Cardboard boxes

My grandfather calls for dinner. My grandmother says he will get none, its only eight-
“Its eight o clock!”
“You have done nothing today, you slept the whole afternoon through and now you want to eat?”
“Well! Now do you see how your grandmother treats me?”

An Indonesian batik painting emerges from behind the worn sofa my mother and I move to the living room. It’s the third one in the house, caked in dust, its thin protective film of plastic torn.
“What will we do with all of these?”
It is a question for my grandmother to ask and for us to give no answer to.
My father has the answer, but he’s not in the country for the next week, so there is only silence today.

There is little my father does not share with his friends, and into this small box of the untold goes another truth.
So, he lies into the phone and says that he’s here in Kolkata on holiday, and yes, the family is here too. No, he’ll be back in Bangalore next week, sure Venky, they can meet up then.
He hides much from us and is who he really is with them, so when they aren’t told it cannot feel like this decision is a good one.

(They are people who excel in their fields, so secrets from them like this cannot be good, but we cannot suggest it.)

We set up new house with our old things, and with every new house I see these things are unfamiliar to me altogether.

It hasn’t been a month, but I already  associate a different anxiety to the roads that lead ‘home’. This time, it is shame. The city lights are beacons that tell me there is no time left, and that the box of truths is too full, its metal lid can’t sit without pressing down on it.

My grandfather helps himself to a second sweet after dinner, and after telling him off, my grandmother lets him. I think this is how it should be, not the constant quiet that lingers over food between my own parents.

(it is as it should be)

 

The flowers in my grandmother’s balcony bloom, and she can’t contain herself. She limps into the room and reverentially places the three small flowers before the framed pictures of her blue god.

 

 

 

 

I look at them and hate it.

8:45 pm

There’s a throbbing in my chest that doesn’t go away when I crawl and sit upright. I’ve been seeing things again, like the woman who was stood next to me a second ago. I know she was just the brown boxes and blue suitcases placed the wrong way in this light, but for fuck’s sake she was so real-

It’s not just her, it’s in the day throughout – when I flinch and swerve aside because there definitely was some rodent moving there but it was just rubble
It’s a good thing I’m normally by myself when I see them, but there’s some desolation in that.

The curtains billow, clapping against the metal beams of the window. For a few moments I stand before it and do nothing because it is the pigeons flapping furiously. I touch it and curse, because it was stupid. It was just the goddamn wind and I knew it. I shouldn’t have let a small panic uncurl.

There’s something in me that has never been turned ‘on’. I’m always in my own world, and sat in the taxi last week I was shamed for it, now that I am so close to adulthood.

I have always dismissed my mother when she says my father takes pleasure in shaming her, but this once there is some truth in her mania.
I can’t believe either of my parents or myself and I can’t trust anyone anything anyplace my mindfuckfuckfuck

I look out the narrow gap in the window and let the wind hit my face.

Maybe for these three minutes I do not have to be so scared.

The wind grows stronger and the loneliness abates a little.
The lights are out and the curtains are drawn in all the houses in the block. I feel insolent in braking their norm, but they can’t see me here.

I have to push against the pane to keep it open now, it wont be long before the rain comes.

Something hits my eye and I let go-
The window slams shut.

Rubbing my eye, I feel a pointlessness in having the door open.

I leave and the curtain falls back, unmoving and still as the rain roars.

Notes from class

i.
I draw pictures of people when they are least recognisable, when they wake in the dark and find themselves at my door in the night.

ii.
i do not remember when I abjured this devotion to the gods, but it must have been when learned to trust only what I see.

iii.
The tide crashes –
the growing roar of the waves is the only indication of where the sea begins.
No winds blow and no stars shine. The sea abrades rocks and memories, and I walk and walk and lose the sand behind me, to a horizon in dark water and dark night I cannot find.

iv.
I can see there is so much to do- so much i want to do, so much i want to see and learn and make my own.

Listening to the fan turn in the dim light, as though it were somewhere else and I, someone else. My stomach churns and thighs ache, muscles beneath my skin stretching behind my knees, pulling and pulling till I give up on sleep and settle for whatever the night brings.

I am stuck here and I can’t get out.

 

maybe I should stop drawing and writing and breathing, but i find that i keep at it in the hope that when I’m dead, someone will like it.

B O D Y

i.
There’s only so much of yourself you can hide around here; there is only so much of your skin you can keep to yourself.

There is a limit in our words to the flesh-to-see freedoms of our female bodies, but there is the full length of your arms you need to flaunt, shoulders down, from the sleeves of kurtis and sarees and lehenga blouses.
You lift your underarms to the heavily-powdered faces of the ladies who wax them at the salon.
(Sometimes, when they don’t care for your ears, they even tell you how much of it they have to do-oh, my! You really do have hair everywhere, don’t you?)

There are collarbones and smooth chest that you don’t dare taint- because who knows how low or wide the tailor will cut the u-neck?
Maybe my breasts are my own, seen only by my eyes till now. So, perhaps I should think more of them. I wish I did, and not this general disinterest with which I consider them in the shower.
Is this how girls should think of their breasts? – as if I am not one of them. At moments like these I wonder if I’m more comfortable thinking of myself as not-female, but we don’t talk about things like that around here.

I would love, and do love my hips and waist, the way the hipbones rise and fall gently like dunes, and the pastel stretch of even brown that is covered by black hair. I would take more time to love them, if they were not so shared with my mother in her surveys and analyses as we tie a makeshift saree neither of us knows how to wear.

For a conservative culture that hides too much of the woman, there’s only so little of me that I can call private, my own.

