Drenched in refreshing moisture, earth bursts into colorful melody-
Simi K. Rao
Monsoon in India is a special time. The overcast black skies, the drumroll of thunder, invoke the thrill of anticipation in the thirsty heart. This is then fulfilled by the downpour. And what a downpour it is!
Extending from June- September, the monsoon brings welcome relief from the stifling heat of the summer. The happiness is visible not just on the faces of the citizens but also on the parched earth– the fragrance of the soil, the blossoming of the vegetation, the songs of the cuckoo, the dance of the peacock.
It was at one of the five star hotels, Marriott I think, the fancy one in Juhu. Thank heavens it wasn’t at his home.
The room was cavernous and daunting with creepy shadows all over created by the hidden lighting everyone is so crazy about nowadays. I was led there by two of my new husband’s giggly cousins. I’d have loved to smack their pretty faces but that’d have invited a ruckus. Besides, I was preoccupied. I was terrified. Terrified of doing it with someone I didn’t know anything about. What little I did could be googled on the web. But then was my lot different from other women. Examples were all around me–my mom, aunts, cousins, friends.
Maybe it was because everything had happened so fast; because I had no clue of the future; because the ghost of Rohan still clung to me like my own shadow. Because. Because. Because.
It wasn’t just a grove. It was a magical, mystical jungle of living, breathing giants that left Shaan awe struck. Neither of them spoke as they ambled slowly on the well-worn dirt paths and listened to the trees, some almost two thousand years old, as they related tales of times gone by. Of emperors, and kings and queens, and of battles fought for love and for greed.
A sudden transformation came over Ruhi when they came upon a fallen tree. She leaned against the dead trunk; her frame dwarfed by its girth, then closed her eyes and whispered in a voice rife with melancholy. “Who am I but a speck of dust this poor soul can’t even see?”
Shaan couldn’t keep his emotions in check. He hauled her into his arms and they wept together as they grieved for their mutual loss.
“Alright! Playtime is over my darlings. Now for the juicy part.” He announced to the two of them. “I want a really hot…and I mean HOT NO HOLDS BARRED dance session.”
“I know for Shan it would be a walk in the park but Khanak…” he placed his hands on her shoulders. “My dear..you are going to have to change your persona entirely.”
She raised her eyebrows while looking doubtfully at Shan.
“I mean..you have slip out of your nice girl next door avatar and become the femme fatale! Imagine yourself as the sexy sassy wild gal who men go crazy for. You tease, you tempt, you dangle the carrot…Your moves are so hot, and desirable that Shan’s passions are ignited and he can’t rest till he has had you, tasted your skin… But you don’t give in…you just lead him on and torture the heck out of him!” Sebastian exclaimed dramatically, he was breathing hard, just getting into his groove.
Khanak flushed pink, “I can’t do that… That’s not me!”
It was close to ten in the morning. Last night I’d come back to the room quite late and had found both mom and baby fast asleep. It was tough to get comfortable on the recliner but somehow I’d managed to fall asleep and woke up just a few minutes ago. I’d chosen to remain in my position and watch the play of expressions on my wife’s face as she interacted with our little one. I found them delightful as they were all brand new.
“Don’t you think the bump is smaller today?” Ruhi asked when she realized I was awake. I tossed aside the thin blanket the nurses had provided and loped over to the bed. I caressed the little head with my hand. It did appear less prominant. I could feel the slight irregularity, it was soft, cushion like, as if there was fluid inside. It didn’t appear to hurt the baby at all. She was wide awake, her clear black eyes drifting around, coming to pause for a moment on our faces then drifting again. I wasn’t sure if she could see us, or make out our faces. If she could, (which was highly improbable) did she know who we were? Regardless, I was sure she knew she was safe. She was going to be beautiful, just like her mother, and brave and strong. I saw Ruhi was waiting impatiently for my assessment. “She’s going to be just fine, jaan, she’s her mother’s child afterall.”
“And her father’s.”
“Yes, she’s our child. Congratulations my love.” I leaned forward and kissed Ruhi. It was a kiss of reassurance and love; a promise that we were in this together no matter what. For godsakes why was I having such morbid thoughts.
The lobby was deserted. The automatic sliding doors of the entryway were locked. The Afterhours Exit is to your Left—a sign pointed toward the ER. I saw lights flashing outside and people running. Curious, I walked over to the doors. A helicopter had landed on top of the hospital. A few EMTs rushed out with a stretcher. I guessed they were ferrying someone to another facility. Someone very sick. It was one thirty in the morning. Just like babies, sickness too arrives unannounced. The thought left a bad taste in my mouth.
I turned to the vending machines and scanned the repertoire—chips, salted peanuts, sunflower seeds, trail mix, fat free popcorn, pretzels, power bars. They even had one dispensing hot sandwiches. Yuck!
I was engulfed by a sudden craving for homecooked food. Ruhi’s parathas; mom’s baingan bharta—If I closed my eyes, I could smell the aroma, almost. Mom–the word stirred a flurry of emotions. I felt my heart squeeze inside my chest. What would she be doing now, I wondered. Lunch would be almost over if things still operated as they did before. After I’d left home all those years ago. Of course they did. Why would anything change?
