Monday, March 17, 2008

My Secret Harem

This is the first of the four odd tags that I'm supposed to do because I'm so freakishly popular. I got tagged by Priyanka and I'm doing this one first because the tag originated with her. Anyhow, here goes nothing.

The rule is to tell the world about your Georgette Heyer Man (GHM), the literary character that you fell unabashedly in love with, and prayed fervently that he might be real somehow.

My first affair with a man of letters (goodness, am I witty or what?) was with a dunce. Yes, I said dunce. And I'm not trying to be contrary to squeeze a few laughs out of you. I was about four or five when I went to a book fair for the first time. My sister bought a huge collection of fairy tales by Hans Andersen. At four I wasn't prodigy enough to read the book, but oh, the pictures. Beautiful paintings filled with people who looked like they belonged in fairy tales. A few years later, when I'd learned to read, I discovered that the book was quite intriguing. I was most taken by the story of the dunce who used a dead crow, a handful of mud and a shoe to make the princess his duck, in a manner of speaking. The feat was even more impressive when you considered that he was competing against scholars of great intelligence and equal pomposity. I'd developed a thing for the streetsmart quickwit quite early in life.

My next serious dalliance was with that most perfect ladies' man ever created, namely Mr. Darcy of Miss Austen's pen. I think the reason I loved him so much was because he was the cliche that started it all. The striking good looks, the intelligence, the hauteur and of course, the healthy wallet were all active ingredients in this veritable elixir of suitability. But the reason I liked him was because in my head he was someone else. He was vulnerable and a little less starched and a wee bit more eloquent. Ah, my Darcy.

And then of course, there was Heathcliff. More than him, it was the way that he was loved that drew me to him. There was almost a feverish intensity to my tryst with Wuthering Heights. It was the only time that I ever took my affection for a character seriously. I was actually worried as to whether it indicated some sort of pathology. Really.

There was also Atticus Finch, the one I loved because of his utter compassion. I remember crying for his quiet dignity, smiling at the gentleness of his gestures and wondering at the sort of courage that we rarely get to see, or even less understand.

In between all of this, I became friends with Kitkat and Sim, both of whom had an incurable affection for Mills and Boon novellas. Before you cringe, let me tell you that M&Bs were our circus for the next three years. I've never read such ridiculously and shamelessly bad writing and I've never relished it half as much as I did then. We even came up with the idea of writing an M&B on our own, with a fiery Mediterranean hero whose profession it was to lust over a dreary but somehow not plain heroine, whilst getting conveniently misinterpreted at every turn. To suit his scorching personality, he was named Blaaaze and our novella was to be called (ahem) Aag Ka Gola. Muahahahahaha.

All along, I also nurtured a healthy affection for both Calvin and Hobbes at different points of time, along with a great regard for Fred and George Weasley and Aragorn of a thousand different names. Also, Freddie Threepwood, the one whose favourite word was 'Cor!'. My last big affair was with Kirin, of course. He was just so completely perfect that I never really had a choice. Generous doses of a dark, mysterious past, an arch sweetness and a hearty sense of humour. And which girl could ever resist a shamelessly good looking Dark Lord? Not I. My GHM award goes to Samit Basu, manipulator extraordonaire of every shade of girlie emotions.

So now I pass on the tag to Kitkat and Sim who introduced me to Georgetter Heyer and her array of wicked men, none of whom I fell in love with. But we did have our moments of mirth, and that's not too shabby. Enjoy, ladies.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ho Hum - V

"I was abandoned..."

It seemed to me, as I listened to Rakesh's litany, that he had been singled out as the Chosen One from the moment that he was born. He had been found abandoned in front of a small garment retail shop. The owner of the shop took him in and brought him up, but only just. There was always a remove between the family and Rakesh, which was not helped by the other children's resentment towards him. This resentment festered and brewed under the surface of seemingly normal and placid daily life, and bubbled over to the surface at the least provocation, and sometimes even without it.

"I suppose", he said, "I was lucky that no one ever hit me or beat me. But they were not happy. It made them dislike me, and I never really knew whether I could blame them for it. After all, my life itself was nothing more than the sum of their kindness. But amma, you know how children are. As a child, you are much more keenly aware of every little injustice that is meted out to you. I resented them, the fact that they ate at the dining table while I sat on the floor for my meals. They went to school, while I was given lessons only when one of the older children had time to spare to teach me. I helped with the housework and in the shop, but I never received any thanks for it. My resentment was coupled by a deep, shaming guilt over the fact that I felt this way, that in some way I was being treacherous and unfaithful to my benefactors, however flawed their kindness may have been. My life passed by, largely unacknowledged. The pain was there, but over time it turned into a dull ache that I barely noticed anymore".

