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In Between

It happened to me

When he told me to sit on his lap, I should have said no. There were empty seats in the van. I should have been clear about why I didn’t want to sit on his lap, especially today, of all days. Maybe this incident had to have happened just so I could learn how to say no. So I made my way over to my uncle and sat as lightly as I could on his lap. No amount of polite concerns for the health of his lap would have allowed him to let go of me. What’s worse than your family’s impoliteness is also a grand amount of politeness.

‘Could he have felt it?’ I wondered, through the 40 longest minutes of my life. I had no way of checking if I even needed to worry. At every tentative stop the van made, I grew hopeful of an excuse I could use to escape from him and his lap.

Nobody could have helped me. Not my mother, who sat in the corner of the bus, laughing at something dad was saying, not my sister who sat by the window, earphones plugged into her whole existence and definitely not me who was glued to her uncle’s lap and shivered everytime the vehicle ran over speed bumps.

Now I could feel it, the wetness, the thickness, the weird trickle between thighs, like urine dreaming its way out when you bed wet, you can feel it but are simply too paralyzed to stop it. I decided to sit mum and not do anything or say anything because I was sure the damage was done. There was no point in bringing everybody’s attention to the most embarrassing moment of my life, not prematurely. I wasn’t dreading it anymore because now all my attention was focused on delaying it. I wanted 40 more minutes, hell, I wanted the 40 minutes to not end, to never end. I wanted the daylight sucked from outside so he wouldn’t notice what had happened to his pants, on his lap. I wanted night, I wanted my mother, I wanted to lock myself somewhere and cry.

The van stopped eventually and I saw with wild fear, my mother, sister and cousins getting off the van, one by bloody one. My uncle had no way of getting up without budging me off his lap so I continued to sit until he summoned to get up.

As I stood up unhurriedly and scared, I turned to look at what I had left behind, and saw it. The most disgusting little three drops of bright red blood on my uncle’s pants. What followed must have been bad because I went temporarily deaf after a stupid boy cousin opened his mouth and screamed ‘Blood! Blood! Blood on uncle’s pants’.  As kind aunts shushed him to a full stop, I ran tearing out of the van and into the bathroom. When I came out, I had transformed into a firm believer of using 2 napkins on the first day of period.

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Over and out

It is difficult to admit to yourself when you fall out of love. There aren’t signs nor symbols to tell you when you do, unlike when you are in love where every tear drop is out of feeling lucky and blessed, every smile is a play of memory and desire and every morning is a prayer. Here on the other side, there is a void now which is slowly beginning to fill with everything you don’t say to each other. A pause that appears more than once in a conversation; it twitches and you want nothing more than to wrap it up and put it in your pocket; to let it out only when it is healthier and is sure to inspire thoughtfulness and shared smiles.

It takes longer to dress up now, you pick clothes you don’t find interesting. When you turn back at your door and see the light and warmth in the curtains and the slow, rhythmic rising of fumes from incense sticks, you sigh and hang on to the hope of another Sunday, when all of this will be yours to touch and feel.

You go to familiar places, hoping it will rekindle forgotten desires, now abandoned in limbos – neither here nor there. The walk from the parking lot to the escalator is the hope for a good day. Then you say something, he says something else. Your face freezes in an expression you know he detests but it’s too late to think of what he detests and loves. Or perhaps you don’t care. Within a minute, the promise of a good day goes grinning by, and all you can do is stand there and wait to finish your thought, the fight.

A warped sense of pity and gratitude beckons you to walk along with him and force conversations on him, like squeezing an empty tube for that last remaining blob of toothpaste. But all you get is a set of grunts to match your ridiculous questions. You are only checking to see if the day still has potential, and then in that little distance between discomfort and accusation, you will know.

As you stand in silence on the escalator, you wonder if it always took you so long to get to the fourth floor. It seems as though another floor has been added because it really is taking you longer than usual to get there. Ringing echoes of laughter and memories of stories that you once inflicted on this escalator, this mall whisper behind you as you finally reach that dreaded fourth floor. And then a faint feeling of loveless coma whacks your face and you are left wondering if you just fell out of love.

Two pairs of hands are lifelessly sprawled on the table – they look yellow and tired. Every movement the hand makes is a battle between a desire to end the bickering, yet to not want to reach out and grasp his hand. The food arrives and you feel relief raining all over your insides. Hours later you are fighting the urge to push his weight off your chest while your face appears to be as calm as the moon. Every touch is a memory that your uncle left burnt on your thighs, hips and breasts. You go through with it and wait for it to end. It ends and you go home.

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Thiruvananthapuram

Traveling with the family has always been a messy affair for me. Dad has unhindered access to me and what I wear and what I eat and how I live; the comments ensue, the match begins. But this happens only now, although oddly enough it seems like there’s a history that’s older than me when I think of all the disagreements we have had. Our travel sprees were a lot different when I was younger. And so were the disagreements.

Back then, I must have been crouching in the back seat, playing referee to the two voices in my head – one his, one mine; making them disagree. In short, waiting to grow up so I didn’t have to travel with them to temples and other violent places children should never be taken to. 

