A room of my own

Today I am thinking about Virginia Woolf and how old I was when I first heard ‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’

I wonder if I understood what she meant when I heard it at 22. I must have smiled like I smile when I hear nice things. But this morning I felt the force of her words and didn’t smile.

Was she talking to women who don’t own their time? If you are a 30- year- old Indian woman, living with your parents and resisting marriage – you definitely don’t own your time. It is eaten up whole on mornings when news of cousins getting married or having babies arrives like a bagful of steel dropped by huge birds on your dining table. They come with a crash. Then the birds take off and there is dust everywhere.

On quieter mornings, there is dust inside me. I have to soothe them by reaching into my body and ironing them with my hands. Reading ‘To the Lighthouse’ felt like that.

A room of my own – in my parent’s house- no matter how much I make it mine by decorating it with pretty fairy lights, and pictures of women reading and writing, and a picture of Adichie saying strong things that tear themselves out of the frame and land angrily on my table, a picture of Marquez smiling into the corners of his laughing eyes, and a picture of Ambedkar telling me to be at work when I am at work – is still not mine. This room is not my own.

It belongs to the crashing sound of vessels in the kitchen, the red dot of my mother’s silence, the anger of my father’s tissue-white pajamas, and the sounds that could have been – if like they had told me – I was married by now and had babies.

***

I know I will have a room of my own one day. I know it’s why I was born. It will have peeling yellow walls and a kettle that makes flurry noise when it’s ready. It will open out to a terrace where the evening birds come to drink water and the morning sun comes to dry clothes. The nearby Adhan will remind me of something – home perhaps. And this is my fear – that when I finally have a room of my own – I will miss the sounds of the room that were not my own.

That I will miss the hiss of the pressure cooker, the well-shaped hole of my father’s yawns, the eyelashes of my mother’s sighs, the heaviness of my brother’s footsteps when he goes to open the front door, and the socks that my sister wears and unwears.

But then – I tell myself – I will always miss these sounds, no matter where I am. I will probably miss them more if I’m waking up next to a husband every morning.

At least – in a room of my own with peeling yellow walls – I will wake up alone and crush cardamom pods loudly for my chai, without worrying that I am waking anybody else.

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Two months at home; and indebted to Joan Didion & Jackie Chan

 

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My foot is now breathing in a tub of hot water. Barely two weeks ago, I was lying in bed, my foot hoisted up on pillows – the left leg waiting to erupt from layers of dead skin – all chafed and dry. I was almost sad to see the plaster go. I’d begun to enjoy peeling bits of skin from wherever my hands could reach. They’d gather in heaps of smiling flakes as I grew hungrier for more.

Amma changed the sheets and pillow covers once a week – on the day she’d give me a bath. The flakes would then scatter themselves across the room meaninglessly, like dust.

She insisted on giving me a bath twice a week but it was too much work so I convinced her that once a week was more than enough. I put shame and nakedness through various measurements and with every passing day, I began to fear it lesser and lesser. It began on the day of the fall – the very first day when Amma had to cut open the jeans I was wearing, which was anyway torn from below the knee to make room for the horrid white plaster.

There was no sense to the pause my body offered before taking my clothes off in front of her. She was quick to notice the scars on my body that’d faded over the years. One from the time I dumped hot chai point chai on my stomach, another from the time the hot parachute bottle melted from under my palms and burnt a good part of my thigh (don’t microwave parachute oil bottles)

As I chanted the history behind each scar, she shampooed my hair. And when she poured green hot water down my back, she looked more relieved than I was — scrubbing my back with all the energy she had – almost as if offering compensation for the loud dry zone which was my plastered foot, sitting smugly inside 2 dustbin bags.

In my mind, I observed that this was the closest she’d come to giving me the balanteero bath that they give to pregnant women. She has dreamed of giving me those baths even more than wanting grandchildren.

***

Days dissolved into watching reruns of women taking Karan Johar’s ass on his show and rewinding all the Eli Gold and Elizabeth Tascioni moments on The Good Wife. When I felt like writing and couldn’t, I sought Joan Didion.

I sped through The Year of Magical Thinking with an obsession to grow old like Didion. One December morning, her daughter was hospitalized. After spending a day in and out of the ICU – Didion and her husband returned home, unsure if they would see their daughter alive the next day. They sat down for dinner and her husband collapsed on the table with a heart attack, and died.

From that point on, my little fracture grief  became laughably manageable. It was ok that I could only listen to the rain and not watch it. It made me wonder if I’d ever really listened to rain and not just watched it – which is not too different from a grunt acknowledgement. After all what is rain without its sound?

