Monday, November 13, 2006

At the Traffic Signal

(Woman's Era: November (First) 2002)
(WE's blurb: Two women--- waiting for the traffic lights to change---)


“Relax!” exhorted the red light at the traffic signal. Avinash drummed his fingers on the steering wheel impatiently. Megha, sitting beside him, fumed inwardly. The red light seemed to jeer at her—relax indeed! As if one ever could! She shot a sideways glance at Avinash. He was still drumming on the wheel. But he didn’t do that when he was alone, she bet. “Now, because he is going slightly out of the way to drop me, his time is suddenly precious,” she thought resentfully.
Megha knew she was being unduly harsh on her husband, but she could not help it. That was how she felt. Only she knew the Herculean effort it took to get out of the house. -----

----- She as wife, mother, bahu and general dogsbody was expected to put herself out catering to everybody’s needs-mental, physical, and emotional. Why blame others, she herself saw her role as that of a giver, a nurturer. She had to be flexible, accommodating everything and everybody smoothly. The fabric of life could not have a single wrinkle!-----

------ Could she call herself a 21st century woman? Certainly not! Why, she was so flexible and accommodating that she had not even combed her hair before leaving home, so as not to delay Avinash. She set about doing it now. Avinash demurred, “Don’t do that – people are staring.”
“Let them,” she huffed. If she began to care what even strangers thought---! As she turned her face automatically to the window, her attention was caught by a woman who had drawn up alongside their car, riding a scooter. Now, there was a 21st century woman for you! Her very appearance radiated confidence. She seemed at ease, an ease born of freedom. The freedom to go where she pleased, without depending on anybody. --------Feet encased in no-nonsense sandals—she could see that the toenails were varnished. Her own toes curled—how long was it since she had had a pedicure?---------
Her eyes met the other lady’s. They both hurriedly looked away. Megha thought, “Huh, she must be thinking what an idiot I am—can’t even comb my hair before setting out! If I had been working, I’d have been organized, efficient smart ----”
Rachna tilted her head sideways as she adjusted her helmet strap. The action brought into her line of sight the car standing to her right. She could see the lady in the passenger seat. As Rachna looked, the lady began to comb out her hair with quick, practised strokes. Then she ran her fingers through her long hair and shook it back. Rachna looked away in case she was caught staring.
That one act by the stranger in the car brought home to Rachna everything she did not have, everything she wanted to do. To be able to comb your hair in a car with someone else driving—ah, that was luxury. That was pampering.____

-----Oh to be able to just get up and go! No half-day leave, or arranging an ‘on-duty’ or asking someone to cover up for you.--------

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Crow and Two Girls

A Crow and Two Girls

(Woman's Era: June(First) 2000)

Feeling virtuous about rising early, I leave my house and head for the park on my morning walk. Visitors to Delhi invariably gush about these ubiquitous parks. Well-maintained or not, they are there, at least. Some have a couple of swings and slides and so they are entitled to be called children’s parks. Some others can actually boast of a lawn and flowers. All of them can be turned into palaces for weddings overnight, courtesy the tent-house-wallahs. Chandeliers, fountains and something like “Hunny Weds Happy” emblazoned in flowers are de rigueur.
And so is the case with “my” park this morning. I am not a witness to the splendour of the night before. Only to the debris of the morning after. I wrinkle my nose in disgust. No civic sense, I mutter to myself, and pick my way around gingerly to avoid the remains of the mountains of food.
I chart a course for myself by which I can avoid that particular area altogether. Which is as well, because a crow has come to investigate the pile, and I don’t like crows.
As I set up a brisk pace, I think about the myriad things I do think about at this time of the day. Out of the corner of my eye, I register two ragamuffin girls wandering about amidst the forlorn, drooping tents. With their hair dry and tangled, they are a common sight everywhere. They poke about in dustbins and in places like this park for scraps to sell or eat. I don’t give them a second glance.
A couple of laps later, I notice the girls again. They are not looking for food or kabari. They are pulling off garlands of flowers from the poles and boards. I just hope that no officious resident comes and hollers at them for adding to the already considerable mess.
But the next minute, I check myself. They are not pulling off the flowers at random. They are carefully unraveling the strings. They want those faded, no-longer-sweet-smelling flowers.
My interest is awakened. I don’t stand and stare, but I do slow down my pace. My gaze follows those raggedy girls.
They make their way to the swings, and there proceed to wind the flowers around the chains of the swings. Soon the swings are flower bedecked. A pretty sight. I am reminded of Madhubala singing on a huge flowery swing in a black and white film of yore.
My preoccupation leads me past the heap of leftover food that I have been avoiding. The crow is still there. He appears a dull black to the disinterested gaze. The morning sun catches his feathers and I notice they are iridescent with purple, blue and green hues. Colours that I normally associate with the splendour of the peacock.
The rag picker girls are dirty, unkempt, illiterate. Yet somewhere in the depths of their hearts or minds, there is a spark of creativity, an eye for beauty.
Somewhere in their drab lives there is a minute to spare to play with flowers.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Visiting Granny

