Wednesday, September 12, 2012


The doorbell rang at a quarter to three. Mrs. John called from the bedroom, ‘Hold on. I am coming.’
She looked in the mirror once again. With a good-natured pout, she pinched her love-handles and, at the same time, tucked a stray lock behind her ear, and seemed pleased with her hairstyle. She picked up the handbag lying on the bed and ran to the door. She looked through the peephole as she turned the lock. With the key half-way through the lock, she paused, looking worried, remaining still and silent.
She opened the door slowly. ‘Ah Sudha, it’s you. I thought it could be the neighbor. We go together to pick up the kids from the bus-stop.’
The visitor gave an apologetic smile as reply. She looked sad, tired and sleep-deprived. Her loose bun of hair and crumpled clothes, that looked as if she had slept in those, stood out against her beautiful, graceful and habitually elegant self.
Mrs. John stood nervously, biting her lower lip and blocking the way inside. ‘The bus comes at ten past three,’ she blurted out.
‘Can I sit for a while till your neighbor comes?’ Sudha asked.
‘Of course, of course…’ Mrs. John said without much enthusiasm.
‘I am going mad, Theresa. I had to get out of the house. Do you know how I longed to talk to someone this past week? I just want to sit with a friend for some time…’ Sudha said as she entered the apartment. Then, she added, ‘Maybe, it is not right…I should go…I don’t want to trouble you.’ She turned towards the door.
‘What nonsense…how are you troubling me? Come inside,’ Mrs John led her to the kitchen, ‘let’s sit here and have some iced tea.’
They did not talk till Mrs. John poured the tea in two tall glasses and joined the other at the small round table.
‘What have I done, Theresa? Why is everyone avoiding me?’ Sudha asked.
‘It’s not you, Sudha, not you, of course.’ Mrs. John reached over and held the other’s hand.
‘Even you…now, at the door, didn’t you pray that I would just go away?’
Mrs. John remained silent for a few moments, taking in her friend’s distressed face. ‘She is here, Sudha. That’s why…’
Sudha looked surprised and her mouth opened but no words came out.
‘I suggested to her parents that a change of scene and the kids here might be good for her. She has not spoken a word since that day, always lying in bed, not crying, not sleeping, just lying there,’ Mrs. John explained. ‘To tell you the truth, I did not expect her parents to accept my offer but the day before yesterday, they seemed so glad to leave her here.’
‘Poor girl…if only I could do something for her. Do you know what I have been praying for? For God to take my life, though that won’t be compensation enough,’ Sudha said. ‘How I have thought of killing myself.’
‘Don’t be stupid, Sudha. What good is that to anyone? You didn’t do anything and don’t forget your kids.’
‘I don’t know. I don’t know…’ Sudha put her head on the table and started crying.
The doorbell rang again. Mrs. John got up, ‘That must be the neighbor.’
Sudha got up from the table, still crying. ‘I should go, too.’
Mrs. John told her, ‘Why don’t you wait here? I will be back in ten minutes or so. You sit here and finish the tea. We can talk when I get back…maybe, we can go out to the park for a walk.’ Half-way out of the kitchen, she turned back, ‘Please don’t go to the bedroom. Her parents and Mr. John too will be terribly upset with me if they knew that I left you here with Jaya.’
‘Do you think I will trouble Jaya? Don’t worry, Theresa. I can’t even go in front of her. I feel so guilty.’ Sudha sat down again, her face in her hands.
‘Hush, hush…’ Mrs. John patted her friend’s shoulder. She tried to comfort her friend before leaving.
The apartment was silent. Sudha sipped her tea and calmed herself. She got up from the table and stood by the kitchen window. She could see Mrs. John and her neighbor exit from the compound and go towards the school bus-stop. Sudha moved inside towards the kids’ bedroom.
Jaya was lying on a bed next to a table and a bunker, probably that of Mrs. John’s kids. Sudha went up to her.
Jaya sat up in bed, startled and distraught, and moved to the far corner of the bed. She kept staring at Sudha with strangely blank wide-open eyes.
‘Jaya, my Jaya, if only I could say sorry to you…but I can’t even say that…’ Sudha said. ‘I was telling Theresa…Mrs. John…that I would kill myself if that could set things right for you…even kill him…’
Jaya flinched but remained mute.
‘This last one week…I do not know how many deaths I have died…always thinking about you.’ Sudha said, still standing by the bed. ‘If only I could turn the clock back…’
Sudha moved closer to the bed. She stood there for a while, looking down at Jaya, without speaking. Jaya kept staring at her. Sudha sat on the edge of the bed, with her hands on her lap and not making any move to touch.
‘You remind me of myself,’ Sudha said softly, ‘do you know that I suffered like you once? I was a little younger than you when it happened to me, not yet thirteen. And my uncle…my own relative…in our ancestral house, he…how can I talk about it? Do you know that I have never talked about it? But I can still remember everything. It was afternoon…not even the shroud of darkness as in your case…and that uncle was drunk and brutal. He…my husband…touched you…it was wrong…but crazy too…some kind of crazy attachment and care…mine was different. He wasn’t brutal like my uncle, was he? I was so angry and scared then. I too could not speak for days, though I wanted to shout it out, to tell the truth…I thought of saying even more than the truth…for revenge. Do you know who told me to keep quiet? My own parents…they told me that we would only get hurt more. That I would get hurt even more…that I would be blamed. I never talked about it.’
‘For days and weeks, I thought about it. I could think only about that. I wondered about what I had done wrong…how I brought it on myself. I never used to wear clothes like yours. My mother used to make me wear a petticoat always. I keep thinking about what I could have done to prevent what happened to you. I could have talked to your mother or to you. Men are animals at times, it is their charm and their curse, and how they behave depends a lot on us women. I should have warned you. Not to be so friendly with men and boys, not to hug them or sit too close, not to sit carelessly with your legs wide. I should have talked to your mother about your tight-fitting dresses, how you have matured so fast, how your cheap bra makes you look more developed than your thirteen years. Oh, how I wish I had done something! But, you should never think that you are to be blamed. You might think that some time but it is not true.’
The kid kept staring at Sudha, hugging herself tightly, as if trying to be in a cocoon or covering herself from view.
Sudha looked at her watch, stood up and walked towards the door. She then turned towards Jaya and said, ‘Remember that I would do anything to help you. My kids too, your dear friends, they would do anything for you. They have not gone to school since their father was taken into custody after your parents complained. They can’t face the world, they say. I don’t know if they understand everything. But, for you, they want to give up everything. More than anyone, even the police, we…me and my kids, your friends…want you to speak the truth about whatever happened that night. Then, at least, everything will be over. Family, life…we are ready to die after that. We just want you to be fine.’
  Sudha left the room after a long look at Jaya. The kid lay down curled, eyes wide open, tearless, still and silent. Sudha went back to the kitchen and stood by the window.
A few minutes later, Mrs. John returned with her kids.
Sudha said to Mrs. John, ‘Just being here, standing by this window in your house, has helped me so much. Thank you for everything, Theresa. I should go now.’
‘Stay a little longer, Sudha.’ Mrs. John said.
Sudha took the other’s hands in hers, ‘You might get into unnecessary trouble.’
‘Ah yes, that’s true…’ Mrs. John admitted, ‘how I wish that poor thing would at least speak.’
‘Yes, I hope she will break her silence.’

