first love of her life. Her womanly desires start pirouetting, surrendering to his testosterone urges. I see, I set my feet in the old, forgotten hills, valleys and creases of my own self, more ‘girlie’, more light, breezy, unblemished, years younger, with a hazel-eyed, bearded lover guy…it is just the gnashed, resurrected language of memory, where the giggling and the steam of seduction, the brushing against each other come alive, like glasses clinking with ice.

I know them all, I have seen, felt, played with them all in another life–the scented petrichor, the cocoon of the translucent light where I had deflowered myself, the fierceness of virgin passion pouring over the kohl lined eyes of the night. I have known the crescent moon spilling her ivory blood over the gushing hearts wandering, lingering in the mad mob of the New Year’s Eve. Yes, the new year it is, the ushering of yet another series of sunrises and sundown, a ritual of the joie de vivre of a broken-winged world. A world, festering, yet looking over the vicissitudes of life, today, grinning ear-to-ear, taking selfies while kissing, nibbling, limping in its dazzling light.

“Oh, well, wait a minute….who is that tall, dusky, light-feathered girl, smoking in that extreme left corner of the bar?” I move, in awkward steps, a few yards closer. She looks obtusely at the psychedelic lights and the mad, conceited footsteps and voices that surround her. A bulky, bespectacled middle-aged man seated across her in that cozy booth, tickles her feet, her knuckles, the soft mounds of her thighs peeking from the slit edges of her silken skirt.

“Isn’t she a known face, the ebony hair, the faint sparkle in those eyes spelling out old acquaintance of a familiar train route, amid the din and bustle of the Sealdah station? Putul, her nick name, and Reena, her school name that she despised?”

My fervent soul sought the petite, spirited schoolgirl I knew a decade back, tracing the curves of her eyebrows, her soft, sylvan smile which often escaped her lips when her friends surrounding her grinned and giggled, her dark, brooding eyes stirring something in my inner core.

“Do call me Putul, Raai didi, I am like your younger sister.”

“But why not Reena? It is a lovely name too. Isn’t it?” I would ask, in an irresistible bid to tease her, as we plunged our bodies and made our way amid the sweaty jostle of co-passengers in the hard, wooden seats.

I had seen her red, flustered face, the animated laughter of her school friends inside the train compartment and the irked, pissed off tone of her voice when they would tease her with a refrain in Hindi:

“Tere bin kyaa jeena/Reena, haseena, de de dil, dil de mujhko Reena.”

I remember her sharp, juvenile face glittering with an inexplicable sadness that lurked, like a sour reality rolling over and settling in the lumps of her throat. Her school friends sang medleys of Hindi songs in the antakshari game which we all played inside the train, indulgently, and she sometimes joined in the sessions, humming a few lines, albeit hesitatingly.

“Who calls you Putul at home?” I had asked her once.

“My father, my Babu. You know didi, he works in a toy manufacturing company in Howrah, and named me Putul the day I was born, the day he completed one year of his employment there.”

“And your mother? What does she call you?”

“Reena was the name my mother gave me the day she admitted me in school, rhyming with her own name, Meena. I hate both, Meena and Reena.” Her lips trembled in an unknown rage.

“But why?” I had asked, my voice awkward, trying to make sense of the looming clouds brewing inside her.

“There are boys, younger boys, men, older men who step in our house, time and again, whistling, calling out to her as ‘Meena Kumari.’ My father, Babu and she fight like cats and dogs in those dark nights, the old bed of our tiny bedroom creaks and their shouting voices tear apart my peaceful sleep. I feel like running far, far away…I cling to Babu late at night and try to fall asleep, my mother trembling, weeping…. forget it, didi. Which station is it, by the way?”

Day after day, she would emerge in the same compartment, with the same old braid, the same wrinkled, pale school uniform, the same old tattered schoolbag sitting heavy on her slender shoulders. She would drift away, slowly, unassumingly as the train came to a screeching halt in her destination.

Aren’t those the same brooding eyes, coated with layers of eye make-up and kohl, staring nonchalant, at the dim, phony surroundings? Aren’t those the same soft, feminine cheeks and pouted lips, resting beneath the cheap, lousy make-up, faintly spelling out an untold story which might never come out of her closet, unguarded?

“Putul, is it you? How are you?” I almost shout, my vain voice stumbling over the mad mirth and revelry of the evening, trying to walk a few more steps closer to where she sat. “Putul!” I wave at her and try to come even more close, as I watch her look around, following the cues of my voice, and giving me a cold, barren stare for once before looking away. The man accompanying her flirts with her nimble fingers, her torso bent against him in an unabashed surrender.

