Berries , and A Favorite Man from Memory

He always wore silken kurtas, of a yellowish shade of white. The soft embroideries along the roundish necks of them, were mostly done in brown, or when the day was bright – in blue.

Siliguri Village winters were the half-heartedly unkind type. The mornings would beam with a balmy spread of sun across our courtyard.He would sit with a pocketful of grains, making soft chuckling sounds with his sleek cheeks and tongue, spread some grains on the aangan and never would a single pigeon come. A gathering of sparrows would nibble on the grains, leave them half eaten, to fly away and perch themselves on the berry trees.

With the fall of noon, he would pull his black cycle out from under the flight of wooden stairs, check the tyres, wrap a reddish shawl around him and paddle away. Each evening he wouldn’t be back before an hour. I do not know where he went, what he did and I never asked. Everytime he was back, there was  an empty can, dangling from either arm of the cycle.  Mostly it was empty. Sometimes it had a few pieces of naadu (brown and white sugary balls of coconut). I think he brought them on days he thought I was annoyed.

On other afternoons, we would sit out on the porch, chewing the flesh out of berries. These berries were fresh from our garden. We grew tomatoes, pumpkin, mangoes, chillies, many flowers and red potatoes.

He would hold me his his arms, perch me on a branch- point out to certain bunches and ask me to pluck them over.He would always have the yellow ones plucked. The green ones, he said, were growing. He would then put all of our treasure in a big iron bucket. As he tied the thick jute rope to it, he would narrate some small incident from the childhood of his children to me. (His stories often made me make Baba come back to him to ask, did it really happen? He would say, “Your daughter has vivid imagination. It doesn’t mean you weren’t as colorful.”)

Then, he would slowly lower the bucket into the well. I could hear a dying splash, then another, and then another before he pulled it out. His heavy rims, once loosened up enough to fall into the pit of water. We used the same bucket to find it in the dead of night. He didn’t tell me any stories then. I think, most of what he told me, was constructed out of the colours, the light, the objects, the people and the wind that was around him. Those were all memories that he was spinning in a new weave for me. Just me.

The berries would lie part squashed, part intact in the folds of my pavadai. He would pick them, watch them, bite them and put the next in my mouth. We would, together, collect a total of twenty big hard seeds each day. The next early morning, he would lay them out in the sun. A couple of days later he would look for the ones with a cracked surface – those were his, the rest were mine.

He coloured the uncracked ones in red, brown and green; numbered them from one to ten,drew some patterns on a thick white sheet with his carbon pencils, and taught me a game, which I have now forgotten. All I have is, the blurry image of a very tall, handsome man hopping around the huge garden with me, trying to stop me from feeding berries to his pet- trying to match steps with me – running, stopping, panting, and running again. I remember how his sharp nose would shine on a bright winter morning, and that was how I knew he had been to the well and back; polished some of the ghee on his skin.

And these are but, only fragments of him. Only fragments of me.

 

Good Morning, I am Fat (A physical conversation)

