Friday, 19 August 2011
Raghu sat there a stone throw away from the top of the hill with this ankle nestled in his hands. The pain shot through this ankle and through his feet and toes as he tried to flex his foot. In addition to the pain in his ankle he felt another wave of misery sweep through his insides. This had been a terrible idea.
Three years ago today he had lost his wife to a road accident. It had been the worst three years of his life. Three years ago he was a whole man. A man with a job, ideas, hobbies, friends and a wife that he had loved, who had loved him. His two children were grown and settled abroad. He had made trips with his wife to visit them every alternate year and they had visited the other years.
The death had caught him unprepared. As a child who had lost parents rather early he had always felt that he had already paid his dues. And his wife, his wife. What is left to be said about shared domesticity. It had not been high highs and low lows as his wife liked to say. They had always been a calm couple. Married young, they seemed to fit together well, well enough. And after his initial reluctance to love anyone who could die on him he had opened up.
They had weaved their daily routines, hobbies, friends in out around each other for the past 35 years - a great giant banyan tree of a relationship. And her death had caught him with his guard down. Taken his breath away. Sitting on top of the sparse hill he took a deep breath. It felt like the first one after a very long time.
This had been his first hike after... In the three years in between life had been so hard. Simple things. Getting up, getting dressed, going to work, not screaming out in pain, eating lunch, coming home, eating dinner, going to bed. Maintaining this simple routine seemed to take all that he had to offer. He had dared not introduce any variations with the fear that everything would come tumbling down.
To begin with friends had called, his children had called almost everyday but one by one all had dropped off. His children still called him once every week at the weekend but for the rest of time he was alone. Alone just barely managing to keep up his routine. He figured sooner or later the routine would get easier and then he could start reintroducing all of the other people, experiences into his life again.
This hike in fact was a variation. The last two years on this day he had waited patiently for his children to call and then once it was over had fallen apart over a bottle of wine. It was in fact the only day of the year that he allowed himself any alcohol. With his perceived predilection for alcohol, he had been terrified to drink at all after she had died.
As he sat alone with a sense of despair growing Raghu realised almost for the first time that it was never going to get easier. He tried to stand up and get moving but realised that the pain was just too much for him even to limp with most of his weight on his other leg. He sat down again and check his phone, there was only a tiny bit of charge left. Raghu did not have anyone to call who would willingly drop everything and come and get him. There were still a few friends who would do it with some private grumbling but the thought filled Raghu with despair. They would do it because they pitied him.
This was exactly what he was hoping to avoid with his unwavering routine. This feeling of helplessness, of despair, of rage at the unfairness of it all. If he let everything in he was not sure he could cope.
He lay back against a bare rock and looked up at the sky. The mountains cleared his head slowly. As the breeze rose he felt himself start to breathe deeply. He closed his eyes and the exhaustion from all the emotions made his muscles go limp. He made up his mind and picked up the phone and dialed.
It rang and went to voicemail
" Hi this is Malini Raghu. I am not available at the moment but please leave your name and number and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Have a great day"
For the first time in all the time he had listened to her voice he smiled a little at his dirty little secret. Continuing to pay her mobile bill had been an indulgence to begin with but off late he felt guilt and shame at his inability to move on. Maybe he should have made a little more of a scene, cried more, drank more, been a bigger disaster. Maybe then three years would not have found him on a hike alone with no one to call.
He sat up and decided to wait for the two youngsters that had been in front of him through the hike. They had reached the top and had gone on further to visit the waterfall. The thought of inconveniencing strangers did not fill him with dread at the moment. He would make a scene. And when he got home he would call his children, cry some more, take a vacation, let it hurt some more.
Friday, 12 August 2011
Be gentle its my first time. :)
It was a typical day in June in Delhi. At 10 am the heat was already unbearable. I was 11 years old, it was my summer vacation and the last thing I wanted to do was stand in a queue outside the Saraswati temple. We were here for my dance classes. Although I was a disappointment to my parents in almost every other way I still redeemed myself by being somewhat of a prodigy when it came to Bharatnatyam. We were here to enroll me in special dance classes offered by Dr Parthasarathy. Dr Parthasarathy was a retired DRDO scientist who had a passion for dance. After 35 years of brilliant work at the DRDO he was now a retired man who worked as the priest at the Saraswati temple.