A minute or two. I keep staring at her as she dwindles in his broad arms, I suspect, under the spell of a strong alcoholic beverage. My eyes sting, as I follow them, surreptitiously, like a creepy apparition. The man shoves her body with inordinate care and takes her along, away from the cozy booth where they sat and frolicked, away from the bustling bar and walks out with her, staggering, in the neon-lit by lanes.

“Yes, yes, I will be done within a couple of hours. Give me a call back when you reach the hotel and then you can pick us up.” The man flashes a nuanced smile, attending a call on his cell phone, while with another hand, he grabs the young woman’s arms, inhaling deeply into the creases and folds of her tight, body-hugging shirt.

“Reena, hey, wake up now, baby, we are nearing the hotel, you see!” I sense him utter in her smudged ears.

I forget where I should have been by now, I forget where I am headed to, and in a frenzied zeal of discovery, I start following their trail, as the man leads her surrendering body to the dim lights of the plaza that ends at the nearby Park Hotel. Within minutes, they get lost in the labyrinths leading to the lounge and then, I know, to the forbidden, paid, momentary pleasures of the plush hotel room that the man must have booked to nibble, chew on her, suck her dry.

I run, run and run, the color and the euphoria around fading in my eyes, dangling in front of me like a monochrome landscape. I falter a number of times, trampling over the droning voices of fleshless street urchins and ebony beggar kids, torn, unbuttoned. There, in the ground that I tread now, teardrops have trickled down the cheeks of cheap, phony prostitutes whose meandering ways have been too easy to condemn, whose sultry tales have been too hard to gulp down. My palms wipe my truant tears, a frail moment of surrendering to the volatile tides of homecoming. Five years, it has been, five truant, yet cajoling new year’s eves since my old flame Bhaskar, that tall, lanky guitarist had spurred me on to my surrendering in that same booth inside Trinca’s where another Putul, another Reena smolders and burns today. Is it the same way how I had burnt years back, in hope of a heady, adventurous voyage of love, in hope of a home and a pure, glorious bed some day?

Do my tears have the same salt that have made theirs? Do my yearnings have the same wrinkles, the same stretch marks, the same glory, the same sin that have conjured theirs?

 

***********************************************************************

Young, gleeful, make-up laden faces giggle, peer over each other in the lush comforting zone of Flury’s, gorging on the buttery cakes and chocolate pastries. The warm embrace of the posh bakery adorns their saliva, and they lose themselves the wintry fog of their smudged conversations. I sit, hunched in a corner, burning in those familiar tunes, yet a few light years away from the idyllic cacophony. The bus-stop, the burst and cackle of bodies waves at me from a few yards away. I know I have a destination for now, a towering hospital building at the farthest end where these deceptive, silken lights melt and drown, a general cabin where a once noisy father stares, wordless now, lying prostrate in an overused patient bed, benumbed into a dysfunctional reality.

The dark, chocolatey crumbs of the black forest cake of Flury’s melt in my hungry mouth, and a freshly lit incense of a guileless childhood returns. A childhood when the father brought in our suburban home heavenly slices of the same cake, culinary delights from the same bakery shop and wove stories of the opulence of the New Years’ Eve party in Park Hotel where he would join his colleagues, get a bit drunk, forcefully, and return home with a hangover he would be unwilling to admit.

“How are you feeling today, Baba? Any better?”

I enter the room he is in, overlooking the window, from which he stares at the silhouettes of the vast expanse outside. He nods, in half-acceptance, half-denial, as always, since he has been on the rehab session of the neurology unit, hanging vicariously in the thin rope of a diminishing memory.

“Do you remember the date? It is the 31st December, the New Year’s Eve, you should have seen the lights of park street today, such a sight!” I see the glimmering streaks of a faint remembrance pushing the boundaries of his dementia-affected brain. He smiles, and winks at me.

“Now, now….be a good boy and eat a slice of this cake I bought for you…remember Flury’s? How does it taste like?” I gaze at his moist eyes, and wipe off his tear-laden cheeks, and while I do all the talking in the somber hospital room, I fill his mouth with small crumbs of the cake, one little spoon at a time, and wait for his brain to convey its aroma, its essence, the fleeting atoms of its memories.

“See…how you smile! You do remember having it before, right? Now can you say ‘Happy new year’ loud and clear?”

“Happy new year…” his feeble, jittery voice reverberates in the room, cutting through the raw wounds, the rough-hewn edges of a frail, long lost childhood, swaying in the arid air between us. “Happy new year” is the only coherent phrase he can utter, for now, while swaying his head in the warm, monitored confines of the hospital room. I can feel him silently questioning the year, the happenings around, the years that have passed in between. The grey clouds of anger, making up, the losses and the revival that he had chased for all those years have dispersed, and what remains is a tiny blob of a moment in time.

