Monday, July 27, 2009

Boring Road

He stepped down from the large autorickshaw, and his feet landed straight into a puddle. The autorickshaws running in Patna were different, not like the ones he hired in Delhi, with exclusive usage for the duration of the journey. He had had to share this one with around ten co-passengers, not to mention two others hanging precariously at the back. The rains had arrived and the air was humid. Amir’s shirt, soaked half with rain and half with sweat, still carried the smell of strangers.

He had been dropped at Hadtali Mod. Around him, the traffic went on with its usual business, cars honking and crawling past, the incessant rain just adding to the confusion. Sublime chaos, at three in the afternoon. The old temple on his right, the hoarding for Amrapali restaurant on the left, images from the past past. Still the same, this place, except for the new red lights which did not work.

The house wasn’t far from here. About a kilometre and a half. But it was still drizzling, and Amir called out a rickshaw-wala. Reluctantly (as afternoons were meant for siestas), the man agreed to take him to his destination. ‘Only 20 rupees’, is what the man asked in return for his sleep, and Amir found it hard to deny him that.

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Puku, the old housemaid recognised him at once, and came almost running to the gate, mumbling something beneath her breath. She was visibly happy to see Amir, and perhaps, as Amir thought, couldn’t think of the right words to greet him with after all these years.

‘How are you, Puku mausi?’, said Amir, not knowing how else to start. Having opened the gate, she now reached down for his feet. He dismissed her with a couple of embarrassed utterings.

‘Is Nani at home?’, he now asked her.

‘Where else will she be? She’s here only....come come’, Puku replied, and signalled him to follow her.

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The room, silent, orderly, unchanged. On the bed lay his Nani, his grandmother’s sister, sleeping, with her head turned away from the door. The fan went about its work slowly, as if it too had given in to the inviting afternoon. On a table alongside the bed – tablets, small bottles of medicine, a water flask and a glass, and an empty cup of tea. The table was the only new entrant since he had been here last, almost nine years ago; even the little sofa set and the paintings on the wall had remained as they were before.

‘Nani...nani’, Amir pronounced in a low voice, touching her feet gently. She turned to look, and for an unreal second or two, kept gazing at him.

‘Amir....amir...arey such a long time!’, she cried, and reached out for his face, covering it with both her hands. She looked at him closely now, and Amir wondered whether there was already a hint of moisture in her eyes. As a child, he’d always wondered how grandmothers could cry almost at will, or to put it more mildly - how easy tears were to them.

‘Nani, how are you?’, said Amir, caressing her hands and then taking them into his own. He looked at her hands, the wrinkles jutting out like cracks in a famine-struck land. Her nails, like his grandmother’s, curled completely in a perfect semi-circle. He had never seen a more abnormal pair of hands, and never a pair that was so beautiful.

‘How will I be, beta?’, is all she said in reply, and then asked, ‘How are you here?’

‘One of my friends is getting married. I was in town...so I thought I’ll meet you’, said Amir, and they exchanged a smile.

She called out for Puku now, in a volume so low that it could only have been meant for Amir. He relayed the call, and Puku came, hunching, eager. She was asked to get another cup of tea, and she walked away, nodding.

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‘What can I do, beta? It’s only these four walls for me now. Even to go to the toilet, I have to call Puku. Poor woman, she’s still here after all this....’

The rain had resumed full service. Amir sipped on the tea, nodding slowly from time to time. The saucer now had a small ring of brown in the centre, tea which had fallen down from the cup, and he watched this circle form and un-form as he picked up or placed down the cup. Everything was so slow, relaxed; he wished he could lie down on the bed too, in this peace broken only by his grandmother’s voice, and the soft tip-tip of the rain outside.

‘Time has come to a standstill for me. Days pass and I don’t even remember what date it is...I read sometimes, but even that is difficult to do for long when you are always lying down, no? Everything is so monotonous but what can one do?’

‘Why don’t you change things around in this room, Nani? A little change here might help...why don’t you replace these old paintings for one?’

She only smiled at Amir, said nothing. The smile made him feel uncomfortable, he wondered whether he had hurt her in some way, and lowered his eyes. There was silence for a minute or two. How distant they had grown, thought Amir, in their own worlds now, separated by time, space, memory. And still, everything on the outside had remained the same, the gate outside the house, the room with its old structure intact, the two beautiful hands, the semi-circular nails, her voice.

‘I’m so happy to see you. At this age, what else do we have to live for? Not just me, but anyone. To see you again after so many years, to hear your voice, that’s enough. Otherwise, what is there to look forward to? Just two lonely women living out their respective lives. ’

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On his way out, Puku had handed him one of his grandmother’s umbrellas. When he refused saying that he wouldn’t need it, she thrust it into his hand, adding that it was of no use to the house anyway. It was still raining, in fact more heavily than before. But Amir had decided to walk to the Mod, and he ambled along slowly.

Half-way, he paused to look at the scene around him. The rain had cast a white shadow over everything. So much so, that it seemed to him that even the early evening traffic chaos looked beautiful. A stupid, dangerous thought, he then reminded himself, shook his head, and walked on.

8 comments:

Marvin said...

i remember the remark you once made. if you ever having trouble coming up with something to write about, pick up something from your childhood. i see that the remark stands justified through this post. it has got a very nice ring to it. i could not help but smile. the part about the cup making brown rings on the saucer is impeccable. nice.

Saransh said...

Mast yaar. Chaah kar bhi insaan bakwaas comment nahi kar sakta :).

The Last Leg said...

Have you ever noticed the windows in her room? They open out of course, all three of them. But it is almost as if they open out to nothing - a void of sorts - like the world outside refuses to interact. Even the walls; everything seems so guarded, unique and morbid.

The last time I met her, I didn't fucking know what hit me - like paralysis or something. I remember everything about the day - the room, the marie biscuits, the tea, her bed, her saree, her hands. The one thing I have no recollection of, are her eyes. Somehow, I never managed the will to look at them.

Piper said...

Marvin: Shukriya! The childhood rule always works, no?

Saransh: This, coming from none other than you, has to be one of the biggest compliments I have ever received on my writing.

The Last Leg: This was partly true partly fiction, but I wonder if we're thinking about the same person.

The Last Leg said...

I know.

Are there cute-wild dogs there? If yes, we are talking about the same person.

Piper said...

Hehe. Yes, we ARE talking about the same person :)

Udit said...

" A stupid, dangerous thought, he then reminded himself, shook his head, and walked on."

Bahut sahi,had this 'thought' midway reading this.

hitaakademi said...

Ankara'da profesyonel ağda hizmeti
ankara erkek agda hizmette
sinir tanimiyor...