(Woman's Era, March (Second) 2000)

Visiting Granny

“Hey Mom, let’s go to Ammamma’s place for the weekend!” say my kids. (Ammamma is Telugu for maternal grandmother.)
“OK,” I say, and set certain things I motion, like giving the maid the weekend off. Hubby dear is out of town, hence this sudden trip.

“Are we going this year?” two wide-eyed little girls hopefully ask.
“Yes!” my mother says, her eyes smiling more than her mouth.
“Ooh!” we hug our precious knowledge to ourselves and rush off to finish two months’ holiday homework in five days flat. My mother gets busy, making cakes, laddoos and sev for the journey.

Saturday morning finds me hailing and autorickshaw, with my daughter and son bouncing up and down beside me. I carry just an overnight bag---which has hardly any clothes in it – more of the kids’ stuff like colouring books and their favourite Teddy and Bunny.

The morning of our journey dawns after days of agonized waiting. The car to the station is loaded down with suitcases, trunk and bedding, not to mention a basket of eats and the ubiquitous surahi.
“Write as soon as you reach there.” My father says through the barred window of the train carriage.
“Yes. Please take care of yourself. The mess food.........”
“Don’t worry about that,” he says and goes off to buy us some comics. Meanwhile, my sister and I have explored every nook and cranny of our compartment, blackening our hands thoroughly.

The autorickshaw rattles and bumps along the 7 kilometres to my mother’s house. The petrol fumes make my eyes water.

The train huffs and puffs along on the 2080 km route, the steam engine spewing sooty smoke back towards us. Our faces, pressed against the bars of the window are streaked with black. My mother’s eyes are watering. No, those are tears.
“You are thinking of Ammamma,” we whisper.
“Yes. It is all right,” she reassures us

My son fidgets “Are we nearly there, mom?” he asks petulantly, "I’m hungry.”
“Just wait,” I soothe, “only a few minutes more.”

My sister and I make up games to play, apart from the usual word building and name games. We have to pass two nights and a day in the train. We count the number of tunnels we go through, and the rivers we cross. We crane our necks to catch a glimpse of a tiger (wild hope!) in the jungle on either side of the track and are rewarded by the sight of a shy deer, sometimes.
“Hey, curve, curve, curve!” my sister sings out. We never get tired of catching sight of the engine and all the bogies ahead of ours, from our window as the train rounds a curve.

“Hey, that signboard wasn’t there before,” says my daughter, “Do we turn here?”
It turns out that we do. We are nearly there.
“For heaven’s sake Mom, don’t tell Ammamma about the card we made for her----we’ll give it to her ourselves.” That is my self possessed seven-year-old daughter.
“Oh, no,” I protest. “When did I ever---“
“You might,” she says darkly.

“Please Mummy, don’t cry when you see Ammamma. Please!” That is me, as we near our destination, afraid to see an adult cry.
“No, no,” my mother hastens to explain. “I cry out of joy. But I’ll try not to, hmmm?”
The train chugs to a stop at “our” station. My mother scans the faceless multitude for a glimpse of a dear face----yes, there is her brother, scrutinizing the alighting passengers equally anxiously. Then the recognition, the joyful meeting, the ‘how-big-you-have-grown’ to us. We are hopping with excitement. The rickshaws outside the station are examined by us kids and the most luridly coloured one and the one with the most bells are accorded the honour of taking us home.

The auto skitters drunkenly to a halt outside the apartment block my parents live in. My children rush into the gate as I pay the driver. I sling the bag over my shoulder and stroll towards the flat. The children are ringing the doorbell---leaning on it actually.

The rickshaws jingle up to the gate of the sprawling house with the red roof of earthen tiles. There sitting on the verandah, are my grandparents. We leap off and run pell-mell through the gate. My mother, smiling through her tears, follows. My grandmother holds out her arms to us. Her smile holds such warmth, such affection, and her voice smiles a welcome too.

My father opens the door to us and my mother is standing just behind him, her arms held out to my children. Her smile holds such warm affection, such joy at seeing us, and I hear a smiling welcome in her voice.
No, nothing has changed.