“Seven more days, I think, and you can take him back home with some medicines and don’t forget to continue the restorative therapies, though dementia is an incurable ailment. Try treating him as you treat a young toddler, and take one day at a time….and yes, happy new year! Go and celebrate.” Dr. Abir Roy, the young, muscular neuro-therapist squeezes my hands as we stand close to the elevator, and share meaningful glances, those of empathy and the hint of a reassuring love, waiting to eclipse me if I ever respond to it, willingly.

“You have my number, Raai. Hope you will keep in touch once you take him back home. I will wait.” His parting words slice through the cold silence of the hospital and linger in my head while I meander in the streets, looking for a cab that will drive me back, further north, to an empty, hollow home.

……“Raai didi, it is me, please take me in, I am Ree…ummm, Putul. I am stranded alone here; ekta taxi-o jete raji hochchhe na (no taxi is willing to give me a ride).”

I am startled for seconds, shaken out of my pendant thoughts. My heart thumps loud in my chest, not the least bit prepared for this unforeseen finale to the evening. I give a silent nod to the driver, as he opens the door to the cab’s back seat where I sit, huddled in a corner, my face, my nose perched on the open window, inhaling the evening revelry of my festive city. She sits next to me in the backseat, just as she would sit in the train compartment years back, the shy, hesitant schoolgirl, and we both remain silent, our minds fumbling with the proper words to start any exchange, whatsoever.

“Didi, should I take you via B.T. Road, or do you want another route?

She was the one to speak first. “B.T. Road dhoro, bhai. I will get down at Dunlop.” And then, for the first time in the car, she grabbed my hands.

“You are angry on me, na? You called me, back there in Trinca’s, and I couldn’t…. kotodin pore dekha bolo to? (Imagine how long it’s been that we met?)”….she paused, and gulped the choking silence between us. “How are you, Raai didi?”, she enquired, with an ineffable warmth that has evaded me for long.

“What about that man you were with, in Trinca’s, who escorted you to the hotel? Wasn’t he supposed to give you a ride back home?” The spineless jerk! I mutter, wordless, under my breath.

She paused, let out a sigh, and suddenly broke open in peals of laughter. “Oh, that old ox, Mr. Bajaj? His wife called him back home… there has been a family emergency, with his mother-in-law having a sudden massive stroke! He quickly ran back home. You should have seen his face, didi, right at the moment when he was having the fun of his life!”

I gulped down a big lump and it settled in my throat, awkward, painful. When had she initiated herself in this murky adult world, this point of no return?

She added, as if reading my thoughts instantly.“He used to come to my mother some time back, until his eyes caught a fancy for me a couple of years back, and Ma relented…chharo didi, they are all the same, but their papered notes smell fresh and tempting, and those are what truly matter….

She looks out at the window of the cab, forlorn, lost. “I will go to visit Babu tomorrow, let’s see if I can surprise him on the first day of the new year.” She suddenly says.

“Where is he? Don’t you stay together anymore?” The feeling of disbelief tickles my throat.

“No didi, not any more, since our old house was pawned, following his lay-off from the toy factory. Ma had arranged for a small flat in the Dunlop area from Mr. Bajaj, and we stay there now….you won’t really mind if I take a couple of dregs, will you? She takes out a pack of cigarettes from her bag. “Babu is in a rehabilitation center near Nimta since the last five years, his deranged brain driving him to substance abuse and what not!” The cab speeds past the mad, dizzy streets and trudges along the busy highways. “Shaala haraami!” She cusses, looking disdainfully at the huge traffic ahead of us.

“But what about you, Raai didi? Didn’t you leave Kolkata with a job quite some years back, the last time I heard about you? So, you are back, finally? And did you marry yet?” She gazed at me intently, her unbridled curiosity killing me, one stroke at a time.

“Yes, I left, five years ago, but I have just been back…” I sigh, and flash an inconsequential smile, then pat her back as my parting gesture. “Bhai, please stop me right here.” I instruct the driver to halt in the bumpy lanes, leading to my new North Kolkata home. “And do drop her safely in Dunlop, please.” I pay him the taxi fare, and wave at her for one last time, looking into her questioning eyes throwing darts at me, as I cross the street and keep walking towards my empty nest.

How would it have been if I had lifted the fog of secrets hovering over my life in suburban Mumbai where I had been lured by Bhaskar, my first love, to the slippery quagmire of a bar singer’s life? How would it have been if I would tell her of the endless evenings and nights when my voice had rained songs, one after the other? Did anyone know back then, that none of the ears listening to them felt how I kept burning, while offering them a plastic, unreal slice of myself.

