Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Again

I love this time of the year because the air feels like silk over your skin. The wind still retains a little bite, and the nights are perfect for long-winded stories and remembrances of a softer time. This year feels better, because there's a backyard to experiment with, plants to water everyday and birds to chase away.

I remember my mother being good with plants. Putting down new roots, adding here, pruning there. Organic fertilizer, and lots of love. Chrysanthemums and snowballs, forget-me-nots and dahlias, gladioli and daisies. Homegrown tomatoes and mint leaves, flat beans from the terrace garden. Fragrance in spring; sharp and piquant, mellow and soothing. Bursts of colour amidst seas of green, celebrating life in the only way that mattered.

Life turned brown for so long in between that I stopped looking for spring. The seasons mattered only in as much as whether to complain about the heat or cover up against the cold. There was no space to plant a bit of me, and no will to either. And then, in the year where everything else seemed to be going wrong, spring showed up. I have a backyard, with a lemon tree, a papaya tree and a pomegranate tree. There are plants which are beginning to sprout the first flowers of the year. The guava tree is loaded with beautiful young leaves, a mixture of dew green and red. The front yard is filled with potted plants, all crowned with the most beautiful blooms. My fingers are itching to get some mud on them.

In so many ways, professionally, this is the worst year I've had. Looking for the ideal job is always less interesting than it sounds. And the only people who know your awesome work ethic are those you already know. And yet, I can't seem to get too worried about it just yet. Someone will hire me to do something I love, someday soon. Till then, the world is green again, and that will do.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

A Love Unlike Others - II

Around Seema, people bustled, busy with the million details that made weddings such a complicated affair. Her mind, however, was at another, very different wedding: one that belonged to another time and another person.

Zoe's wedding was far from the lavish extravaganza that Seema had always pictured for her friend. Zoe's gloomy prognosis about Rajiv's parents had been correct. For a month after the marriage was registered, they staunchly refused to believe that their son could have taken up with 'such a girl'. It was only the prospect of social humiliation that had prodded them into organizing the world's unhappiest wedding reception for their only child and his wife. Even now, they stood on the sidelines with fixed smiles and hard, flinty eyes that watched as their daughter-in-law effortlessly charmed their extended family and legions of friends.

Seema barely knew how she had managed to get through the last month. With a resolve she barely knew existed, she had called her mother and agreed to consider the colourful brochures her mother had collected, each promising more and more idyllic visions of an education overseas, far away from the pain that kept her awake at night. She had no illusions: this was an escape, a retreat and nothing more. She packed her bags, refusing to give her hostel room the honour of lingering in its memories. The month that she spent at home, she was careful to mask any sign of unhappiness from her mother. The constant strain of watching every word she spoke took its toll. She spent the first twenty hours after her arrival in the US in a deep, dreamless sleep.

But maybe she was built with sterner stuff than she gave herself credit for. She did get out of bed, eventually. She refused campus accommodation and found herself a tiny apartment that was utilitarian enough to discourage any attachment. She enrolled for as many classes as would fill up the day. She barely spoke to anyone. The recluse in her was familiar, safe, a protective blanket that kept her going. Till one day, she looked up from a book she was reading on her bus, and lost her heart to Boston.

It was fall, and the sky was just crisp enough, the colours of the leaves on the trees sharp enough for her to draw her breath with pleasure. She spent hours just walking up and down the streets, looking at the houses with the beautiful shrubs, feeling each crunch of every leaf under her foot, savouring the crisp autumn air as if she were breathing again after a long time. She was helpless against the smile that curved her lips upwards. She didn't even realize she was grinning till she noticed a few people smiling back at her.

She went back home, drew the curtains till all light was vanquished, and got back into bed.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Love Unlike Others

She was meeting Zoe tomorrow.

It seemed like they had known each other forever. But she still remembered, with crystal clarity, the day they had first met. She'd been nervous, too nervous to see the exciting side of attending college in a new city. The shyness that had seemed to recede in the last few years of school was back, pressing down on her with renewed force. Her mother had dropped her at the hostel in the morning, trusting her newly turned eighteen daughter to make her own way. She'd been in her room for five hours, putting away her things, arranging her books with extra care. Unable, so far, to pluck up courage to go and talk to any of the other girls. Suddenly, the door had banged open, and in walked a girl with a smile as bright as the sun. Zoe.

