It’s fun when you fly in your mind. The most enjoyable part is you never really know where you’ll go, where you’ll land, if at all. While I was struggling to chain it, and then tame it so that it lets me write all that I’ve been wanting to all of these weeks, it flitted from place to place, memory to memory. The annoying imp! My writing is, needless to say, compromised. But I am not going to give up. I am going to write. Rubbish stuff though it may be, it just might get me out of this fanciful frenzy yet.
I must’ve been twenty-three then. I used to spend like I had a king’s treasury to back me. (That part hasn’t changed, only, the king’s treasury has shrunk by kingly proportions without notice.) On the day of the disaster, I had no money in my bag, but thankfully it was pay day. My employer was a known miser, and cheat and true to his image, he didn’t pay me. I went to his office, trying to reason it out with him. I even told him I was broke. But he refused, citing dire situations as a sorry excuse, considering he’d paid almost everyone else (read everyone he “liked”). As I was getting up, furious to the core, he said, “Okay, I’ll give you a few thousand.” He picked up the phone and told the accountant to “give this girl some pocket change to celebrate Diwali.” And then he leered. I glared at him and stepped out of his office, kicking the glass door to open it. The door shattered. The boss came out running and shouting. I told the peon, “Tell your saheb he can cut the glass’ cost from my salary, and that he can keep the change.” And then I took an autorickshaw to my friend’s house. He had no money to pay for the rickshaw either. We searched his house for all kinds of change, and finally collected enough to give to the guy waiting patiently downstairs. And what’s more, we even found enough to buy me a ticket home!
My mother has an unnerving sense of righteousness. And sadly, she likes to impose it on people she loves, too. She hates the fact that I drink alcohol. Every time she gets to hear anything about my having indulged in so much as a sip, her eyes pop out and she pretends she never knew. “You drink?” “My daughter?” “Is this what I’ve taught you? Chhee.” “I never thought my daughter would do something like this.” After a few minutes of melodrama, she warns me to never drink in her presence. And I quickly agree to escape further filminess*.
That night, General D offered me vintage cognac in my mother’s presence. I looked at her; she looked away, smiling. I took the glass. The greed for a chance to taste something that’s said to be subliminally heavenly took over my daughterly sense.
I no longer remember the divine swirl of the golden liquid as it caressed the insides of my mouth. (This linguistic bacchanalian tosh is just to impress you.) But I do remember the look on my mother’s face when she saw that I’d accepted the glass. Nothing can make the feeling of an intense loss of dignity go away.
I wasn’t late for my commute to catch the train home for Diwali. I knew I’d get it. But sometimes I know little. The city was mad that day and the commute bus provided by my hostel was snailing through the crazy crowds. I got down at the intersection, sure that I could walk faster than the bus to the other side of the red light. I stood there for minutes, trying to find an empty autorickshaw, but didn’t. We Delhi girls hitched a ride in a vehicle if we needed to, but never alone. As I stood there, looking at my watch in despair, I saw an old man with a turban and henna-dyed beard on a scooter. I asked for a ride, and he obliged. He somehow knew I wanted to go to the train station. Weaving through the almost immobile traffic, he got me to the bridge from which I could see the train below on the platform. But it was slowly moving now and picking up speed. Leaving the station. Even if I ran down the steps of the bridge and tried to catch it, I couldn’t. There goes my Diwali, I thought. But no, there was some festive luck in my favour after all. Someone must’ve pulled the chain to stop the train! Soon as I saw the train groaning to a halt, I ran. The train was full of people spilling out of the doors, the roofs were full of people sitting nonchalantly as if they were riding their trustee steed. I groped for the nearest handrail and heaved myself up. No time to buy a ticket! It was impossible to get inside, so I sat at the doorstep, rejoicing at the opportunity to finally make a train journey sitting this way. But that wasn’t to be either. Well meaning people insisted I go inside and sit like ladies should. They made way for me, and got me a few inches of seat. “You couldn’t have bought a ticket in this craziness,” an old man said. It wasn’t surprising he could guess it. A lady asked me not to worry, she’d pass on her ticket to me if the ticket inspector came. If he came. Well, he didn’t, and I reached home to have some Diwali time.
I am extremely impatient with unnecessary rituals and an imposed authority about it. It was the day before my wedding and I was full of nerves, contrary to my expectations. There were fewer relatives than there usually are in an Indian wedding because Bhartan and I hardly gave anyone any time to prepare and plan. This lack of a huge bunch did relieve me of the usual nonsense in the name of tradition, but a couple of aunts insisted in making their presence felt. They criticised my mother’s supposed lack of organisation of things, they insisted that “certain things must be done.” Well, they’d pushed their luck, and promptly heard it from me. I was a bride on a rage binge! I didn’t break anything, no. But I had the bride’s license, so I spoke my mind. And how. One doesn’t speak one’s mind to a revered aunt, though, so the whole congregation was shocked. My parents looked at me with eyes that understand, yet plead to shut up already, because some things are just not done. Well, my license made use of, I retreated. And phoned Bhartan, my all-time medicine. Or rather the sometimes all-time kind.
Those were the days of experimentation and reckless indulgence in trivia. Succumbing to the general trend, I coloured my hair with a nice L’Oreal mahogany, just for the heck of it. When the hair began to grow, I saw some white hair at the roots. That was then, and this is now. Half of at least a quarter of my head-forest is pristine white. After years of L’Oreal-cursing, I realise I like it like this. It’s sort of a trophy celebrating trials overcome with human-ness and superhuman-ness. Sometimes it just celebrates stupidity, but what the heck.
A friend, however, shook this undying faith once. She told me, “Priya, when you have children, and you take them to preschool, their friends will ask them if they’ve come with their grandma.” Trite as it was, it scared me for a bit, and I used henna for a while. But good things do come back, like the Christmas cake, and I am undyed again.
*filminess: often used in Indian English (Hinglish) for being melodramatic. I am very filmy, if you really must know.