“Listen, Raai, you have to abort the baby, we really have no choice than to wipe out this ‘mistake’ we committed….just give both of us a few more years to make more money; then, we might marry and have a family. OK? Happy, baby?” His calculated words, his sly, manipulative stances had carried sparklers, illuminating my pensive soul, while both of us tried in our own, unique ways to climb the tight rope that leads to a glitzy, yet thorny musical life. How would it have been if Putul knew the storm, the deluge that ripped apart the love nest I had built with him in the evening when I had to succumb in a stranger’s arms inside a dingy, half-lit studio?  Ah well, an agent in the music industry, promising to give us both our first big breaks must have his own rightful share, isn’t it so?

“It’s really not a big issue, you know, certainly not worth crying and whining, if you want this deal to be struck.” Bhaskar had grabbed me from behind, kissing the nape of my neck that night, begging of me to let go. And yes, I did let go, for quite a long time, I did believe a home with him would be possible at the end of this crooked journey, once we both would find our moorings in the music industry. I did believe, till the day I found him burying himself in the quagmire, choosing the easy route of an agent supplying pretty females to his co-called ‘musical’ clients.

“It is not easy for any of us, Putul, it has not been easy, being on this fiery trip, scalding from scalp to toes, yet never giving up on the chance to find the closures of our journey. I came back to find a closure to mine, and I am sure in a few years, you will find yours’, as well.” I knew the tracks of our lives were forged together, by the battles that we had lost, the battles we might win some day.

Jinxed Interlude: Short Story

(1)

Tireless, she meandered. The city, a painted whore with her chipped off nail polish, her smudged kohl that seeped into the burst of the echoing calls, her smashed lips, gnawing. The cars cruised their way into the zigzagging highways. The numbness burnt her, as she shrunk, slowly, surreptitiously, into a shadow of dark circles, seething, lingering in columns of smoke, burnt out conversations and the stinking froth of forgotten kisses.

dark rain

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Image Source: imgarcade.com

The mist and the sporadic orphaned tears that stung in Amrita’s eyes, appeared known, all over again. But why? Hadn’t the grief that had birthed it, long been murdered? There, she had emerged under the same flyover, five years later, looking with her intent, yet distant eyes at the people swarming out of tunnels and chaos, sweating, swearing cuss words, waving hands, smoking.

“Was it here that I discovered Joydeep first, in that dainty little coffee shop, where the chaos of unknown voices spiraled out of control?”

“Was it here that my curls went flying with the unrestrained peals of laughter when we celebrated our first year of dating each other?”

“Was it here that we left our entwined skins in a wreck of washed out memories, amputating our existential texts?”

“Was it here that our differences and distances soared, sinister, dark, between the burst of our growing silences?” She asked herself in between the abrupt halts of traffic signals, shuddering, as she tried holding on to the embers, long frozen.

“What was the silk rope that tied me to him and his professed love?” She thought. It did bruise when she wrote her last love letter in a plea before splitting up; it did bruise when their fingers and lips slipped into each other, into the metric lines of the poem of their thwarted union.

Back at home, the relationship wasn’t a secret anymore, where every single soul asked her if she was really ‘committed’ to that wayward, bohemian indie musician guy who refused to have a career apart from his touring rock band.

“Have you ever thought if it is a momentary whim without a sound future for any of you? Have you gone nuts, thinking you can walk out any time with a worthless, aimless boy while you don’t even know if he is capable of providing for you? …Well, so you are going to provide for him, is that the idea? How do you think it can work?”

She gulped in all of it, occasionally creating a havoc, shouting her heart out, occasionally choosing to brush it all aside, till the last day they met at their most frequented park.

“Joy, Can you please return all the letters I had written you in the mad haze of these years? I don’t think you will need those thousand stupid lines anymore. Lines about our future summer rental in a virgin, Gothic island with an ochre pool where kingfishers swim, where granules of strawberry and pink roses swim in the tranquil water. Lines about our future twins, a boy and a girl who appear and vanish with swift switchboard clicks, whose cherubic bodies sway, wax and wane on a leafy swing, the boy and the girl carved in our mashed up images, in our bones, blood and the palette of my primal wants….”

She handed him another letter, this, the last one.

“I do not know what to say if you insist on breaking up today, right now. Only let me take your hand in mine, for one last time before you let me blow away in smithereens.”

“Do let me go.” She had pleaded, her mind scrubbing hard to wipe out their censured years of being together.

At the New Year’s Eve party, in the heady concoction of cocktail drinks and enthused friends lurking in between smudged teardrops that she rubbed off, vigorously, she covered up with fake grins and smiles. Her throat exploded as she gulped the thorny pain. Those were the friends, the faces who had conjoined both their fates, those were the ones who watched them twittering, chirping in the magic spell of the silhouetted evenings. Those were the faces, voices who engaged and disengaged themselves in various phases of their turbulent love song of three years.

“….Ah, look at them, don’t they look snugly fit in each other’s arms, aren’t they just made for each other, a picture-postcard couple?”

