Parvati’s Grief

You lose a baby.

The weight of that sentence is so heavy and thick with grief that the world tilts on its axis, and everything shifts.

You can’t shift away from that numbing loss that makes you lose interest in everything now that the baby is lost.

Babies can be lost once they are created in the womb. Babies are not those hopes you pin the rest of your life on. For that, the world has another word. That word is dreams.

Dreams are worthy only if you remember them and you do. You remember that the baby with its hair softly curled, skin a rich, foamy chocolate, eyes small and twinkling, and a smile that slowed the whole universe, saved your life and that of your mother’s and father’s and the whole damn family on both sides of the gene pool, hell, the entire bloody cosmos; but no one knew about all that now because the baby was apparently not born like the way a baby was supposed to be born.

The theme of birth keeps recurring in your grief and stems the tears, because how can you – even if you already are the mother of baby, even if your breasts feel heavy with unconsumed milk, even if your womb twitches when you sit – cry over something that doesn’t exist?

The world values only what does exist. So you stop the welling eyes and think that since the baby doesn’t exist now, even the father and mother have nothing in common, nothing to share, and nothing that will make them a unit anymore. Nothing exists.

In this universe only if you create something does it exist. Yet, in this same universe where you had created the baby in your thoughts, in those playful and tender conversations with its father, in those tense moments of hope and longing, the baby doesn’t exist because the baby was apparently not born like the way a baby was supposed to be born, and now you have lost the ability to mother a child.

So when you lost the baby, it was not the actual flesh and blood that meant home, that meant roots, that meant family, that you lost. You lost the baby’s father and the nebulous connection between two loving souls. You lost the thought of ever having a baby, ever being a mother, ever creating a new world, and ever adding to the cycle of birth and death. You lost your ability to pay back your debt to the universe. You lost your power to be a goddess and became instead a hapless, helpless woman at the mercy of the universe and its cruel sense of humour. You lost yourself.

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It’s round and innocuous at first. She says it doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t do anything. She laughs and acts embarrassed if someone asks her about it. She is dismissive when anyone worries. She won’t see a doctor.

There are more important things in life to focus on. The lump on her throat isn’t one of them.

‘What about dinner? Shall I quickly make something and pack it for you?’

She is preoccupied with food because that is how she shows how much she loves you.

My ex didn’t even merit a cup of tea or coffee the only time he visited.

Her brother expressed a faint craving for akki shavige so she ignored the carpal tunnel syndrome, her bent, misshapen arthritic fingers, and steamed rice powder and rolled it and turned it into thin, fine, spaghetti strips, and fed her brothers. And just in case someone argued about it being merely ‘thindi’, she made rice, rasam, and vegetables.
After, she served coffee for the brothers and tea for the husband.

That day she told me uncharacteristically, “For as long as I am around, I will cook all these things for you.”

Was that when the fear took root?

The next day, I took her to the doctor because it’s ridiculous to live in ignorance.

The dreaded C word was mentioned.

Her face changed. Shrank. She looked more like a bird than usual. I filled up the car with practical lists. ‘We’ll go first thing in the morning. Let’s order breakfast. Don’t waste time cooking. Don’t worry about the tests. And don’t worry about food, we’ll eat outside. We’ll be in hospital all day tomorrow.”

She reached home and worked like a dervish.
‘I need to make all the powders – sambar, rasam, bisibelebaath, vaangibaath.’
By the next evening, in spite of the long hours we spent at the hospital running tests, chillies had been dried, the pulses roasted, the spices added, and the powders ground. There was enough idli and dosa batter for the entire street to feed on.

‘Come, see how I make these.’

I ignored her call with a sinking stomach and refused to budge away from my laptop where all the windows merged into something blurry and shimmering. She is a workaholic. She won’t sleep till everything in the kitchen is set right, till all the preparations for the next meal have been made. She’s also a perfectionist. In all these years, there have been few dishes that haven’t tasted like heaven. And she has a fierce sense of responsibility. She will cook and clean even if she’s unwell because that’s her duty.

So if I don’t see, if I don’t learn, she would be fine because she would have to be. Who else would cook for me?

The fear lodged in the throat.

At the hospital, we turned strangers before the operation. Not for us any sentimental talk. It was my turn to be dismissive of the surgery, to mock her very real fears – will I lose my voice? Will I live past this? – that she hadn’t articulated.

‘Don’t be silly. It’s a small surgery. What’s there to worry? You will have permanent wrinkles at this rate.’

As long as she lives through this, everything is fine. Please. I have to be her strength.

She is my strength. How can I be strong when my strength is weakened? I fear getting into a kitchen that smells of her powders in a world where she doesn’t exist except as a whiff in the memories of all of us who have sampled her cooking.

