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.

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Eight

Childhood was so perfect! Sometimes I wish I could be eight again, she said. More freedom.

Freedom from what? I asked, curious.

Freedom from having to think twice about everything I say or do, of course, she giggled. You know how it is with in laws – they find reasons to get offended. I would fight back, but my husband does not tolerate that kind of stuff. Plus I can’t wear what I want anymore – can’t just step out to go meet a friend when I feel like it.

I understood.

R came from the ideal family – doting parents, independent children, enough money to keep squabbles at bay. I was jealous of the way her parents spoke to her, always lovingly and with concern. She married her college sweetheart and has the most well-behaved children but the most boring life.

Me, I come from a far-less-than-ideal family that liked to pretend otherwise. My parents hated each other’s guts, and ours. We were the reason why they had to stay together – this was my mother’s ultimate sacrifice, and we were painfully aware of the burden our existence was for her. But if you were to look at our photographs from back then, you’d see only oblivious children with glazed, glassy eyeballs. You’d have no idea how fucked up we really were. I grew up to become a socially awkward person with the decision-making ability of a saucepan.

 

And now, in my thirties, I am finally discovering what it is like to think and feel like an eight year old – a luxury I didn’t have in 1990. (Because when I was eight, I was battling agony, indignation, confusion, self-loathing, betrayal; and a few years later, even arousal.)

I am filled to the brim with love and contentment. I am truly happy for the first time in my life. Not because I have a family that loves me – but because I am finally able to understand and love myself.

Maybe my childhood is only just beginning. Maybe I was meant to live my life in reverse.

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What about you? Are you happier now that you are an adult? Do you miss your carefree childhood? Did you have a carefree childhood?

 

Dirty Laundry

She sits there, unapologetic, explaining that it was okay for her to be rude to Mister at first because mothers have the right to be concerned about their children’s decisions.

My mind immediately darts back to moments from a lifetime ago.

A neighbor asks how I fared in class 10 board exams – and before I can open my mouth, she says 82%, beaming with pride. I am astounded, because it is a gross exaggeration – a full 5% more than I actually scored. The man in the kurta pajama congratulates me, tells me how proud he is of me, and leaves. Mom instructs me to tell everyone the same figure, because 77 is not good enough.

S., my cousin, is upset with me, and I am crying because the phone is locked and I can’t make a phone call. When she gets home, she asks me to stop bawling, because it isn’t as though his world will collapse if he doesn’t talk to you for an hour. 

I have just broken up with my boyfriend, whom my mother likes and wants me to marry. Who will marry you now, you skinny little scarecrow aren’t exactly her words, but she finds a way to convey it regardless.

When I finally tell her what her nephews did to me when I was a kid, she refuses to believe me. You must be imagining it.

I have always known that my existence was meaningless and feeble, even inconsequential to hers – and I was basically just a burden she couldn’t seem to get rid of.

And she is looking me in the eye and telling me: I was concerned about you. 

This, coming from a woman who never said a kind word to me in her life; had nothing to convey except her disappointment at how I turned out. Blind, hot, white rage flashes through me like a lightning bolt.

I scream until my head explodes, and then walk out.

I step back into the room only to overhear what my sister has to say – she needs to understand that the past was equally difficult for all of us.

Equally difficult? Rich, coming from our mother’s favorite child who has never been abandoned like I was.

Yes, I’m getting a shit machine

Look, he said. I yawned. It was six in the morning, and he had dragged me out of bed to walk along the shoreline at Arambol. He had been showing me (a) women with skateboard abs, (b) people doing yoga, and (c) women with skateboard abs doing yoga all week, and I couldn’t care less.

Until I realized he was pointing at a woman and her four (or five) year old boy doing yoga in matching white kurtas. Look – she’s teaching him Surya Namaskar.

The boy lifted his hands up at the count of one and bent to touch his feet at two. By three, he had collapsed into a heap on the ground. She frowned, pushing her left leg back and resting her knee on the ground. He sat up straight, mischief shining through his dark brown eyes, and tittered. She ignored him and pulled her right leg back, laying it to rest with the left, gently exhaling. The boy bit her on the heel, making her slip and fall. And then it happened. She glared, reached for him, and then tickled him till my bones started to hurt.

God! If my kid did that I’d probably not be able to bite back the anger. I’d probably hang him upside down till he learned his lesson.

You’re just saying that.

No, really. I don’t think I’m capable of being that tender – I think I’d be a terrible mom. I realize how filmi I sound, but it’s true.

Yes, you sound extremely filmi.

You’d probably be the good guy, because you’re a calm, rational person, and your parents really loved you. Me, I’d be aggressive, just like my parents. It’s hard for me to bite back my anger.

There’s only one way to find out. Let’s get us one of those babies and see how it goes.

I wanted to say, a baby? A boob-sucking, screaming, vagina-rending shit machine? Are you fucking kidding me? But that one was probably rude, so I had to be content with a stare and a shut up. 

He did. We just sat in silence and watched the woman teach her son the Bhujangasana pose, but we knew we had made our decision.

of crazy-ass surprises

Sitting at the airport without a book to read can be a painful experience. But in my case, having a book to read pretty much led to the same fate. Here’s the story.

When I was leaving Bangalore, Giggles gave me a book, a really tight hug that resulted in a cramp just below my ribs and a stain (tears? drool? I’m not really sure) on my t-shirt. But the book found its way into my laptop bag. I’m not a fan (not that I have read it yet) of the Eat Love Pray genre – whatever it is called, but I had promised Giggles I’d read it at the airport. So I had to.

I was walking around with my cabin baggage getting from the security check point to the lounge, where I had have to wait another two hours for my flight. They had pretty much made me disassemble my cabin baggage – with the laptop, mobile, and camera in the tray, my two bags were reduced to pretty much size zero – and I was trying to put my stuff back in when I found the book.

So as I slid my laptop back into its place, I saw the book, and I remembered my promise. Now, usually I’d lie to the person and say, yeah babes I read it and loved it thank you for the thoughtful gift, I couldn’t do that to Giggles because she’d be sure to ask multiple choice questions to check my understanding I can’t really lie to someone I love.

I pulled the book out, tore open the cellophane cover like I intended on ravishing what lay inside, and then set about reading. While I walked. Into a marble stand that contained sundry showpieces in a shop.

Who the fuck put this here, How am I walking into a store without even noticing, Don’t they put doors on shops anymore – these were questions I was thinking in my head.

Don’t you think it’d be a good idea to sit down and read is what a random Sardarji was asking. Aloud. Two of his three children were giggling at me, very much like Giggles. At least they weren’t pointing.

I picked up the stuff I had dropped, and walked away, limping. Just to piss the sardarji uncle off, I continued reading like nothing had happened. And then, I saw, from the corner of my eye, someone who I’m sure was walking towards me with the intention of bumping into me. I stopped at the last second just to make a point, and looked up angrily. Mister had his typical frowning-but-also-smiling face on. Whoa! What did I do to make you so mad, baby?

Fuck! What are you doing here?

Going home with my family, what else!

It took me a couple of minutes to realize he had given me the best surprise anyone can ever give someone who loves them. He’s flying back to Delhi with me. Tonight. Right fucking NOW.

Well, not technically with me coz he isn’t on the same flight and he just boarded – but Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!

Though my head is still swarming with questions about how he managed to pack ALL his stuff while I was there in the same house, and whether Giggles and Fartsypants and PepTalk knew, and why he didn’t tell me sooner – the year couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. Except, of course, for the bruise on my knee.