“…..A very happy three years’ anniversary of being together, Joy and Amrita, officially, as a couple. When are the marriage bells ringing? When do we get to have the big fat treat?”

“….Look, don’t you think you should take charge of things and move on? When is this guy going to talk to your parents and ask for your hand in marriage? Or, are you guys going to just live together without legal encumbrances?”

“….You know, just cry your heart out, today, for one last time, and leave it all behind you.” The voice of an old friend, a bestie, for that matter, and the pale crimson light of the large, dark room emerged in her eyes, and the words, bulging, buoyant, choked her. Those were the several voices, distant, near, playful, indolent, soppy, withering, swimming across the dark undercurrents of the ocean she plunged into, half-forgotten names, faces fermenting in the restless undulations.

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To be continued…

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Short Story, first published in my blog in B’Khush, dated January 5, 2015

(1)

She was a new bride, draped in the vermilion light of the day.  The crimson red scattered in  shreds in her hair, locked in a bun, all the way to her forehead and nose, breathed of a newly forged, sanctioned communion of love. Love was solidified by the family priest with the burning embers of fire and the rigorously uttered Hindu wedding mantras. Her hands, holding on to the grains of the puffed rice shivered as they were held by the groom’s, standing erect, eager, behind her.

marriage_love

Image source:

tribune.com.pk 

Aguner poroshmoni chh(n)owaao praaney

E jeebon punyo koro, e jeebon punyo koro dohon daane

(Let the flames of the holy fire touch our souls/Let us be sacred in the fire, let us be beautiful, complete in burning).

She breathed, shallow, forlorn, trying to chase the intangible bubbles that she could see, sprouting out of time’s indelible conspiracy. Her hands, tied around the groom’s hands with a sacred red thread were squeezed, grabbed by a pair of arduous male hands inside the transient dark of the movie theaters; the snug comfort of the cabs after dusk sheathed the city and its desperate lovers in its silhouetted beauty. Her hands grasped his and spoke volumes to him while she would board the train back home, the whistle blowing as the young lovers would take in the dense breeze of departure. “Wish you a safe journey. Call me once you reach home”.

Together with the groom, she melted in the fire and the cacophony of the Vedic chants, as her uncle offered the bride to the groom in the ritual of Sampradan. “Bor khub shundor dekhte, Sukanya (The groom is really handsome, Sukanya). Lucky you, and see, the sindoor spilled over your nose too.” An elderly aunt, holding in her arms a truant toddler boy, came close to her, trying to fix her tilted topor (crown).

She watched the noisy children, the guests gathered in clusters, the austerity of the priest and the earnestness of the groom, a stealthy drop of tear or two pushing past her rouged cheekbones. Sukanya Bakshi chewed on the last slices of her maiden identity, her first real date in the old, nameless alleys of College Street, the fruitlessness of nibbling on the secretly scribbled pages of her life with Aniruddha, the notes of togetherness, intimate, unguarded moments, promises wincing at her in the solemnity of the rituals.

“Ki korchhish ki? (What are you doing, you crazy girl?) Don’t rub it off your nose! You know it’s the testimony to long-lasting love!”

Ayan, the groom, gave her stealthy glances of unbridled desire, an anxious, yet rehearsed one filled with a sense of urgency and a surge of newfound love, admiration and promises of a conjugal life that he had waited for, all these months of this neatly arranged, telephonic courtship. The marriage registrar was there in time, the affidavit and the legalities solemnized with immediate, extended family members, an array of people of various ages and sizes, munching on delectable food, the aroma and festivities of the night.

(2)

Across the crowded room of Ayan Mitra’s ancestral north Kolkata house, her fate stumbled. Sukanya Mitra, a brighter moon with the aanchal of her pink Benarasi sari tangled with her new husband’s wedding attire, scurried through the unfamiliar faces, the claustrophobic walls, the alleys, the forlorn shrubs and the narrow verandah. Her kohl-laden eyes, taking in the pandemonium, the nascent constellation of relatives, neighbors, acquaintances, settled in the ground beneath her feet, where the women of the house prepared a rectangular wooden ‘jalchauki’. Her alta-clad, crimson feet followed every minute gesture, every miniscule ritual they were immersed in, as they welcomed her to the house with paddy, durba and a pan of simmering, boiling milk. She watched the night in its dancing shadows, the whirlpool of revelries, the series of the rituals performed on her, while Ayan pried over her, died to hold her, touch her amidst the strictures and the never-ending customary occurrences.

“Just one more night, and you will, fully, completely be mine”, he had whispered in Sukanya’s ears, aching with the weight of the heavy, vintage gold earrings.

“Do you think, I will ever be able to completely belong to Ayan?” She had asked her best friend Soma over a cup of coffee, the day they went to shop for her wedding.