In that moment, I resent deeply her powders, her culinary wizardry, how she told me that someday I will love to cook because it is an art form. How she is proud that even when I don’t like it, I cook just like her. If she will leave me before I am ready, and I will never be ready, I don’t want her skill or the taste of her food or the cravings for her gojju or sambar or rasam. In that instance, I recognise the futility of my life if something happened to her. I bury these fears and fall asleep taking pills because I can’t even pray when I am mostly godless.

I dream of walls that are barren, white, and uninviting even as I sense that it is home. It doesn’t feel like anything. I am looking for her, hungry, trying to smell food, but there’s nothing.

I wake up hungry on a strange cot in the hospital. I wake to see that she has finally slept. I want to wake her and tell her how she’s the only home I recognise, the only reason the world makes sense, how even my father is a stranger without her defining our relationship, how much I love her, how indispensable she is in my life.

But I don’t.

We are not sentimental. We have never spoken to each other that way. We wouldn’t know where to start and how to say it. Besides, we never state the obvious.

We have bought time instead.

So when we come home healed, even as the threat of the C word hangs over us, innocuous and relatively harmless now that her entire gland is removed, I show love the way she has taught me.

In sheer relief, I cook.

I cook.

Posted in Blue Funk, In Sickness and In Health | 4 Comments

Ajji was born in 1929

Ajji was born in 1929
and so she doesn’t care that she was born on International Women’s Day.
She begins her day with strong filter coffee brewed almost black with just a hint of milk.
She no longer prays at the altar in the house.
Nor does she talk of dying anymore.
When we moved to the villa, ajji got her own room with a TV and a cable connection.
Ajji also got a break from running the house and discovered daily soaps and Bollywood.
At 85, it’s as if Ajji has finally discovered what makes her truly happy.
Even last year she talked about dying and becoming one with God.
She cooked and fed everyone until last year.
No one made shavige and obattu like ajji did.
So she had to make more of them each time.
This year, she wonders if she likes Deepika or Priyanka more.
She’s unembarrassed about saying how much she likes Shah Rukh Khan, especially with Madhuri.
Or why Pakistani serials are better than the Indian ones.
She has even learnt about Facebook, vegan diets, and dating sites.
We repeat that her birthday is celebrated throughout the universe.
“What do they do on Women’s Day?
Will they give women chocolates and red roses like they do on that love day?”
She says none of that matters if the women have to cook again for the whole house.
“I lost my life in the kitchen, you know?
Only once your grandfather took me to Ahmedabad
and I didn’t have to cook that entire week.
But I didn’t get to drink coffee either, so I was not very happy.
And those Gujjus put sugar in everything.
The girls these days don’t cook if they don’t want to.
Maybe that’s why they can have a day to celebrate womanhood.”

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This year, the fish washed ashore on International Women’s Day.
Dead, inedible, and entirely an eyesore.
Naturally, we blamed the fish.
We realised that it was asking for it.
The reports confirmed it.
The fish wanted oxygen.
Imagine that kind of overreaching!
Happiness lay in being content with what you had.
Ask any good, virtuous woman
who has learnt to toe the line.

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At least they made me cum.
The assholes I fucked
Sometimes even loved.

And then there was this one
I just loved.
Didn’t know how to stop.

He killed time with me.
Wrote me stories that I could build.
With sunshine and seashores, we created another world.

But when real life happened
Other parties beckoned
I was just a good-to-have.

I had fucked myself over.
And I didn’t even fucking cum.

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The Birth of Baby

The baby would not be born.

The mother did not believe in sacrifices or martyrdom.
The mother grew taller instead.

It was enough for now that one could enjoy the same sleeplessness of baby care all night long talking about pop spirituality. The mother had understood finally what it meant to be mindful. It was not an achievement to treat lightly. Conversation and its heart had to be carved from language that was always inadequate. Baby babble had no place in this complexity.

It was enough for now that the days were spent dreaming. Matching her nose with his lips. Her cheeks with his jaw. His hair but her texture. His height but her curves. And gender? Would the universe be contrary? Would they have a boy because they would love to have a girl?

The baby could, naturally, choose what it wanted to be when it was time to decide. Mindful as they were, this decision about identity would always be personal and left to the sole discretion of the baby.

The baby would be born independent. The baby would be born a personality already. The baby would be born amidst happy wishes from the families who had given up any dreams of newness and rejuvenation. The baby would assuage ancestors and aid rebirths.

The baby would grow up surrounded by books. The baby would learn solipsism. The baby would learn to present clever arguments (from her) with a solid backing of facts (from him). The baby would be utterly special and have dimples, surely.

The baby would not be born, though.

