I’m a dingbat.

Really.

I end up in completely avoidable situations such as going on dates when I don’t intend to, unwittingly put my bare bottom on display, and I have this nagging need to be vocal about my feelings when I’ve been drinking. In fact, I’m not even cut out for compassion. I try to be benevolent and do the right thing, but you know where that always leaves, me. In the middle of the road, clutching a thankless scarf.

Anyway. A few days ago, I stepped out of the house to buy stuff from a market that’s always infested with cars, scooters, bikes, and far too many people. I parked a little further away inside a hospital, to save myself the horror of having to wade through the said market.

As I was stepping out of the hospital, I walked past a stinky old lady with one of her arms in a cast wearing garish, hanuman-like, orange clothes, her face full of pockmarks. Her daughter (?) was arguing with a rickshawallah.

Tees, she said as she wiped the sweat from her neck. Thirty rupees.

Typical, I thought to myself. They will argue endlessly with a poor rickshaw puller for what, ten bucks? Look at the old man, toiling in the sun all day long. How can anyone put a price tag on physical labor? If he wants more, pay him more or move along!

I waddled like a buffalo, deliberately taking pains to walk slower than normal in an attempt to prolong my alone time – it’s hard to come by!

I bought what I had to, and stopped at multiple fruit stalls just to check if fruit cost less in this area than where I live and pissed off a lot of fruit vendors in the process – lena nahin tha to itna mol bhaav kyon kiya? If you didn’t want to buy, why did you haggle?

After about 20 minutes, I found myself back where I started – the old lady and her daughter (?) were still there. Bhaiya, chand saleema chaloge, she said. Will you take us to Chand Cinema? The compassionate mother in me reared her head. This was my chance to redeem myself, my good deed for the day. Their destination was enroute to mine.

Aapko Chand Cinema jaana hai? Main us taraf hi ja rahi hoon. I offered to drop them off at Chand Cinema on my way home.

They exchanged a look that was somewhere between can-this-woman-be-trusted or omg-I-can’t-believe-we’re-so-lucky. They agreed.

I dumped all my stuff on Z’s car seat in the back, and helped the old lady in. Her daughter (?) joined me in the front.

I asked how long they had been standing there, and the old lady told me the story of their life. She had slipped and fallen in the bathroom, and her daughter (aha!) brought her here because it was a bigger hospital than the one in their locality. Now they were trying to go back but no auto or rickshawallah was willing to go that far unless they paid a premium. She thought she’d have to walk back, but then I came to their rescue, which was a surprise, because aajkal to sab bahut khudgarz hote hain, koi madad kare bhi to uska bharosa karna mushkil lagta hai. Everyone’s so selfish these days, it’s hard to really trust anyone.

The old lady gave me a lot of free advice – you shouldn’t trust anyone immediately. Who knows what people are up to? Hum to ladies hain, koi aadmi bhi ho sakta tha. We’re women (and therefore it’s ok for you to help us), but it could’ve been a man (and men are untrustworthy in general). She shut up only when her daughter turned to frown at her. I was really really (really) thankful when that happened.

Anyway. I dropped them off at chand saleema. The old woman thanked me a hundred times for being such a good human being, and I tried my best to remain humble.

I drove home feeling really good about myself – the (miniscule) sliver of guilt that I had had when I left home was gone. I parked the car and got out with a swagger, kinda feeling like I was Katrina Kaif in #KalaChashma. (That song has been stuck in my head for a month.)

I was so engrossed I walked a few steps toward my building, then realized I had forgotten all about my stuff.

Only, when I opened the door, there was nothing to pick up.

Yup. I’m a dingbat.

Have you been through anything like this? Have you spent hours on the phone trying to block stolen cards and been pissed about it? When was the last time you stole anything?

To the Linguistically and Cognitively Challenged Douchebag from Yesterday

I can understand that for someone stuck mentally in the 1990s, general namecalling would be the go-to mechanism when stuck in an argument that they cannot win. This is, however, 2016, and you’re expected to act your physical age, or at least pretend to be on board with the whole being an adult thing even if you don’t actually understand it.

Here’s a simple flowchart that you can refer to when you’re in an argument with someone who has, unlike you, aged mentally.

Troll_Vertical

You’re welcome. Metaphorically speaking, of course – lest you assume I’m telling you it’s ok to return here. It’s not.

Did you see the troll at work yesterday? Are all of them this deranged, or did I win a special lottery? What’s your troll story?

of grief

I’ve told D a hundred times since the divorce – you’ll always be family to me. I’ve meant it every single time. I’m his family, whether or not he wants me to be.

I couldn’t think of a reason why I should be upset over the death of his mother (other than the fact that I lived with her for a few years), but I went anyhow. He needs his entire family around, I kept telling myself, even though he won’t say so.

My eyes welled up as soon as I saw a distant relative (a random one, not even someone I knew well) from across the road. As I got closer, other people shifted into focus. Bhaiya. Bhabhi. Didi. Mamaji. One of the other daughters-in-law, the one whose kid used to have an imaginary dinosaur as a pet. The four-year old kid who was so smitten with how I looked as a bride that she slept in our bed for the first few days, suddenly towering above a lot of elders, who had now begun to stoop. Everyone looked different.

I saw dad sitting in a corner with his hands folded, eyes closed, and head bowed, stoically listening to the hymns that were being sung. And then I saw D’s older brother, looking just like dad. I was surprised I never noticed the striking similarity when I lived in their home.

I heard murmurs. People were talking about how the ex-daughter-in-law had decided to show up. I avoided making eye contact for as long as I could, but I could feel the sides of my face burn with the attention. It was almost as though they were shocked that I came and were waiting for me to betray some emotion.