“Well, you know, you can’t absolutely belong to anybody, no matter how close you are in the relationship.” Soma smiled, looking at her furtive, questioning eyes. “But you will surely bond, over time. Just give that much time to him, to yourself and you will be fine.”

“You know, I’ve asked myself the same questions about Ani. Was he ever mine? If any part of me truly belongs to him, how could he let me go?”

“May be, yes, may be a part of him really belongs to you, Sukanya.” Soma replied, as both friends walked hand-in-hand amid the din and clatter, the evening rush of the Gariahat market. Soma had seen the lovers ebb and flow in their five years of togetherness. She had seen it all happen as both of them met, for a beat, a fleeting thought, a happenstance, a chained turn of events spurred on by serendipity, which looked like a lifetime of dreams.

They knew all along, this had to happen. Somewhere, down the line, he didn’t think marriage would necessarily solidify the belonging. She had cursed him for months, refused to speak to him, discarded him as a bohemian, as a coward, got herself strips of sleeping pills, promised herself their paths would never cross again, but none of that worked to ease her pain one bit. For some journeys, like this, she knew the cessation may remain undefined.

Years back, on a gleaming Diwali evening, Sukanya had fluttered in her pink chiffon salwar suit, her hands sweated as they held Ani’s in an act of complete, unquestioned surrender inside the cozy confines of his two bedroom apartment in Ballygunge. The smell of the house and its walls, the indoor plants, the aroma of food and of Ani’s lips, thrusting within hers, the world of Paulo Coelho, Neruda, Marquez, Che Guevara, Ravi Shankar, Jimmy Hendrix, which inhabited her dream for days before she set her first footsteps in the house, were all hers. The moments, at once spare and lush, the faint promise of rain inside her, were all hers.

“What’s your name again?” Aniruddha’s mother had asked her, curtly, as they both raced up the stairs leading to the terrace.

“Sukanya Bakshi.”  She had answered, coyly.

“It’s a crazy night outside, Sukanya. It won’t be safe for you to stay here for long. Babu will go with you and see you off at the station.” His mother replied.

“What happened to you, Su? Why such a sorry face? Didn’t you like our house much?”

“Ki pagol-er moton bokchhish (You talk crazy, man)!” She had retorted, her face buried in Aniruddha’s chest in a secret nook of their terrace. “I was thinking if your mom even liked me one bit. She didn’t seem to talk to me much.”

“Who? My Ma? Don’t you bother about that. Ma is bindaas, she likes all my friends, tokeo bhalobashbe (will love you too).”

“But am I only a ‘friend’, Ani? Can’t I even think of a future, of a life with you, in this house?”

“Of course you can, Su, but if I would ever have to build a nest with us anywhere, it would be in the hills. I had told you before too.”

“But I want to get real now, Ani. I would want to ask you today, after almost three years of seeing you, when will you be prepared to take me in your life?”

“But you are there in my life, in every possible way, aren’t you?”

“I am asking you to really take me in your life, to marry me, damn it! I can’t get clearer than that,

can I?”

“You can surely ask that, the way you all are conditioned and brainwashed to think of a relation culminated in the institution of marriage. I have told you over and over again that my love for you is greater than these pre-conceived ideas of conformity.”

“It is finally going to be over between us, then. From now, from today. I’ve tried to call it a day so many time before, Ani, but couldn’t. In all these years, I couldn’t”….In between incessant tears, her voice muffled. “It’s useless now Ani. All these years I’ve fooled myself to think, maybe you’ll change, but you won’t!”

“Listen, don’t do this to me, Su. It pains me as much as it does you, believe me if you can.” His hands usurped her, took her in the pulsating warmth of his chest, as she tried, vainly, to move away. “Now, listen to me. You know I have been working freelance for a couple of non-profits in the North East. I will be off and on, shuttling between both places for some time now. And you’ve got to believe that your love will be the anchor, wherever I will sail.”

“In a way, it will be good for both of us. This distance will teach me to yearn less for you, to live my life without you.”

“Do you really think it is that easy? Is it all conditioned?”

“Listen, Su. I understand what you are going through, every day. It is not easy for you to tolerate your parents’ abuse every time we try to meet, or talk over the phone. But I know I can’t be acceptable, by their standards.”