Yousuf had been dating a woman for a year, after which she could no longer emotionally respond to him, because he is fat. “Isn’t it slightly marvelous, how we reverse our own system of societal logic?”, he asked with a smirk.
 I am fat -and that is a physical state of being. Now, it seems to have simply no implications on my immediate surrounding’s physical reaction to me. Equal number of good mornings when I walk past somebody, equally physically disregarded on occasions as any one of you, and equal interest in my necklines and underneaths shown.
“I am sad, she left. She shouldn’t have. We had something special to build on. But, I’m not bothered. What bothers me is not any “hypocrisy” lying behind the emotional unavailability towards me. Because there isn’t any hypocrisy, really”, he said.
 It isn’t as if the person standing in front of you isn’t enjoying the sexual experiences. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t repeat. It also isn’t as if you are physically unattractive – that again is a purely hormone driven concept. What it really is, in his words, is – “For them – for us, these emotions of love, loyalty,commitment, compatibility and public appearances, are all about Acceptability. We’ve conditioned ourselves to the likes and dislikes of a conglomerate of others, and we decide parameters for others too. All this education, this open-mindedness and liberality that we seek – is actually, bullshit. We don’t stand by it. Really. I’m not bitter, I’m just telling you because that’s how it is. This, being FAT – is the same as being of some other caste than her’s, some other religion – you know, just not being what the society is demanding of her, or me.And it being a Physical state, is the first thing that meets the eye – hence the simplest to deliberate upon, or to chose not to.”
I remember how it used to be at school for me. Raju bhai was a generous man. He never charged an extra penny for the cloth that he spent on stitching my extra pleats. Wearing a bigger skirt was just like not wearing a trouser, like the boys. Or a tunic, like the seniors.
“I am not going to stand for some ‘Fat people’s right to love and be loved right back”, he says with a laugh. ” I don’t wish to delve into those superficial philosophies. My tragedies are just the same as any skinny under-weighted boy. I’ve been loved enough. I know another human mind, another human heart is capable enough to invest emotions in me,just as much as I in her. You deal with different ideologies, with different lifestyles, different upbringings, different family values – that’s where the work should really be. On different waist sizes? Yeah maybe run the mile together. Or maybe don’t. Talk about it, or maybe don’t. It shouldn’t become so much of an agenda that each morning I have to wake up to her saying, “Good Morning, I am Fat”, and before I say I love you, she’s gone.Like, if she’s getting cramped in the bed every time I sleep next to her, talk – tell, share – yeah maybe – you know? Don’t make me feel like I had an opportunity to abandon you each time your bones stuck into my flesh, piercing my skin – or maybe each time you didn’t look good in orange! “
Yousuf asked me how I feel about being Fat.
“I don’t feel fat about being Fat.”, I said.
He laughed.
5 November 2015
Yousuf & Alisha 
Indian Coffee House, Kolkata.

7 Chapters.

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Things we steal.

‘Me? I am a doctor.. A wife, a lover, a singer.. an actress.. a woman.. and perhaps, a human too.”, said she.

He wasn’t listening to her. “There are too many seeds in it.. but the stuff is good. Really good..”, he said. A couple of hours later, when she thought he was high enough to talk to, she asked him, what was the one thing he was craving to do? Make love, she hoped. “Maybe .. watch Space odyssey..” and she talked no more. This man, who could barely stand on his feet, stumbled his way to the cupboard. He pulled out a hard-disk, kissed it like it were a piece of diamond unravelled from under an ocean of coal. However, on plugging it to the LCD, he discovered, he did not have the movie he was looking for. “Who is your favourite actor?” You, she wanted to say. “Tom Hanks? Jack Nicholson? He is God! He is my God!”, he asked again, taking no chances, must she answer. ‘Practically everybody you talk about, is‘, she thought. Forty-five minutes into The Terminal, he had fallen asleep. She didn’t know if she should wake him up – salivating all over the couch, licking his own palm – spreading his legs further to rip apart the half-torn pants- she was looking at him very carefully. She had never seen him like this before, she had never been so close.

Running her fingers through his hair, she softly said, ‘Look at you, honey.. You’re such a mess.. You’re such a mess”. And she smiled. Still asleep, he promptly adjusted himself to fit the dimensions of the couch. She remembered, this was not his first time. ‘There has been more mess.. There have been more women. None, as ordinary as me..’, she thought.

She thought it was a good time, to take away all that she could, from this home, for herself. ‘He is asleep, he’d never know. Never.” she told herself. She walked through the hall, with her phone in her hand. She turned on the lights to take a closer look at things. She saw something inside the cupboard. ‘This.. I must steal..’, she thought. Just then, he fell from the couch on the carpet, and began talking to himself. His mumbles were so nonsensical that she did not bother paying much attention. She was on a mission. A mission bigger than his faint numbles, because she knew it in her heart – he’d never bring her back, to this place.

She opened the cupboard. She found what she was looking for.

Next morning, surprisingly, he was up by 7, minutes before she was. She was scared. She checked her phone and was glad it was still unlocked. He drove her home, and left for work from there. ‘We will meet again’, he said.

A couple of years later, she was sitting in her office, waiting for him to show up with a new business proposal. He was late and she was furious. Remembering him, the way he was – she wanted to take a look at what she stole from him years back. She pulled out an old looking cell-phone from her handbag, navigated her way to the gallery. There was the toddler him, standing beside his father. There were pictures of his bedroom, of his special corner in the house.. of paintings hanging on the walls of his home.