Traveling all of South India with a joint family in a matador will therefore only remain a blur that I accidentally found while groping in the dark, looking for something else. Somebody mentions a beach, a temple or a hotel and I find myself donning my best cat behavior trying to locate the blur in my memory, now whizzing like a housefly to be caught, an answer to be found, a page to be filled up.

We covered the temple cities in less than 4 days, stopping very briefly at Trivandrum, which until last year I firmly believed I had never seen. Last November, I discovered the blur in my memory that was Trivandrum and everything did not come rushing back as I had hoped it would. It took me a while to realise that I was seeing 2 versions of a city. One of which is imposed on you by temple going freak shows in the family who turn a blind eye to everything else the city offers. The other is when you catch a passing glimpse of yourself, in a moving vehicle, a showroom, a granite wall, and you smile in whispers and curse your family, when you are out exploring the city all by yourself.

I saw myself, away from home, away from temple people, away from the prying eyes of my father, wearing shorts, carrying nothing but a little bag and waiting to be lost. I walked around the hotel, smiled at all the slopes, coconut trees and little brick homes that gave me all kinds of Mangalore flashbacks. I took random turns, and found out that it is not easy to get lost in this city. Either that or I was too scared to go all the way out and be lost. 

At the turn of every corner, I smelled fish curry and coconut oil, a smell that I shamelessly associate Trivandrum with even today. The city made me see and feed the small foodie I was beginning to take note of in me. It outperformed the beach person that I was throughout my life.

I gorged on idiyappams and Kerala chicken curry in Statue hotel, downed jars of Pankaj Island Ice Tea, scooped chemmen fry with mounds of red rice and fish curry at Mubarak, judged soggy bits of meen pollichathu and forced its taste to match with the taste I thought it ought to have had, wolfed down puttu and prawn curry at Black pepper, all the while trying hard to drown the voices and faces of my part mallu-part mangy mother and her relatives. I could hear them echo loudly behind me. ‘Ti amgel vari khaoche’ – ‘She eats like us’.

Trivandrum’s streets are a marvel in themselves. An India coffee house, that looks like the leaning tower of pisa parked hazily around buses and bikes comes zooming back when I try to retrace my tour around the city. The buses looked easy to climb into unlike the whistling, red ones in Bangalore that are hostile bloody dynamites. At the far end of the street that I call Trivandrum is a little place that serves Biryani chaya – butter beer if I may. At the risk of getting kicked, I am going to say, drink it to know it. 

So when I go to Trivandrum, it is also to devour the best rice and kerala fish curry in the name of all that is fancy at Hotel Villa Maya, which, true to its name stands tall and quiet; unknowing of the city bustling all around it. I am no food expert but the food there is both sleep-inducing and exploding with taste.

This is how I remember Trivandrum, in its streets and food, in its friendly looking buses and pankaj island ice tea, but surprisingly very little in its beaches. However, nothing screams more Trivandrum than that familiar smell of fish curry and coconut oil when I check into its hotel. 

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In Between

Of Fights and Families…

My mother and I talk only when we fight, and during commercial breaks between TV shows that we watch together very rarely. So during one of our latest verbal fits, she said something that made me think. When I fight my mouth begins an affair with my opponent’s mouth and has a life of its own and so the fact that my mother said something to me during a fight that made me stop and think is extraordinary to me. So last evening when I was trying to escape my mother’s madness, I told her that I was going to run away from her and the home. Normally when I say this, because I have said it so often and not had had the bloody gall to actually do it, my mother breaks into a fit of sobs and an even bigger fit of emotional blackmail diarrhea. After this, there’s not much left to do except shut up and watch her weep.

So just when I was preparing to do that she said that she could run away too, you know? I keep saying I will run away because I have the option to say or do that but she doesn’t have the option so she cannot even say it. It was at this point that I started feeling bad for her and I hate feeling bad for people I’m having life altering fights with.

I have always wondered what the right way is, to ease my folks into my life’s biggest tragedy, which is that I hate family and marriage and probably may never want either of those things. I haven’t mustered courage yet to tell them that. I am convinced that they will do everything within their power and the government’s to stop me from not wanting marriage or kids. And now this is my big problem, should I feed into the emotional drama back home or join in and do the same with my kids and theirs’? I’m saying this because whenever I picture myself giving in and doing just what my family expects me to, I always picture myself giving in fully; like full on sari wearing, child- strangling, husband well wishing mother of 2 who has quit her profession as a teacher and is now a stay at home feminist. This is a super scary picture, but one that is beginning to look more real with time.

This is like an old family photograph that has torn edges and is yellow but looks cheerful. One that children from another generation find and have questions to ask about. I hate this picture. The fact that it is not real is not the problem at all. I just hate it because I don’t know what else to do with this thing that isn’t real but powerful. Time and again, when I become weak and appear to be giving in to the “hamara sukhi parivaar” idea, that picture mocks me and I come flying back to rebellion.