 

 

 
There’s no rule against marks, but there are no rules against questions either.
ii.
Women are goddesses. They line their eyes with kohl and paint their lips lush.
I see those same eyes and those same lips, but mother never told me that eyes are to be carved out of skin with black and that maroon on my lips fits the shape of my jaw, not red.

Her mother never told her how the pleats of a saree should be tucked to fall, but she is long gone.

Then, there are some things my mother could not have possibly told me, for she never knew her it herself – how girls could have stark dark hair over torsos or a sheen of it on their face.
She didn’t inherit some things from her mother, and I don’t inherit others from mine, so she leaves me to explore this for myself-

 
Why? It didn’t come from her, did it?

 

 

 

iii.
At seventeen, today I stand with my classmates at high school graduation, but I find myself wanting.
(imnotthereyetimnotreadyyetimnotdeservingyet) 

The boys wear black suits, the sarees of the girls are blue this year.
Naomi has a nose ring on. Her undercut on one side shoes off her long neck curving down to square shoulders, collarbones rising magnificently.
Aditi- Aditi is as she is. Her hair falling long and straight to her shoulders, spindly thin arms and long fingers clasped over her clutch, smiling in her trademark Head-Girl way, one groomed since we all began here in these grounds, at the Chairman of the Board approaching her.

iv.
Women are goddesses. They line their eyes with kohl and paint their lips lush.
There is a power in their eyes and in the words from their mouths that makes the sky rumble as night falls and the earth smell sweet in the first rains of the summer.

I stand among the divine, stripped to nothing but this skin pulled over me, not knowing that no single woman can wear all six colours in the little used palette my mother has, which I am now to share; not knowing that my eyes are not hers, so the eyeliner folds into the large gap to my eyebrows, bottom lid naked and bare.

We spread out in the manicured school gardens, which the hundred and sixty five of us have once seen as barren soil toiled by gardeners when there was still only one building and a warmth that held us close. There’s a general understanding that one looks better at graduation than in regular uniform, but I’m careful not to catch myself in the reflections from and in cameras of this endless sea of phones- because I don’t.

Pictures are taken, but in the days that follow I don’t find any of myself among the many thousands that flood the screens of teenagers in the city on instagram.

 

 

It hurts. There’s no point in pretending it doesn’t.

v.
You forget that your shoes are not heels, that they cover your ankles and toes in thick black leather, bought in a hurry for some forgettable formal event. You try not to notice how much taller the other girls are in three-inch heels, but its not the first time you’ve felt small among them. The teachers mock the high heels and say you did well not to follow, but it is small consolation when you feel like you could drown right there in rolling tides of make-up and camera phones yet again, and no one would notice.

Your saree is falling and your shoes are loose. Your hair is rough and unruly and you’re seconds away from losing it entirely, barely able to keep the pressure building in your eyes from bursting and your lips from trembling and turning down.
The ceremony is on and you’re seated in the middle of the third row, so you have no option but to hold on tight to the comfort that in two hours you’ll be in your bathroom, and then there will be no light nor voices nor eyes to watch you breaking.

vi.
For all the ways in which I am different from her, I am my mother’s daughter in the detachment we share of our bodies from our identities. But, it seems she has learnt that white pearls suit the shape of her neck and cradle of her shoulders.
At times in the mirror I stumble across short, stocky eyelashes projecting from a rim and a soft white ball with brown and black circles in it.
Near it I find a round lump with two smaller casings moulded on either side, and below it soft, thick flaps-
ah.
This must be the face.
I pull on the lower lid of the eye and see red underneath.

 

I play around with it a few more times before I return to calculus.

On the 28th of April

“Fifteen rupees-”
“What! Fifteen rupees?! Just when I said ten rupees-”
“Look here, do you want the tomatoes?”
“Ey, Shanta! Tomato mao?”
Tida tao, tida tao!”
“To tomato lagbe?”
“Na, ja chai ney neychi.”

A hand-cart pulls up beside us and we shuffle a few steps onto the footpath to make room for it.

I follow my grandparents through the streets around Lake Market. My grandfather’s face gets harder to read and his temper more unpredictable as he grows older. My grandparents bicker often, like they do over the colour of toast they prefer, but it is easy to see that there is still a fondness in their sixty years of marriage – a sort of fondness that is apparent in its absence in the marriage of my own parents.

 

 

Toast grows cold when it is left uneaten on empty tables, and there is no background chatter of Kolkata’s heat to drown out the silence of Bangalore.

Give me one more day,

i.
Waking up today,
the view from this small window
repeats the same tale.

ii.
With another day,
Another piece of the woods
Is lost forever.

iii.
Walking home alone
pink blossoms beneath my feet
cry under dusk’s light.

iv.
The ceiling fan turns
the still summer air slowly ,
under the dim light.

v.
In this dark a night,
the moon is too insolent,
to shine fast and bright.

 

this morning

It’s like the rumbling beneath the surface of the earth, below the persistence of the roots of trees and hands of man in this fight with the wind.
The slow movement of tectonic plates echos in this deep rumbling within my skin. It is pinned to my sleeves and has bleached the colour of the clothes I’ve worn for three days now. It is so much a part of me that it is easy to forget that is here.
It is easy to live above the surface in an untethered state of blindness.
It is easy to pierce the bubble and anchor me to the truth.
The drills screech and burrow deep by the highway and the deafening roar of this beast rolls around in choppy waves. I can hear nothing but the tide crashing against solid shore.

 

I seek comfort in the silver light of the snake in the dark night to swim.