Once again, under the asphalt sky, amid the fire crackers and the lit-up houses, love breathed, wrenching and restoring, the pulsating heartbeats in sync, in tune with the cryptic music of the night. “I want you to remember that ours is a sacred journey, whether or not we continue to walk, hand-in-hand, through it.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

It was not the forbidden apple that Eve had tasted when her world changed forever. There, in the soiree of fragrant flowers meticulously decorated in their nuptial bed, she was weightless, surrendering. “There’s a sense of salvation in this sanctioned intimacy, no heartbreak, no obligation”, Sukanya thought to herself in between the relentless, smothering lovemaking. Ayan had a past of his own, his girlfriend at IIT had ditched him for another batch mate. “We will work together as man and wife to get over our losses”, he promised, the day they became formally engaged. “Who was Aniruddha?” She asked herself that day. A non-conformist, confused writer, photographer, crusader who never got himself a regular job, never really ‘left’ her, an impatient beau who really never wanted anything permanent with her, an old scar she unconsciously kept scratching, a dark fog of memories, threatening to cover her? In all these months leading up to this marriage, she knew everything she believed about love, everything that really mattered, was falling apart. And yet, in the complete faith and surrender in the pitch dark of the room, something was building up inside her. Something constant, palpable, ineffable.

(3)

The years rolled by. Sukanya and Ayan, trapped in the perpetual calling of domesticity, forgot to  sit together, smile back at old times and ponder about pining and loss, about existential questions of desire and yearning. The young girl who had once dreamed of a love nest with her unconventional lover had happily traded the old, mossy North Kolkata house cluttered with conservative in-laws’ with a new furnished flat in a greener neighborhood in Salt Lake. She cooked, hosted parties for family and friends, smiled coyly when they said it was high time for the couple to have a child now.

Thoughts of Ani became an occasional remembrance of her first massive adrenaline rush, her blood racing at the strumming of his guitar, at his recitations of Pablo Neruda’s poems. She stumbled, paused, took in the gusty wind, nestling in her frosted breaths. Five winters passed since the last time she let him know, they would never meet again. Five winters since her wayward mind, desperate to settle down, let the self-pitying dribble slip over her, implored on her to court and marry in haste. In a foggy December morning, precisely five years after their last meeting, Sukanya, weary from the strain of the first trimester of her pregnancy, opened her old email folder in an attempt to get rid of old, forgotten exchanges between Ani and her, no longer worth saving. An unread message, four years back in time, waited for her in the inbox, a blip in her brain, a lump in her throat.

She opened the message, lines hanging in the opaque stillness of the desktop screen, as she read on:

Dearest Su, it’s been a year that we last met, my happiness dwindling in the evening you bade adieu. Did we fight that day? 

In our university days, when we came together, our worlds collided perfectly in symphony, like the dance of swans. I know you wanted a home with me, to be with me in the most traditional of bonds, that of a man and his wife. You know how I had evaded it. I know with my life, marriage would be a man-made necessity germinating in barren soil, nothing would have grown out of us. 

I had seen marriage stink in crumpled bed sheets and slaps, in shadows lurking in dark corners of 5’ by 7’ rooms. I had told you how my mother succumbed to this necessity twice, ending up in two biological baggages, me and my half-sister from Ma’s previous marriage, for her lifetime. Ki dorkar chhilo, bol (What was the need, tell me)? I have given it a thought for a number of times. 

For me, mutual love was enough to sustain me, and even if I would succumb to tradition, would I remain true to my own complete foundation, my own being? Could you gift me a life free of slavery in the name of a secured, routine job? Could you gift me a life, a bliss, even a child, freed from this vicious cycle of traditions?

And then I met her, months after your last meeting, in one of my sudden, unplanned North East trips, a child of Mother Earth, grazing the hills with her numinous silence. A girl of six or seven, biting her nails frantically, shuddering as I tried to touch her, gazing at me blankly, as I asked her name, where she came from and who accompanied her. Her speechless mouth, her quiet presence and intent eyes hovered around me for days, and then I took her to an expert counsellor. 

Severe violence and sexual abuse resulting in a trauma was confirmed. I named her Flora. Flora inhabited my room, my backpacking trips, my world with wordless love. Back in Kolkata with her, I had tried to accommodate her in institutions, but her hands, tangled in mine, refused to let go. Can you tell me if not here in this nameless bounty of love, where else can I find beauty and purity, which will fill my soul, make me whole? 

Till the last day we had met, you had wanted to know if I could marry you. In my mind, I was split, harrowed, and had only one answer, our favorite sonnet, which I used to recite to you often, back then: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds/Admit impediments. Love is not love/Which alters when it alteration finds/ Or bends with the remover to remove”. I wanted us to come together in an act of union, not in an institution.  

Today, every moment I am reliving my life with Flora, my old thoughts, questions burning to their finishing embers. I am craving your presence, a mundane life, together with you and her, back in the hills, like I would vainly dream with you in our university days. A life you had once craved with me, that was too ordinary, too brittle for my thinking, back then. Will you come back to me, be a part of this world? 

 P.S. Because I have loved you so, will you reply? 

Yours truly, 

Ani. 

She checked the date of the e-mail, drafted four years back, uninvited and unanswered, on the day she was celebrating her first wedding anniversary with Ayan.  She drafted a reply.