She'd been the reluctant friend, at first. But one couldn't resist Zoe's charm for very long. The three years of college were when she'd truly lived, for the very first time. Zoe had blackmailed her into wearing kohl, letting her hair down once in a while, actually wearing the shocking pink jacket her mother had forced on her. They'd called each other Kamla and Bimla, secret names that made their friendship more vital somehow. Bunking classes to discover newer varieties of chaat, sharing the first tentative sip of alcohol on a Friday afternoon in a deserted pub, filling their brains with reams of abstruse information before the examinations... every moment had had its own thrill. Zoe had been a serial dater, stringing along an ever increasing line of boys who seemed to hang on to her every word. She'd never really been one for dating, even though Zoe had coaxed her into a fair few. Zoe's love life, though, had never flagged for an instant. The wining and dining with the endless admirers was a regularly Friday night feature.

It was one such date that had changed everything. On her return, Zoe had been unusually quiet; her eyes filled with a strange new light. For the first time, she'd felt somehow excluded from a secret, somehow distant from Zoe. Soon, Rajiv became the first boy to ever get a third date. She'd been vaguely annoyed at the time, and unable to explain her mood swings. It hadn't mattered; Zoe hadn't cared, or even noticed.

A month later, on one frenetic pre-exam evening, Zoe had turned to her with a sombre look on her face.

"He asked me today. I knew it was coming, but I still wasn't prepared. I couldn't have been prepared for this kind of happiness, could I? We're going ahead with it, sweets.I wasn't supposed to tell, but I couldn't hold it in anymore."

"Going ahead with what?" she'd asked, half willing the answer to never come.

"We're getting married. His family won't approve, so we're having a civil ceremony before we tell them. Bimla, I'm getting married tomorrow! I'm so dizzy, I can barely breathe! Can you believe it?"

But I love you...

Her eyes widened as the unspoken realization sank in. She masked it with a huge smile, hugging Zoe tight, whispering her congratulations. Zoe drew back, looking at her with a half smile and a strange look in her eyes. Her breath caught in her chest. She recognized pity well enough.

Zoe knew.

(To be continued)

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Night Vision

Things have a way of getting tangled up.

The rain pours outside, relentless like the thoughts in her head. The man beside her sleeps on, dreaming of God only knows what men dream of. Race cars? Supermodels? Her fingers have long since stopped seeking his out for comfort. They seek out a cigarette instead; the gesture now so practiced it barely registers anymore. The smell of the rain mingles with the tobacco scent of a thousand nights like this one. The mingled odours rise up and settle onto her chest, pressing until she can barely breathe anymore. The bed isn't hers; she rises to escape its throttling embrace.

The window seems less dangerous. Leaning out, she looks at the plants by the windowsill. His wife is a herb lover, she remembers. In the early, heady days of their acquaintance, she remembers laughing at him telling her that the missus's green thumb cultivated everything except weed. Now she leans and smells thyme, basil and mint. Well grown, well loved plants, tended with the care that escaped the marriage within the walls.

But then, how can she judge anymore? He's been lying to her for years now, inuring her to a life of secret meetings and covert hook ups. She may even have begun preferring it that way. God knows she couldn't be the wife, satisfied with herbs alone. She's been meaning to break it off for a long time, but habit has proved more persevering than she accounted for.

How does one end up as the Other Woman? Is she predisposed towards it? Is there a separate school or university for virtuous, herb growing wives? There's been nothing out of the ordinary about her life, so why did she end up taking this fork in the road? She looks at the sleeping man, the man who somehow got her to accept sordid as exciting; who managed to erode what was inside her till she was okay with this.

He's vain, a peacock looking for validation, from yes men and yes-to-anything women. His vanity is even more extraordinary given how meagre he is. Suddenly, it's impossible to stay used to this any longer.

She goes to the dresser and opens a drawer. The scissors are exactly what she needs. She goes over to his sleeping form and gently begins what she should've done years ago. It takes a while because she wants him to stay asleep; a scene isn't something she can endure right now.

When daylight breaks, the room is empty save for the gently rumbling snores of a man lying on the rumpled bed. All around his head lie bunches of hair, snipped without grace or mercy. The herbs on the windowsill look freshly watered.