In the two months I spent at home, there were two evenings whose colors belonged in a painting. From my dining table, I watched the Bangalore sky glowing furiously and pleasantly – or somewhere between the two which – as I have come to realise – is something that only Bangalore sky is capable of (As D would say)

Its orange was pleasant, but its force was furious. It came in shocks of rectangle and threw itself on the table, lingering there for a while before slowly fading.

***

A friend mentioned Frida one day and I spent the entire day in bed feeling grateful. It’s the one film that I have watched over and over again in the last two months.

The plaster was still on when I was told to walk without support. I cringed. With every half step I took, I expected to hear the crunch of bones and iron. I am now a firm believer of right time. Sometimes it is just not the right time to watch certain films. It’s probably why I had never watched Kill Bill and now was the time to watch it. Moments after Kill Bill Vol: 2, I took my first step with no support and walked on feeling proud as fuck even as I was imagining the Kill Bill Ironside Siren Sound playing somewhere.

Reading Cheryl Strayed and Rebecca Solnit made me think about walking a lot more intensely than that fucker Proust. And now I cannot wait to listen to the sound of my walk.

Those were my strong moments. In my most vulnerable moments, I thought about my astrologer aunt who had warned me about this accident months before I fell. She has predicted all my accidents so far. My resistance was weak and I was going to succumb to the haze of stars and shani, rahu and ketu and whatever when I suddenly remembered Jackie Chan.

I discovered that the man has had 14 major injuries in his life including a brain surgery and an eyebrow bone fracture that almost left him blind. He has slipped into a coma from hitting his head trying to jump off trees, leapt through a real window instead of a fake one, survived a Cervical spine damage from falling from a 25 meter clock tower and has had Pelvis dislocation almost causing partial paralysis. If this man had to listen to my aunty astrologer, he’d have had to quit doing what he loves long ago. Where the fuck is the place for Rahu kala Shani kala in Jackie Chan’s life?

Image Credits: myhero.com
Image Credits: myhero.com

Thanks to Joan & Jackie, I am writing from the other side with whatever little is left of my dignity.

Sometimes I wish

Sometimes I wish I had no ambition

So that when I get back home at 8 one evening

and my mother asks me why I’m not married yet

I can tell her –

Tomorrow I will marry.

 

Sometimes I wish I wasn’t someone who likes spending time alone

so that when my father pulls me out of solitude and

demands to know when I will marry

I can tell him

Tomorrow I will marry

 

Sometimes I wish I was already married

So when I come home at 4 in the noon

my husband sighs and says

I love you

-I can say: I love you too

and when he says where is my chai

I can say —

Fuck you bro

 

Sometimes I wish I didn’t like reading and writing

because somewhere

it is costing my mother a lot

to see me alone

having no idea that this is the happiest I have been

and the happiest that I will ever be.

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Home

Amma’s yellow nightie makes her face shine. She looks calm when she wears yellow. Except when I am late. Then she is never calm.

When I walk up to my room, one heavy step after another, my brown leather bag slinging morosely over my shoulder, strands of hair getting caught in the strap, I wish she is asleep. But she never is. She only sleeps after she has seen my two-wheeler parked outside. And when she has seen that, she doesn’t even see me. She walks back quietly to her room and I wait to hear the soft thud of her bedroom door closing. It’s only then that I can breathe out. My steps are far more confident when Amma isn’t home. I can breeze in happily through pa’s soft snoring and the slow, dry whizzing of the fan.

One morning I stood on the balcony and watched them go for their daily walk. My parents seem older and weaker when they are walking, especially when they are walking away from me — slowly, like every step counts, their backs slightly bent but quickly straightened after sudden remembering, their bodies – heavy and round, yet their fragile clothes hanging loosely.

Pa in his wrinkled white pajamas, eternally torn under the sleeves, forgotten, worn, taken off and then worn again. The small patch on his glistening bald pate looking smaller and helpless. Ma in her colorful chudidhar, her dupatta carelessly thrown over, so that one half of it is always traling after her loudly.

What were they talking about? I’m sure this and that. Loans, construction, BP tablets, my marriage, thyroid tablets, blood test, my brother’s tuition teacher, my marriage, granny, lunch, my marriage. That day I stood and watched them for a long time. I watched them until my neck could no longer be craned and until the road ended abruptly, rudely.

Like in most homes, we all know when pa is angry. I think Indian homes are built to acknowledge the man’s many moods. The home would shrink and become hot making it unbearable to live in pa’s anger’s aftermath. Even the kitchen smells would withdraw into a corner and there they would stand until it was safe to step out. When I was small, I wished that whenever pa was angry, all the volumes on all the TV’s and radios could just mute themselves. It was just too terrible when he was going to explode and Urmila Matondkar’s Kambakth Ishq was playing obscenely loud. Which meant that that day we were all going to be lectured not just for watching kachda Mtv but also for watching it on that obnoxious volume.