I think I did a pretty good job of staying stone-faced through the ceremony, but my walls crumbled the second the priest asked the family to step up.

I wanted to stand up but I couldn’t – I have considered myself family for ten years. I still call his father papa, his sister didi, and his brother bhaiya. I never stopped. I had been worried about his mother’s health for months before she finally passed. Why must I stop now?

Because the day I decided to leave D, I crossed some kind of invisible line out of that family.  

On my way home, it occurred to me.

She was nearly seventy when she had objected to the length of my knee length skirt. It was too short by her standards. I was late three nights every week.

She had pestered me about the undercooked onions so much that I pushed myself to learn to cook them perfectly. I now make the best baingan bharta Mister claims he’s ever had.

She tried to teach me how to make amla sherbet. I didn’t want to learn until one day, many years later, I was no longer living with her and I wanted to have some. I tried a recipe off the internet, but it never tasted as good.

She told me every time I pulled out a saucepan to make tea, wash it first. I got upset every single time because she never waited to see if I would wash it on my own. I didn’t want to acknowledge that I wouldn’t do it if she hadn’t told me.

She hated it when I bought a red bedsheet, one I thought she would like, for the diwan in the living room. It’s too bright, she had said, while she sat on the diwan, munching on muskmelon seeds. I stormed out of the room, convinced that she was being mean on purpose because she was sitting on a red bedsheet that she had bought. Years later, I exclaimed, ‘my eyes! my eyes!’ when Mister’s mom pulled out a bedsheet the exact shade of red.

When I got home, my eyes were burning with everything I had held back for two days. It’s been a week, and though still don’t really miss her, I am grieving.

of death

The phone rang just as I was about to step out. I almost didn’t answer, but the I saw his name flash. D never calls me.

How are you? He asked, not caring how I really was. His voice was vacuous, as though the smile that filled it was gone from his life.

I’m good. What’s happening? I said, unable to dismiss the sense of foreboding.

I thought I should let you know that mom’s no more.

I felt as I do when I expect there to be one more step on the stairwell, but instead my foot crashes against the cold, hard ground sooner than I expected. Of course I expected to hear this eventually; just not so soon.

I proceeded, over the next few hours, to try not to think about her. I had a dance class to be at.

Mister asked for my hand. One, two, cha cha cha. Three, four, cha cha cha.

You’re not really here, are you?

Just feeling bad for D and his dad.

The class crawled to an end. Mister held my hand tightly as we walked out.

Are you okay, baby?

Yes. No. I’m not sure. I know how it feels when a loved one dies. But right now, I’ve got nothing. I don’t know how I should feel when someone I didn’t like very much dies. Am I supposed to keep thinking of her as someone I didn’t like very much, or should I be thinking back to the good times and scrounge for good memories with her?

I don’t know.

Later that night, I caught myself thinking about all the things I hated about her.

Everything I did was wrong.

No no, don’t slice bhindi lengthwise. Cut it into round pieces instead.

What kind of bharta is this? The onions are undercooked. It tastes sweet!

She always thought I was capable of cheating on D.

With skirts that short and a propensity to work late, it’s no surprise that you keep getting promoted, she had said to me when I got home late one night after work.

Why? Have you found someone else, she wanted to know the day D announced he wanted to split. It didn’t matter that I was as shocked as she was.

Mister broke that train of thought with his question. Maybe you should skip the chautha ceremony tomorrow and go meet his dad at home next week?

No. I’m going.

Okay, I’m done with this shit.

Recently, one of my domestic helps took a couple of days off without calling me first, and I instantly knew something was wrong. She showed up at my doorstep the third day, with a blue-black eye and a swollen lip.

Apparently, her drunk husband beat her up because he wanted sex, and she asked him to wear a condom, or fuck off. She took a beating because she took a stand, and he fucked her anyway.

This, coming from a man who was filled with rage when he heard about the Nirbhaya incident. They had no right, he had said to his wife, over and over, shaking his head. And yet, he thought that marriage entitled him to use his wife’s body however he wanted, and therefore he felt entirely justified in hitting her. I am a good husband, I deserve good sex, he told her in the morning.

What bothers me is that this is not an incident that took place in isolation.

I grew up in a household where it was normal for mom to cook and clean even if she was unwell or tired. The children were her responsibility, too – and trust me the three of us didn’t make it easy. Dad would just come home and start making demands – tea had to be ready within five minutes of him asking for it, dinner had to be served at nine, and mom had to run from the kitchen to the bedroom (where he ate) with hot ghee-smeared chapatis on a small plate. Then she would clear his plate, and give him water. Next, she would serve us dinner. She always ate in the end.

Now, it would be unfair to let you assume that dad wanted hot chapatis. He said, hundreds of times, that he’d prefer it if all of us sat together and ate, but she kept doing it anyway out of a sense of duty. I remember him getting so, so angry because he had left some documents on the dining table and then couldn’t find them. Somehow, it was mom’s responsibility too – never mind that he had actually kept them elsewhere!

If mom was traveling for work, I was given clear instructions on what he does and does not eat, how much ghee he likes on his chapatti, and where I should keep his documents should he forget to file them.

See what I’m talking about?

In our culture there is an implicit assumption that men are somehow superior to women and they deserve good sex, hot food, an orderly house, and well-behaved children. Men, just because they are men, deserve female nurturance, whatever the circumstances, throughout their lives.

Think mother, sister, wife, daughter – we’re all just side actors in the story of a man’s life. He has prerogatives and we have obligations within the family structure. We exist only because He needs us.

Enough of this shit. Things change, TODAY. I’m letting my six month old son know as soon as he’s able to understand.

What about you?