In addition to being a brilliant scientist and a learned priest he was also a highly sought after dance teacher with many gifted disciples. And he was accepting students for this year. So my family along with dozen others were queued up outside the Saraswati temple so he could choose one or two of us and accept us as his disciples.
In a fit of rebellion I had worn my pink shorts and an Aerosmith t shirt. Although it served the purpose of infuriating my parents I felt miserable now as I watched all the pretty older girls in their salwar kameez. As much as I wanted to annoy my parents I also really enjoyed dancing. Although I had heard my parents talking about how traditional and strict Dr Parthasarathy was I had also heard about how he had made gifted children into brilliant dancers. He was known to give a special soul to dance performances that he choreographed.
So now miserable in my pink shorts I felt I had no chance against this pantheon of teenage girls all of whom seemed like a better pick than younger, smaller me in my pink shorts.
The queue wound from the rear entrance of the temple to the beginning of the parking lot. There was commotion at the parking lot that was getting louder and louder. It seemed some of the street children had captured a black cat and had tried to set the cat on fire using a magnifying glass. Although some of the parents from the queue had interfered to rescue the cat they were since then throwing things at the cat to shoo it away. A black cat was considered a bad omen and they did not want the cat anywhere near their pretty, perfect daughters. The cat stupidly was standing its ground.
My eyes filled with tears as I watched the cat shrink into a ball. And though none of the parents were hurting the cat it was clear that the cat was terrified. My parents who had been standing with their backs to me to show how mad they were now moved closer to me. One of them put their arm over my shoulder as I continued to watch the cat. It must have been the anticipation of rejection, along with a feeling of camaraderie with that cornered cat but tears started rolling down my cheeks.
After what seemed like forever my father finally sighed. "Come, lets go get the poor thing". A wave of relief swept over me as we walked past the parents who by now had begun to ignore the cat. My father picked the animal up and finding a collar around its neck said " Its a house cat. Shame on them."
The cat seemed to sense it was safe and uncurled itself and let itself be patted. My father was always good with animals. I found myself blurting. " I am sorry about the clothes, Dad. Maybe I will get in next time. Really sorry dad."
My father looked up and grinned at me. "Don't worry chotu. You are a great dancer. And I think our chances just improved." Through my tears I now saw what my father was looking at. A tiny ring attached to the collar of the cat with the inscription.
"Kalaivani - C/0 Dr Parthasarathy".
Sunday, 7 August 2011
Being a girl whose heart will always belong to Delhi I adore winters. Winters in Delhi are the most beautiful thing. The warm sunshine trying to cut through foggy mornings. Winter is when the plants get a respite from the sweltering heat and all the gardens come alive with flowers. Sweaters come out and my ma will start dressing in layers equal to 5 or above. There are small impromptu bonfires. Apples find there way to the shops, also pahadi alu and special red carrots that end up in large pots of gajar halwa.
But winter in New Jersey is another thing altogether. The trees are barren, the sky is overcast, the snow on the ground that is so dreamlike when it first falls turns a dirty brown color and stays on the ground until the spring melt. My two old cars sputter and threaten to die, the roads are treacherous. The produce section in stores dwindles to a colorless mass as the season progresses. I took to jogging in the morning this winter, anything to feel heat in my limbs but snow on the ground and cold needles against my face was more than I could withstand on a daily basis. I finally understand why summer a season much maligned in a tropical county is so revered in North America.
I tell you all this because I have been craving cold weather lately. Maybe it is that as a fat child I have always found comfort in layers, maybe it is the string of festivals I associate with cold winter air. Whatever it is I am looking out already for fall, the first nip in the air, sweaters, hot stews, pies .... all that.