And so, it was. Never ever, even if I wished for it. But why would I? I thought, as I looked at her delicate little self, fast asleep, cocooned in her doting mother’s embrace. So tiny, yet so perfect. I couldn’t tear my eyes off her. What an entry she’d made. Her cry echoing through the halls of the labor and delivery unit making me smile and tears of joy sprout from her exhausted mother’s eyes.
Her poor mother, my wife, was beat. After almost 24 hours of ineffective pushing and perspiration, when our baby girl began showing signs of distress, Dr. Shepherd didn’t like the way her heart was reacting– speeding up and slowing down; so, she decided to force matters. She talked us into something called a vacuum device, to pull our baby out. I had my doubts, it sounded quite medievel, but there was no time for questions or research. It worked like a miracle. The baby slid out in seconds, but she had what looked like a big bump on her head. The doctor assured me it was nothing. “It’ll be gone in a couple of days;” she said. Ruhi, though, was oblivious to this slight inconsistency. The little bundle in her arms had hijacked all her attention. I don’t think she was even aware she was bleeding. The blood gushed out of her like a river. The doc had to stitch her up. I doubt anyone realized how much she’d lost till they sat her up in the wheelchair to transport her to another room and she promptly passed out. They had to give her two pints!Continue reading →
Mili was uptight. In fact, that had become quite the usual for her nowadays. Anxiety, confusion, sheer nervousness when she was in Ahaan’s company; agitation, restlessness, a maddening confusion when she was not—for sure she was becoming irreversibly unhinged, she had no doubt about it.
She contemplated herself in the mirror; having lost count on how many times she had changed her outfit tonight. Nothing seemed to fit the bill. It was going to be the first time they would be seen socially together and she didn’t want to let him down, rather she wanted to impress him, make him puff up with pride. But how—she worried as her eyes ran critically over her shapely frame enhanced to perfection by the charcoal dress with a silvery sheen that shimmered each time she moved. Was it too revealing? No, she didn’t think so; it did cling but not too blatantly, with the scoop neck revealing just the right amount of silky skin. But would he think so too?
Oh Ahaan! How much do I not know about you!
“But I don’t care! Let him think what he wants to! After all, it was his decision to marry me, not mine!” She defiantly addressed her reflection.
I mashed my arm with my hand, screwed my eyes tight shut and tried not to curse out loud. “I’m fine Ruhi. It’s no big deal. Must be a pinched nerve or something like that. I’ve been banging on the keyboard way too much.” My attempted laugh came out sounding like a croak. My wife looked at me suspiciously but didn’t say anything. She examined my arm carefully and then when she didn’t see anything awry, massaged it gently. Then made me a new ice pack and forced me to swallow a couple of ibuprofens. She was taking care of me while it was supposed to be the other way around. Sorry mom-in-law!
I felt foolish and angry at myself as the pain abated again. But it left behind a strange tingling and numbness. I couldn’t feel the keyboard as well with my left hand as I could with my right. I couldn’t figure it out. I felt fine otherwise. It was more of an irritant than a concern.
I googled it. Pain in the elbow and arm. Tennis elbow. It was the first thing that showed up. Yeah that’s it!
My gaze wandered out the window. I could hear and see him loud and clear despite the commotion of the gathering crowd.
“Yes, yes! My wife loves to cook.”
Yes, yes! I used to love to cook. I didn’t even think I was good at it but it was still something I enjoyed. It’s different now that I do it every day and have a fifty year old hag nagging over my shoulder.
“Reet, how is the kheer? Is it ready?”
“Uh..no, not yet. Almost.” I gave her the usual – a sweet, apologetic smile and a half shrug.
“Okay. That’s fine.” It wasn’t. “Hurry up.”
I stirred the kheer and watched her leave from the corner of my eye. Reet, is the food ready? Reet, where are you going? Reet, I told you to not go out of the house without my permission. Reet, why don’t you ever listen?
Screw her, I thought. Screw this house. Screw this family.
I heard him call me his wife again from outside. It was something I always wanted to be called when I was younger, but it irked me now. I missed when I was the one out there dancing my heart out to Bollywood songs. Back then, I was told it would be my turn soon, but I didn’t pay it much heed. Of course I knew it was coming, but that was later.
And now was later, and here I was remaking the pudding that I burnt while thinking about the soap I started watching earlier.
It all felt very authentic now. I actually got so bored I started watching soaps! I was becoming like my mom, and my grandma, and every woman before them. Would I yell at my future kids as much as they did? Would I sit here and never go to school again, although I had been promised I would after a couple of years? Would I sweep the entire floor while complaining that no one was helping me? Was I really just stuck here..forever?
It was him. “Yeah.”
“Just bring out what you have. It’s okay.”
That’s not how it worked with kheer, I wanted to say. The whole thing had to be done before I brought it out. “It’s almost done, I promise!” I said instead.
“..Okay. But if it isn’t, don’t worry.” he smiled. It felt genuine. “Everyone wants to see you.”