"Things started changing for the better once I started working fulltime at the shop. I found a strange solace in the rasp of the yards of fabric slipping under my fingers, a veritable thrill every time I was able to make a sale and a sense of giving back to the family that seemed to assuage my guilt and resentment. I also grew a lot closer to Baba. He was the one who had taken me in, and he had been good to me in his own quiet fashion. I suppose he had never really thought that I would have needed anything more than food or shelter. He had spent his whole life trying to give a good education and lifestyle to his children, with the inevitable result that they were all doing very well for themselves, speaking impeccable English and trying unsuccessfully to hide the fact that they were slightly ashamed of their not-so-polished father. He and I were joined by our love for the little shop with its peeling paint and dingy atmosphere. To him it was a lifetime's hard work and effort, to me it was a refuge as well as the arena where I proved myself everyday."

As I listened to him speak, I couldn't help but contrast his life with mine. I had spent my entire life bemoaning the dullness of my life while he had spent his life wanting the normalcy that I held in contempt. I was a little ashamed at the pettiness of my perspective. He kept talking about how adulthood had seemed to compensate for the voids felt in childhood, and slowly life started to shape up into something respectable and meaningful.

"After twelve years of working in the shop, I was more or less left in charge as Baba's growing years finally made him more agreeable to the prospect of retirement. He still came to the shop everyday, but now all he did was drink a cup of tea and watch contentedly as the business conducted itself. His regard for me had grown over the years, and he wanted to give me something that I had missed all these years: a family of my own. He had spoken to some of his relatives who had arranged for me to get married to a girl of their acquaintance. He had also built a small annexe where I would live after marriage. I was delirious with happiness. All my life I had struggled to fit in somewhere, to feel like I belonged with someone, and now it would finally happen for me. The wedding date was coming closer, and Baba took me with him to meet Neela, the girl that I would marry. I was already half in love with her although I'd never met or seen her. I imagined her as the one who would be my anchor, the one who I would live for and with, the one I could love, finally. I had trouble sleeping because of the excitement and anticipation. The day arrived, lovely and warm, and we reached her house around noon."

"We met under the watchful eyes of her parents. She came and sat next to me with her face cast downwards. I could not read her expression; it seemed to be a little troubled. She went inside after a while and I asked to go to the bathroom to wash my hands. As I walked in, I passed her room; the door was slightly ajar. I leaned in at the door to listen to her voice. All was quiet for about ten seconds. I was about to leave when suddenly I heard her say, "He short, he's ugly and the smell of his hair oil makes me gag. You can't make me. I'll kill myself if you try". I walked back to the living room, sat through the rest of the meeting and left without uttering a single word. I went home and told Baba that I didn't want to marry her, that I didn't like her demeanour. He was disappointed and behaved rather cold towards me. But I didn't really mind; my mind was consumed by the thought that someone actually preferred death to being with me. Three terrible days passed in this way. I decided that killing myself was the reasonable thing to do".

"Reasonable?"

"Reasonable", he laughed. "Reasonable because it would finally stop her words from echoing inside my head. Therefore, reasonable. I took the train to go to the beach; drowning is the only thing that is free of cost. But when I saw you almost fall off the train because of your carelessness, something inside me snapped. Amma, I'm sorry, but all the myriad little sorrows and pains that had simmered inside me for the last twenty seven years finally came out with that slap. And now we're here, and in trouble too, but I no longer want to kill myself".

"That's worth a jail term, I think", I smiled.

We sat in silence for a couple of hours. I managed to convince the lady who came in to question us that we were just victims of unfortunate sentence construction and inherent drama queen characteristics. She let us go after the mandatory stern warning, and everyone else had a good laugh at our expense. Rakesh went back to his beloved shop and I came home and dozed off for a marathon thirteen hours.

It's been a month since that day. My life is still as dull as it was before. I'm still at my old job. But I did break up with the guy who liked my shoes. I don't know if I'll ever see Rakesh again, but he did change my life irrevocably. How, you ask, since all else seems the same?

1. I'm happy.

2. I've realized that I should stick to dealing with what I can handle, and I can handle humdrum, normal and placid exceedingly well. In fact, I think that's what I'll name my children.

3. Excitement has an unpleasant corollary - a rumbling tummy. And clean toilets are hard to find. So I've decided to leave the excitement for the rest of the world.

And I think I won't tell you my name after all. I've grown to like Jane Doe.