They rarely fight and I can only rememeber this one time that they fought. I learnt that Amma doesn’t cook when they fight. She sleeps the morning off and pa walks all over the house in a haze. His face is calm but his lips are gently pursed and every now and then, a tcha tcha can be heard. His hands run constantly against each other – the fingernails touching, grizzling, moving up and down in one swift motion. Baba Ramdev’s exercise for quick and thick hair growth. It has been over a decade now. No hair, nothing. But pa hasn’t stopped doing it. It’s a habit now. Hair can go to hell.

Pa goes out to buy food on these days.  On the dining table there are 5 newspaper packets — idlis, vadas, sambars and chutneys — all rolling in one thick Darshini smell. We’d eat some and save the rest for night.

The next morning when I’d finally see Amma, her eyes would be small and puffy and she wouldn’t linger out of the bedroom for very long. They’d patch up soon and the home would go back to being room temperature again, and all the smells would come out slowly, except that there’d still be a faint trace of the darshini idli chutney smell and this I’d only discover when I’d lock up all the doors and switch off all the lights and tiptoe towards my room. And here the only sound to accompany my dull footsteps would be the bright hum of the fridge.

Curd Rice with Sugar

My sister falls asleep when she eats food. It’s a rare, humiliating sickness. She’s thin as toothpick and my father says that her clothes wear her and that they look fuller on a hanger. Dinner is usually at 8:00 pm and we gather around the dining table. One by one, we finish and when we take leave, we all secretly look at her plate to take note of how much food there is, so that hours later, when we look again, we can decide how much she ate.

Mother mixes sugar in everything she gives her hoping my sister will eat fast. We’ve made many innovative dishes. Upma with sugar; rice sambar with sugar; rice, fried onion, milk and sugar; dosa, milk and sugar; chapatti, milk and sugar; and the ubiquitous curd rice, also with sugar. One night, she made history.

We started dinner at 8 and finished at 8:30. Titanic was playing on Sony Max so some of us hurried to the living room, leaving my sister behind. Titanic began and we sailed on, Jack and Rose fell in love, ran, did it in the car, the ship sank, Jack died, Rose cried. Three and a half hours later, we switched the lights off and went to the dining room to see my sister fallen asleep on the table, her right hand still in the plate, her palm dotted with dried bits of curd rice, a pool of saliva slowly collecting on one side of her cheek.

Ma started beating her chest — strangely without making noise, dad sat down next to her in all seriousness, observing my sister’s calm, sullen face. They were afraid to startle her. He woke her gently almost expecting her to wake up in horror and scream. She stood up suddenly and looked taken aback at my mother’s obscenity and then took one long, pitiful look at the clock. As if setting her mind to prepare for an exam, she sat at the table again with renewed motivation and took a heavy morsel of curd rice, and dumped it into her mouth.

Swallowing it must’ve been hard considering dad who continued to look at her with all the sympathy in the world while ma was still beating her chest, now with both hands and muttering something about therapy – for her or my sister, I don’t know.

Riding

When I’m riding to college, my posture changes 3 times. When I take the ‘sudden’ left immediately after home, my back is straight with caution, my arms relaxed on the handles, and my demeanour polite and undemanding, unlike my mother who watches me from the balcony every morning.

A little ahead and my body picks up speed and hurries past ambling cows who are immune to life and noise outside their bodies and ignore me to focus on the more important things in life- flies.

My body is at its rigid best when we pass by the loud and bellowing temple and its irritating, loyal devotees seated in their vehicles, their palms joined together outside the window. Arms that I’d like my super fast activa to chop in half. These are the only people I honk at mercilessly. I don’t like this excuse they have awarded themselves – that they shan’t be disturbed when they are praying to god in the middle of the road regardless of how many vehicles line up behind.

Near Jain College and its acutely chatty pupils, my grip on the accelerator thickens. They stand in the middle of the road to hi-five, to chat, to greet each other. They should be wiped off the earth.  When I begin honking, girls jump back in fright and roll their eyes, boys point their elongated arms at me in disgust while I flutter off happily.

***

At signals, my body is light and I try to balance the vehicle’s weight, alternating from one foot to the other. My eyes fall on fellow riders, wondering where they’re headed, where they’ve come from, whether they’ve bathed?