I stopped stirring after he left. He seemed nice and sweet from the get-go. He was good-looking too, according to everyone. Maybe he’d grow on me, and I him. I couldn’t tell if he liked me yet. It had only been a few months since I moved in.
I could tell he wanted me to feel comfortable here. But there was his one time where his mom went batshit on me for not doing our dishes as well as the neighbors’ ones since their sink was broken. Back then, I approached him, and he told me that was just the way she was.
But being here probably wasn’t even that bad. I always did tend to make the worst out of every situation. Oh boo hoo, poor Reet, she just hates cooking and cleaning and sitting and sleeping and asking and bearing and wondering and sighing.
Poor, poor Reet.
I went out into the living room. His little brother was playing Fortnite on the desktop, and the rerun of the soap I was watching was playing on the TV. I saw this episode a while ago. It was the one where the main girl was being dragged out of her house to get married to the evil landlord two blocks down. She was crying and crying and sobbing but her captors didn’t listen and just gagged her and threw her in the back of a truck.
I wish I had something to actually complain about. I was reluctant about the whole arrangement to begin with and yes, life here was irritating, but I managed to let it pass with all but a weird discomfort in my chest. He was well-off, and the house was nice, so what else could I possibly ask for?
I looked back at the kid. Why wasn’t he outside with the others?
“Hey, could you help me carry this out?”
He looked at the desktop, then to the controller in his hand, then back to me. He was occupied, message heard loud and clear.
“Please? It’ll be quick. Then you can get back to whatever you’re doing.”
He got up with a groan and then we brought it outside.
A hand on my shoulder.
I put on my brightest grin. “Yes! That’s me! Nice to meet you.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Reet.” At first glance, it looked like it was, but there was something in everyone’s eyes that gave it away. Maybe they thought I would be prettier. A little thinner. Have a higher pitched voice. Whatever it was, no one looked particularly impressed. This never used to get to me but now it did, for some reason. I was usually on the quiet side, but in this setting, being expected to behave myself didn’t feel good.
“There you are!” Him! He began to hold my hand but redirected it to my back.
“So, you guys got acquainted?” He raised an eyebrow at the woman I just semi-introduced myself to, and she nodded with pursed lips.
God, I had never felt so pathetic in my entire life. I spent three hours doing my makeup in the morning. I only wore this sari once in my entire life. My jewelry came all the way from my mom’s town in India. Why would no one look at me? I was pretty, right? No?
I felt like jumping into a well, but I swallowed it down and sat down where some people were taking pictures. I wondered if I could inconspicuously photobomb all of them, so when they went home, and saw the girl in their picture with the beautiful sari, they would ask who it was and look her up on Facebook and find out it was me. But that would never work. I didn’t even have a Facebook.
Everyone looked so happy dancing and I thought, yeah, I could join them. But my feet were grounded to the grass.
A guy started singing an old song way off key.
Musafir hoon yaaaaaronnnnnn
Na ghar haiiii na thikanaaaaa
Mujhe chalte jaana haiiiiiiiiii
Bas chalte jaaaaaanaaaaaaa
The translation goes something like this: “I’m a traveller, friends. I don’t have a home nor place. I have to keep moving, just keep moving”. I’ve never heard this song being sung at a wedding. God, he sounded like a dying donkey. Why was no one complaining? If I could, I would’ve taken the mic out of his hands and knocked him out with it myself. I could, but..I wouldn’t.
I leaned back in my seat, let my eyes droop shut, and pretended that this man was singing it for me.
The girl being married into our family today was sweet and pretty. Maybe I would finally have someone to talk to. She looked really excited the last time I saw her. I certainly was, a few months ago. I was entering into a new chapter of my life, but at the same time, wasn’t taking as big of a step as I thought.
I caught his gaze when my eyes opened. He was looking at me like I was a thirteen year old dawdling around at a family gathering, which wasn’t too far from the truth. I turned away for a second. When I turned back, he was gone.
There were a group of girls my age standing by the back gate. I got up to join them, then found out they were gossiping about someone who wasn’t here.
“So, how are you guys enjoying everything so far?” I tried to slide in.
“It’s fine, I guess.” one of the girls smiled, her eyes narrowing a fraction. “I’ve been to like three of these this week.”
“Same.” I said, even though I haven’t. I’ve been stuck here cooking for as long as I could remember.
“So…” Another girl started (a roundabout way of saying: “who the hell are you?”).
“Oh, I’m Reet….a. Reeta. Just a family friend.”
“Ok. So you know the groom? Or the bride?”
“…Yeah. I’m good friends with the bride.”
“Okay, whatever. Wasn’t the kheer great?!” A girl who was clearly more excited than the rest squealed. I inwardly congratulated myself for this.
“Sure. I kinda just want to leave.”
“Same.” I said. “I know this place pretty well – if we leave through the back, no one would notice.”
“I don’t really give a shit if anyone notices, but okay.”
Well, I did. Maybe I was making the wrong decision.
But then I said, “follow me,” and beckoned them inside the house. After giving the girl some of the leftover kheer, we hurried to the back and shut the door behind us.