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.

green

The lady had green hair threaded with black and droop down eyes that said, ‘if you do something you don’t want to for the rest of your life it becomes a shoe bite that eats away at you forever.’
She’s tall with collarbones that branch into shoulders which hug my mother.
‘Earning money? Your parents must love what they do to have been doing it everyday for all these years, and theyre very luck for it.’
She has green hair and a flight to florence the tomorrow evening.
We pull out the museum guide books.

‘Dont take all of them down, she doesn’t need to see all of them’
No, behind our nameplates and chipped plaster walls, I don’t think my parents are lucky. Not when father is yelling at arsenal half the world away because its the only thing that really matters and not when  mother yells over dal and rice that she never wanted to be one, that this is all a mistake.
She’s sat on the grey sofa with a glass of our apple juice in her hands, flicking through medieval Italian art and a hidden hurt in her voice.
Father won’t be home till midnight and mother is alseep, so maybe this is the time to breathe.
Shes gone, but not really. My head hurts from the memory of her in this house, and there’s the threat of bringing dinner back up at the thought of her coming back.
Is she right or a lucky delusional, is my mother true or not, does father really know what he’s doing as we pack the house and mark the boxes and ourselves with fragile warnings again.

I can’t see anything through this mask in which my face grows hot and my head pounds, the sound of my breathing and gasping roaring loud against cardboard.
Shes the green the hair I wish I had and the downward turn at the end of my eyes, but I am too scared to take off these shoes so I shall walk with the bite.

Deaf to the World

The words and tunes are loud in your ears, going straight to the brain, drowning out the world.
You watch as their lips move wordlessly,  their eyes and mouths wide and curled, bodies moving, fingers and hands pointing, defending.
A smile creeps up your face when you feel the disconnect – you cannot hear so you do not know and you do not know so you need not see,
So in deafness and blindness lies the happiness in the world you wish to flee.

Family

I’m almost entirely sure that Darshit’s challenge which Sheth nominated me for was supposed to be done on consecutive days, but sometimes real life interrupts the world of prose and poetry. So, here is Day 2 of the Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge.

Bloody Partition of India BBC Picture Men, women and children who died in the rioting were cremated on a mass scale_ Villagers even used oil and kerosene when wood was scarce

(Photo courtesy of the BBC)

Family

It was 1946 and the war was over. Twelve year old Bhushan had returned to Kolkata after a short stay in the Bangladeshi countryside during the bombing of the city. He settled down into the low bed in his room and looked out the window at the empty sky. It wasn’t too long before the chatter in the streets outside lulled him to sleep.

His father worked as an accountant with the British Police Force in Kolkata. He never spoke of his work at home. In fact, he never spoke much at all. However, Bhushan knew that one thing he could never bring up at home was the subject of his uncles.

The sound of slow, heavy breathing from behind him woke Bhushan up in the middle of the night. In the faint moonlight he could just about make out the outlines of three men sleeping on the floor. In a sleepy haze, he felt a familiar but elusive warm arm wrapped around him.

When he woke the next morning, the men, as always, were gone. He never mentioned the enigma of the disappearing men, but he had a feeling his father knew all about it.

Bhushan heard from his friends during a football match later that day that four men who shared his surname had been arrested for conspiring against the government. When Bhuhsan went to bed that night, he wondered if family really mattered in the end, especially when your father worked for the British and when your uncles were hailed by everyone else as noble freedom fighters.

Sure enough, he was not woken from his sleep that night, nor the night after, but the lingering warmth of the arm never left.

My grandfather once recounted his memories of his uncles, Swadeshi freedom fighters in Kolkata, India towards the very end of the independence movement. They used to creep into his home at night, much to the knowledge of his father, a British military intelligence officer for the British Police in the city.

I’m going to nominate  rhapsodicdelirium for this challenge, because I just can’t get enough of her work!

Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge – Day 1

Sheth very kindly nominated me for Darshith’s Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge. Thanks! If I said I’m not excited then I’d be lying. The challenge is – “Post a photo each day for five consecutive days and attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction or non-fiction, a poem or a short paragraph and each day nominate another blogger for the challenge.”

I’ve decided to convert this challenge to something of a themed series. The Bengali beast in me has suddenly grown wild. I’m not sure if its because of the typical Bengali lunch we’ve just had, but I feel at the top of my Bengali game. To start off, here’s a picture my dad took when he accompanied his parents to Bangladesh to visit our ancestral roots last year. Our families had moved to Kolkata decades before the partition, but we’re very proud of our Barisal roots. Barisal is a district in the southern parts of Bangladesh, and if you’ve heard anything of Barisal Bengalis you’ll know exactly why I’m doing this.

This isn’t Bangladesh, East Pakistan, West Bengal or India. It’s Bengal.

DSC07821

His spirit looked into the water,
Lush green and blue sky
The dark earth whispered, softer and softer
Of the blood of her sons who died.
“Too long you’ve been gone,
The boat has finally set sail
To the land of your heart
Alas, for not one lives to tell the tale.”

I’m going to nominate https://narnia310.wordpress.com/ because I really want to see more of her work!