I was involved in an accident today. I was waiting to go straight at the intersection on 100 Feet Road and 13th Main, Indiranagar, and when the signal moved, a cyclist who was on the wrong side of the road misjudged the signal and collided with my front tyre. I had to reverse amidst honking so he could move his cycle tyre that was entirely mangled. And to top it all, he was a Chinki boy who continued to smile bashfully at me. I was still not angry. I just gestured to him. What on earth was he doing coming from this side of the road, the wrong side of the road?
And that would have ended it, I think, but the Wagon R next to me decided to fight. And as he rolled down his window to talk and scream at how I exemplified the myth of a good woman driver, I presume, I could see that the chinki boy’s eyes began to gleam with a promise of money. Naturally, this interested everyone on the street and they surrounded my car. I didn’t even deign to respond. The signal showed green again and after one glare at the boy that said ‘You and I both know what happened here. So I am going now. Do what you will’, I moved ahead.
By then the crowd had already judged that I was a heartless, rich, maybe even prejudiced sick bitch who was entirely capable of hitting them and running away, so everyone moved aside. The honks of the Wagon R followed me till the end of the street. I switched off the recorder because I felt repulsed and music offered no solace. Not even Susheela Raman.
That poor fellow, where would he go to fix his tyre on a Sunday evening? And clearly, he must have been in some hurry to break the rule and travel like an American on his BSA cycle. And yet, they blamed me. I could sense the hatred in the air. They hated me because I was a woman and I had a car and I wore lipstick. They were incensed that after all the attention they showered on me, I was cool as a winter mist; that I wouldn’t even roll my windows down to hear them hurl the choicest of abuses at me.
But what they don’t know, love, is that I married you. Silence is a skill I have now mastered thanks to you. Imagine a Kannadiga girl like me settling with a hybrid-hillman from Assam. Your father was from Himachal. And so they called you Hemanth. The name could pass off as a Kannadiga, sure. My mother decided to add the ubiquitous Kannadiga ‘a’ when she spoke about you to the relatives who would soon not want to have anything to do with us because you were a Pahadi anthe, whatever that meant, and had eyes that were flat and piercing. Unheard. Absurd. All that wealth that my fairly affluent parents made through their lives, all that wealth was going to Assam. A 2BHK on Airport Road. And they would argue where Himachal was and cursed how Assam and Himachal could come together to give us Hemanth who would someday usurp all the possibilities that would have benefitted a Kannadiga boy better.
Madness, mayhem, debates, absurd conversations, love-making, that would be our story, or so I thought.
What I hadn’t planned on was the silence, Hemanth. Remember in Rishi’s house where we had first met how much you charmed me with your lines, cheesy and fresh from movies? You had laughed about how cheesy you were and how you used movie lines on me. And how you were still sure I would meet you for a burger and a coke. You got me to agree to that burger in Indiana, remember? What did you see in me then, Hemant? Remember, when I made slant Chinki eyes at you and we laughed and you punched me in the arm and I suddenly cried out from the pain and how you were so contrite and inconsolable for days after? Or the songs you sang to me, Hemanth. Remember them? That old Mukesh number Kahin door jab din dhala jaaye… and your strange accent and how I had laughed then too. And then you had mocked me because I could not get Hindi sounds without sounding like a Bollywood South Indian prototype. Archetype, you said and tugged my hair and that’s when you had kissed me. Smooth. You were so smooth. All over. No hair. It was so strange to be with a man who had less hair than I did. Remember how much I envied you then, Hemanth? When was the last time we held each other, forget the sex? No more Hindi songs or Hindi dialogues. English, was our tongue. Till you became tongue-tied shortly after our marriage in 2012 and we had no language to speak of at all. Was it the argument of idli vs momos that did it? Or was it the fact that everyone called you my chinki husband? August that year was a bad month for us, no? You wanted to leave this city, you wanted me to leave my home and move to Assam. For what, I had screamed. I was loud then. I have quietened down so much now. At least that you must have noticed.
Just then, thankfully, I was so thankful then, your company decided to send you to Japan for six months. I wasn’t allowed to travel with you. I was glad. Space is just what we needed I thought. It even seemed positive. The North East exodus had stopped. I had joined the candle march in Bangalore in protest. I didn’t tell you about it even when you called from Tokyo. But there were few conversations, only everyday mails about mundane things, a reminder to make the LIC payment. You always claimed you were too busy or too tired to talk after work. I didn’t mind. Space. I hung on to that magic word. If I could give you your space, it would go back to how it was for us. I ate only momos for a week and stopped only when I realised I was stereotyping so much again. Not a good thing.
You were different when you came back. Not there, somehow. You have never been there since. And yet, we share a house.
I stopped my car, Hemanth, after I crossed that road. It was easy there. Over there, I stood my ground in front of all those men and women, but later I couldn’t drive anymore. My hands shook. I got off the car and walked to the chai beedi shop in the corner. I lit my cigarette and stood against the car. There was no damage to my car. But that boy’s cycle. I couldn’t get it out of my head. Why did he have to come down the wrong street? And why didn’t he realise the signal had moved? How could I have not hit him? I was debating what to cook for dinner, not that you care. I wanted to make something special. I thought you will know then that I still love you, that it wasn’t food you chewed on, but me, my life. I hoped you would recognise what a loving wife I was, no longer the arguing, screaming type of person. Is it possible that Wagon R was right?
Am I at fault?
I am so angry, Hemanth. I am so furious that this accident is not a conversation we will ever have because our marriage is held together only by bonds of silence. You will not be interested in my day. You have not been interested in me since our marriage. I can’t talk to you about divorce. I wait for you to say it. Someday you will fall in love with a girl and then ask me for a divorce, I know. I can hear the voice of the reappearing relatives ‘We knew it. Aa chinki-pinki ella Western. They have no value system. I hear they eat snakes.’ My hysteria bubbled. I wanted you to be that cyclist’s tyre. Maybe then you would react. Maybe then I could react and show to the world what it was all about too. And why it’s okay if I call a North East person a chinki. Or do you still think it’s not?
Wagon R actually discovered me. They were a young couple in their late 30s. They must have been driving all over HAL II Stage trying to find me when I was just at the end of the road. He rolled down his windows. “You should be ashamed of yourself, you bloody Hit and Run. People like you are the reason everyone thinks Bangalore is hostile towards the North East people. Thoo.” He spat. The woman stared in disapproval.
Why, Hemanth, how much I laughed.