She heard footsteps getting closer to the door. He entered. ‘

Hello.’, he said.

Do you still live there? I never went back, did I?‘, she thought.

‘Good evening. Shall we start with the meeting? We’re late already..’, said she.

He looked at her with his squinty eyes, as if trying to evoke what slept off.

‘Coffee?’, she asked, sternly.

Mosiqi Ke Humsafar

Jud gayein jo aap.se – raahaton ke rehguzar,

Woh Mosiqi ke lafz hain – Jo mil gaye zameen par

Haasil huaa kya aapko ? Jo zaahir hua hai shauq se!

Ya hans rahein hain aap bhi, mere jhoothe.se iss khwaab par?

Aji! –

Shayaron ki shayari se tabdeel huye hain jazbaat bhi,

Mere lafzon ka, meri saaz ka – Woh asar na hoga aap.par!

Toh –

 ta’alluq rakhiye gar mujhse – Toh rakhiye itna jaankar,

Ye Mosiqi ka nashaa hi hai – hum hain sanam, badey be.asar

Na mujhse poochiye k, “Kya laayi ho sanwaar kar?”

Be.baaq si meri uljhaney, Aaj bhi hai kuch be.sabar

Ye paagalpan, ye dard ka kissa – Ye qaayedein hain pyaar ke!

Ulfat mein woh hai jee gaya, jo muskuraya haar.kar

Be.fikri ka naqaab hai , jo pooche dil utaar.kar..

Ba.umr meri chaahaton mein, kya hoga aisa bhi asar?

Ki saansein ho ek dhun nayi, aur tum.. Mosiqi ke hum.safar !

‘Abeyance,perhaps’

As the music filled every inch of the room, with eyes fixed on the sparkling plum-red drops trickling down the slender neck of the bottle, she poured herself some wine. Using an upstroke she rubbed the last few drops away and licked them off her finger. Adam examined her moves with utmost diligence, then holding her hand, pulled her closer…

[As Bryan Adams & Sarah McLachlan sing..]

‘I can’t believe this moment’s come
It’s so incredible that we’re alone
There’s so much to be said and done
It’s impossible not to be overcome
Will you forgive me if I feel this way
‘Cause we’ve just met – tell me that’s OK
So take this feeling make it grow
Never let it – never let it go
Don’t let go of the things you believe in
You give me something that I can believe in..

(music)

 ‘Honey, Let the wine just be…’, he pleaded, burying his face in her palms as he rubbed her back with thunderous gentle strokes.

 Letting the empty glass rest on the table, she held Adam lovingly but wondered how somebody had gotten her addicted to intoxication of every sort.

 ‘Strange man’, she murmured angrily. A few moments later she slapped herself for smirking at the thought of him, the ‘somebody’.  

 A faint smile on her face transcended to be a mist in front of her eyes. Moments inside a tiny car, rushed in absurd randomness in front of her eyes. A bad blend of laughter and cries disturbed her senses vigorously. Adam stood in front of her smiling with all the happiness in the world, but he did not look like himself. He came closer and clasped her in his arms. She felt suffocated by the warm gesture and could barely speak. But still she managed a few words for the sake of love that could not leave her senses alone…

‘Alex…Be here, please. I love …’ She was so soft in her murmurings that Adam could barely hear a word expect ‘Love’. Adam had always feared that word. Having said just half of what she intended to, she collapsed in Adam’s arms.

 Feeling her arms give up the grip, Adam realized that all was not well.

‘Emma! Emma!  Are you alright?’ All efforts were in vain for, little did the man know that Emma had retired to her fatiguing body and she had no strength or intent to be the bubbly woman she had been a long time back.  All he could sense that she muttered something, nothing of which he understood and she was breathless. And a few moments later she was senseless too.

Running down the stairs he kept telling himself that she was alright and that ‘this too shall pass’. The uplifting words did help till as far as the boulevard surrounding Emma’s home. Men glared at him for being outrageous enough to step out on a dark morning that gave every promise of a spell of intolerable rain. The cab-drivers had eyes that asked too many questions and he disgusted at the thought of being led to anywhere. Emma was lying alone on the bed, and if she was to wake up there would be no sign of him. For the first time in the many months of being with her, Adam felt that if she woke up – it must be in his presence, in his arms or on his chest. For then, he was perplexed about what he could do to bring her back to senses. For once, he did not want her lying on the bed. Rushing through the eerie lanes of her locality Adam strangely remembered how she talked about her personal prayers, her fancies, whims…

 ‘My baby, you will be perfect.’ he kept telling himself.