Now and then, my face becomes rounder and falls when it sees men who ogle from inside their vehicles. It falls, and then it stares back at them, gaze fixed, challenge accepted. Let’s see who withdraws first. Sometimes they withdraw first and when they don’t, and if I find the courage that morning, I flash my middle finger at them before scuttling off. This is the advantage of a two-wheeler. One cannot scuttle off in a car.

When I cross a busy road, my body is hesitant but my palms are stubborn. They have a tighter grip on the bike than I have on my life and in seconds, without so much as a passing register to the honking truck nearby, I speed to the other side.

***

On route to getting some alone time, my body is warm and I am happy. I smile at trees and the skyline; I appreciate the color in the evening, humming old and forgotten Bollywood songs and tunes of languages that I don’t know. When I am headed to G’s, I’m secretly a little anxious. The writing may or may not happen but there’s always plenty of hot chocolate to fall back on. And it’s always a nice thing to know that there are several plug points at G’s even though I may not need one.

Riding to K is mostly a set of decisions. Is it a rum kind of evening or a ginger chai kind? Cops never make it to this list. (Never been caught *fingers crossed*) Is it August already? Are my Mango Melbas gone? Mixed fried rice or pork noodles? When I’m picky, I flirt with other options but the heart wants what it wants and what it wants every night is mixed fried rice without liver. Because Anand approves.

***

Homewards, I’m goose bumping all over because the night is always chilly and mother is not sleeping until I get home.  When I first stole this bike from my brother, he’d park it inside for me every night. And then one day, just like that he refused. I learnt how to park decently but I don’t feel satisfied until I bang the bike’s bum to the noisy gate at least once before retiring.

30 days into Summer

I get an erection when I think of free time these days. Yet somehow all that glorious free time is spent watching Season 2 of Gilmore Girls. I am not complaining though. I noticed a guitar in Luke’s apartment in the episode where Jess comes to Stars Hollow for the first time. I might be growing fonder of Emily than Lorelai – this is when I slow down, shut my laptop and contemplate life.

Summer is here – there’s blood and pus in my nose, boils the size of balloons on my face, grease and leaves in my hair, an egg that I am sure will neither fertilize nor crumble in my uterus, leading me to believe that much like me-that damned egg will live and die alone. In my uterus.

So PCOS 10: VJ Loser. It’s alright actually. I don’t even realise I have a malfunctioning uterus until a drop of the theertha is eventually squeezed out, once in three months.

Mintu and I went to Fenny’s last Sunday. Madam wanted to watch the match so she got there 30 minutes early and sat annoyingly close to the projector. I yanked her away to a nice little table with tall stools under some tree. I am yet to figure out how people grow so many trees on the third floor. Next to us was what they called a Lucky Ficus. Here’s something about sitting under trees –no matter how calm I am from the inside to be sitting right under nature’s bosom and all, I am permanently worried that there are snakes in nature’s bosoms. I kept looking up to see if there were any snakes hanging above my head and hissing. I didn’t tell Mintu because she would start crying and screaming and make us switch tables.

Mintu starts shaking if you so much as say ‘snakes’. Even the word, she says is snake-like.

In other news, I am no longer practicing tolerance and non-violence when people start screaming their guts out while watching cricket. At Social the other day, the waiters whistled with actual whistles everytime the blue men caught a six. My ears bled. I wanted to make something of theirs bleed. The drinks were nice though. The LIIT was an actual tower, a drink called trip on the drip actually came with a drip bag, and there were appetizers called crab balls to you.

Later that night when I went home, the match was still on and the peeps were mental. I was too happy and tipsy to complain so I joined in. But mother, B, M and V started throwing things at me because I was cheering for Bangladesh. When the match came to an exciting near end, my mother kept bouncing up and down, my brother was half sitting half praying, B and M were kicking me because I had spotted a man dressed as a tiger whom I decided to call Bengal Tiger for the rest of the night. Bengal Tiger beat his chest at various points and wept when India won. He had both his hands on his head and cried like a baby. Everytime he appeared, I yelped. Soon, they all joined and laughed the match off whenever they saw Bengal Tiger. He looked so sad – I think he died.

I am reading Tipping the Velvet and feeling bad for myself because after this and Night Watch, I won’t have any more Sarah or Waters to read. She reminds me of London, and the coach we saw London in. I can’t think about London without sighing and also feeling a little guilty. It’s close to a year now and I am nowhere near to finishing that Europe piece.

B is engaged! The wedding’s in August and I promised to wear a saree if she came with us for a vacation. B will celebrate her bachelorette or the Konkani version of it, on a cruise. I am making my list  for the vacations– hopefully I will find the courage to let go off Gilmore Girls and get a life.