Friday, September 7, 2012

Women To Avoid

My best friend Vishnu is an unfriendly guy.
He has two types of relationships – strangers and acquaintances. If there is any order in his method, it stops right there.
I have tried to convince him that relationships should be based on logic. For example, I too have two types of close relationships – friends and best friends. I meet my best friends once in a while and I rarely meet my friends. I expect nothing from my best friends but I expect a lot from my friends. Instead, if I expected anything from my best friends, I would end up disappointed and I would not be able to meet them. Simple, isn’t it? But, Vishnu finds it tough to follow such logic.
Recently, I tried to understand his method.
‘It is based on the principle of avoidance,’ he said.
‘And do you follow some rule for that…to avoid?’
‘Of course, there are rules.’
‘Ah...’ I prompted.
‘Men or women?’ he asked.
‘Women, please.’ I replied.
‘Ok. With women, there are at least ten types to avoid.’
‘Please do not interrupt.’
‘First, stay away from the women you liked. They will talk about the guy they like or love or married and invariably, that guy would be a nincompoop. Imagine how you will feel with such a friend – every moment, you will be given proof that you are worse than what you think you are.’
‘Good point. Always stay with the present – stick to the women you like? No, I got it, stick to women who like you. But, will you like them?’ Vishnu silenced my soliloquy with a stare.
‘Second, stay away from women who remind you of someone. Overnight, they will resemble someone else. Remember Benoy? He got close to a lady who reminded him of Glenn Close. He even married her. She then started to remind him of Ms. Gandhi Sr. and a week later, she started resembling Jairam Ramesh.’
‘Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction…? Impossible.’
‘Oh no, Glenn Close in 101 Dalmations.’
‘So, did they split?’
‘Oh no, they are happily married with three kids.’
‘He was always a bit confused about his orientation,’ I remembered.
‘The third type is trickier. Ask her about her role model, you know, that typical interview question. If she says that her role model is her mother, run away from her. Oscar Wilde described such women as tragedy personified. Get her and you get her mother too. If she is not sure about everything, her mother will be. You know how tough life can be with people who think they are so right.’
‘I have known one or two…’
‘Fourth, stay away from the sexy dumb blonde type.’
‘That type will want a platonic relationship with you.’
‘Fifth, stay away from the intelligent type, too. They too will want a platonic relationship.’
‘Damn Plato!’
‘Sixth, be wary of women who seem too friendly with you. Sounds fishy, doesn’t it?’
‘Seventh, avoid women who avoid you.’
‘But, they are usually irresistible.’
‘That cloud has a black lining.’ He warned. ‘Eighth, avoid girls who go for salsa classes.’
‘Come on, salsa is sensual...’ I protested.
‘If so, why go for classes?’
‘That’s true…’ I agreed.
‘Ninth, stay away from women who are more tech-savvy than you. That is, if you still want to keep secrets.’
‘Hey, some can be ethical, you know?’
‘When they are scorned?’
‘Oh boy…that would be the calm before the storm, huh? So, what’s the last type?’
‘Plenty more actually…but this last one will take care of the rest, I think. When a woman seems perfect as a friend, ask yourself why she should be just a friend.’
‘That’s like having a death-wish for that friendship, right?’
‘Well, that will take care of the rest. Simple, isn’t it?’ He concluded.
‘Yes. And, men?’ I asked.
‘Oh, that is easy. I try to avoid all.’
As I said, Vishnu is an unfriendly guy.