Having found no help in a little time, Adam decided that it was more important for her to be in front of his eyes and for him to have her all to himself. When he reentered the room, Emma was still on her bed. He scared himself into believing that she was no more. A surge of unexpected emotions filled him up. He felt absurd about how for so long he did not understand, looked here and there in disbelief and then when it was absolutely clear to him he hurried towards her. A man in his perfect senses would have escaped, but like they say – love does weird things! He lifted her senseless body in his strong arms, he shook her slightly and when she did not wake up, he shook her vigorously.

 ‘Emma, will you please wake up! Wake up you bitch!’, and bitterly crying at the thought of having lost her, Adam hugged her once again, like he had earlier that day.

 ‘I love you.. I loved you, silly girl.’ Adam knew not if he ever would have realized that spending endless nights on her bed had only led him to desire spending all his days with her. Squeezing her in his arms he sobbed like a kid, when – like the shot of raw rum on fire, he felt her fingers move on his back. He rubbed his eyes and looked at her face. She was blinking in unnerving continuity. It took her a good hundred seconds to register where she was and what she was doing.

 Upon seeing Adam, still around she asked, ‘You are still here, Adam? You should have left.’  

‘Be quiet, girl. Be quiet.’

 Assuming that Adam was fed-up because they couldn’t make love even after an hour-long foreplay, she thought he had been waiting for her to wake up and make up for it.

‘I am so sorry… I just…’

‘Shut up.’ His authoritative tone was new to Emma. ‘Drink this up’, he said, stirring a spoonful of glucose in a glass of chilled water.

 ‘No, I am just fine. I wouldn’t need this. Don’t take the trouble.’ she said, feeling rather uncomfortable.

 Adam sat close to her, held her face in his palms, and kissed her forehead. ‘Drink it, baby’. She obeyed like a girl of five. She stared at him wide-eyed. Something about him had changed, but she did not know what.

 An hour-long chit-chat later he asked her if she could afford a stroll. She said she’d love to.

 Her neighborhood had nothing but memories to offer. Under the street-light, in the unperturbed locality, Alex and she would often find a royal escape, inside the constraints of a ‘tiny car’.

 ‘Tinted glasses, darling. Don’t you worry.’ She was used to hear Alex assure her that way with a wicked lopsided smile. She would blush at the sound of colored glasses – so very uncharacteristic of her, now – she thought.

Looking at Adam, she realized how much more like Alex she had become. His presence rang through her just like blood that gushed out of a nerve undone. She breathed a deep sigh of hopelessness.

“This is the last you will hear from me ever. Keep smiling”  The words still managed to lay a dainty pinch on the baby-soft skin of Emma’s remembrance of him.

Adam didn’t want the chill that the wind caused him, to fill her heart up. He promptly held her hand in his own and kissed her empty palm.

 “Oh-laa! Oo-oo la-lala-la”, Adam whispered.

“What?”, Emma asked, startled.

“Come closer”, Adam demanded.

Bringing her ear closer to his lips, she waited patiently for him to say something sensible.

He planted a soft kiss on her cheek.

Before she stepped out of the car Emma asked Alex to lean forward.  “You don’t want to kiss me, do you?” He asked jokingly. “I do”, Emma replied rather stubbornly. And just after having said that, she kissed him on his sweaty cheek that had tiny hair all over it. He looked at her in wonder. She looked straight into in his eyes, sitting right beside him on a moon-lit mid-night and said, “Good night”. She stepped out. He lowered his ‘tinted glass’ and asked her to come forth. “What now?”, she asked. Without saying a word, he turned his other cheek to her…

Watching her stare into the emptiness of the gravelled path, Adam asked with the same comic tone as Alex’s, “What steals you away from me, miss?”

Lowering her head with fond remembrances with a tinge of pain – “Abeyance, perhaps”, Emma answered with a smile.

Nostalgia, who?