Dearest Ani,

Your letter reached me today, in the hushed fog of the years of our distance. I know, with the green pasture of your soul, you are beautiful, whole and free now, and Flora is with you, a part of your heart’s melody, liberation and dream, a dream that I cannot own now. But do remember that whenever I will return to our unfinished story, I will seek you and Flora, be a part of your pure, unbound selves, and be in love with ‘love’, yet again. 

Yours’ ever, Su.”

It was a reply that she couldn’t send her long-lost love, a reply that she saved in a folder, in the recesses of her mind, a letter that she would now bury in the slippery sands of time.

————————————————————————–

 

Story published on StoryMirror.com

Hello friends, I have entered my story/personal narrative ‘Dust to Dust, Ashes to Ashes’ in a short story contest held by StoryMirror. The story, written fictionally, but actually a creative nonfiction piece, is a small homage from me to my departed mother, written after her death. More than a story, it is a journey of discovering the intersection between life and death.

I hope you will read, comment and vote for my story if you like reading it.

Do go to this link in Storymirror to read the story and would appreciate your valued comments very much:

https://storymirror.com/story/559189362086f72b577d2d58

“Crossed and Knotted”: An Intricate Tapestry of Stories Weaves India’s First Composite Novel

Cover-page

Cover page of Crossed and Knotted. Image courtesy: Readomania

 

“In Readomania’s composite novel “Crossed and Knotted”, the fourteen different writers were well faced with the challenges of achieving a unique feat while creating a well-balanced storyline that comes together like a rainbow. They had to juggle with the individual characters, events, settings and emotions of their individual stories, very much in line with their literary predecessors. However, what we see in effect is the experience of tying and untying a beautifully created knot, with the separate strands of unique and seemingly disparate stories. In other words, we explore the formation of a braid, which is meticulously tied with each and every individual story that is complete in itself, yet connected with the story that follows, ultimately giving the book its multiple layers and nuances.”

My book review of “Crossed and Knotted”, India’s first composite novel published by Readomania. A unique blend of fourteen interconnected stories by fourteen different authors. A must read!

http://learningandcreativity.com/crossed-and-knotted-an-intricate-tapestry-of-stories-weaves-indias-first-composite-novel/

The Ripples of Life

lovers

Image Source: Lovers in Love-Viewing Gallery. Galleryhip.com

 

“The ripples of life

As they ebb and flow,

The beauty of my strife

As I let it go.

With open hearts, let me bleed and rain.

Sink into my soul, you’ll forget the pain….”

 

Life is full of stumbling blocks, and also pleasant little surprises packed, boxed and shipped by the wayward and irresistible forces of destiny. This Valentine’s day, I humbly present ‘The Ripples of Life’, a short fiction published at ‘Cafe Dissensus’. This is my full-length short story of two star-crossed lovers, Nina and Thomas, a Caucasian girl and a Keralite guy, who meet each other in a little town in upstate New York and fall in love, and grip each other tight till the end of the end.

I am delighted to present the tangled world of love between the man and his wife, and also honored to let you know that the Editor of Cafe Dissensus, Mosarrap Hossain Khan has written another love story based in rural Bengal, India, titled ‘Mehru’s Dream’ that is published here around the same time today. Hope some of you will read and comment.

http://cafedissensusblog.com/2015/02/13/the-ripples-of-life/

 

Roots and Meanderings: My Foreword and Review

My first foreword as an author for ‘Roots and Meanderings’, a soulful anthology of ten short stories by ten writers published by ‘Learning and Creativity’. The book is now available in Kindle Edition on Amazon. In my foreword, I have tried to capture the simplicity and creative spirit that forms the core of the stories presented in the collection.

Sharing a short excerpt from the foreword here:

“The short story as an art in English literature has traversed a very interesting, dynamic journey, starting from the oral storytelling traditions of the 17th Century to the classic, timeless tales of the prolific European authors of the 20th Century including Guy De Maupassant, Anton Chekov, to the dreamy, symbolic, idiosyncratic fictional world of Somerset Maugham, O Henry, James Joyce, William Faulkner and Katherine Mansfield. Following the Second World War, the form, widely known as literary short fiction, has flourished in the pens of a delectable variety of fiction writers in the United States including the feminist authors Flannery O Conner, Tilley Olsen, Alice Munroe and also the phenomenal Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, all of whom are considered masters of this eclectic form of modern prose.”

Please visit this page to read the rest:

http://learningandcreativity.com/roots-meanderings-collection-ten-fresh-engaging-fictional-narratives/

Friends, do read ‘Roots and Meanderings’ — A Collection of Ten Fresh, Engaging Fictional Narratives, collated and edited by my friend Antara Nanda Mondal, editor of L & C.