There was no time.
The world was in a hurry to be fucked over.

The father wanted to travel, to explore other bodies, different spaces.
The father hated convention although he was the most traditional of men deep where it all really mattered. The father was a rarity in that he was also a sensitive man and deeply respectful of men and women and their bodies and their desires. The father spoke gently, firmly, and in a quiet voice. The father had a warm, soothing touch. When the father hugged, it was as if the entire world was cloaked in the hug accepting and loving. The father could teach and talk patiently. The father was kind. The father was funny. He knew how to horse around and laugh loudly at himself and the world. The father lit up the world. The father was sunshine. The father would make a great parent.

The baby would not be born, though.

There was no time.
The mother’s eggs were depleting unfucked.

The mother also suffered from commitment issues. The mother could not see herself as a parent for all the rest of her life. After years, she finally adjusted to the thought of being yoked to a man, to people, to a family. As long as they didn’t make demands on her. As long as they let her read and sleep and keep her friends and clothes. As long as she was not expected to cook everyday. The mother was all about discovering herself and happiness. The mother was selfish and satisfied and completely unsuitable to be revered as a mother. The mother harboured secret ambitions of being a whore. The mother was after all a woman. The mother was the turbulent sea on a full moon night. The mother was powerful and giving. But she didn’t want to give up her life.

The baby would demand many tiny sacrifices.
It would start with him having to put aside more money as savings. Money he would have used to visit friends in his favourite city. It would start with him having to make hard decisions about his future. He was a man who liked living in the present. It would start with her not being able to smoke that cigarette on weekends and have that wine. It would start with her not being able to meet a man to discuss business because her stomach was bloated and she had flatulence which is so unladylike, especially in a business woman.

The mother could not have a baby because she already had one. Her work needled her, pushed her to perform, behave, sleep less. The work sat on her waist and held her across her neck choking her, claiming her, smothering her maternity. And if the baby were born, the baby would roll plumply around the bed and make cooing noises so that she would have to hoist it up on her bare thighs and sing old Hindi songs to it. The baby would watch her work and wail its importance indignantly. The baby would demand to be fed from fat, overflowing breasts that mother already suffered with. And then the baby would spit the milk onto manuscripts and ruin a day’s work as it laughed in gay abandon.

The baby would not be born in gay abandon. The baby would be born as a deliberation, almost as a deliverance.

It was best if the baby would not be born, though.

The baby would demand that the love between mother and father get trivial, common, base. The baby would maybe even demand that they have sex. The baby would watch gleefully as its strong father pinned its powerful mother against the wall and kissed her instead of merely asking her for time or a holiday.

And then the baby would be born.

It was best if the baby would not be born, though.

Then the baby could watch the parents go about their lives confused, hiding huge, gaping baby-sized holes in their bodies because they forgot what they did with each other and the baby when they could have done something about the baby and each other.

Mother would suddenly grow dimples then and colour her hair red. The father’s mole would darken and his frown lines would become more pronounced.

But the baby might also watch how the parents would wait sensibly for the universe to iron out all lies. The parents would understand the true nature of love (it defies explanation).

The parents would tell stories about the truth of their lives. They would deny convention, labels, and demonstrate through simple joys and powerful loving how life is to be experienced.

The baby would not need to be born then because the mother would have found her dreams and the father his happiness.

And that is when the baby will be born.

Posted in Intoxication Induced | 4 Comments

Small families

A trip to the rheumatologist in now incomplete unless we stop at the Central Tiffin Room in Malleshwaram after the appointment for their golibajje and benne masala dosa which really is the best in Bangalore. The taste hasn’t changed in all these years we’ve been eating there and some of the waiters even smile and remember me, which is a nice thing.

The food is the only nice thing about Malleshwaram and such areas because they make me feel distinctly uncomfortable all the time. I can’t put my finger on it. But it’s a combination of hauteur and fear. I am entirely too disdainful of the people from those areas when regarded en masse and the fear that I could have so easily been them. I might still so easily be them – typical, middle class, Kannadiga Brahmin girl. And then where would I be? A cousin’s daughter once said “chee” to people eating egg dosas (that looked wonderfully delicious) on a trip. Those are my roots. At least a part of my roots. Now you can appreciate why I am so uncomfortable.

Like today, at the restaurant, it was terribly crowded as usual. The restaurant is very quaint, old, busy with small four-seater tables and equally small chairs as if it were designed for the mass of tiny, hard-working, self-effacing but talkative Kannadigas who would sit on the edges of these small chairs as they gobbled the dosas and gossiped about the relative’s children settled in the US.

And so when we were half-way through our goli bajjes, a thin man in his early 40s came by, shook the bag that was on the extra chair said “Yours?” And when my dad said, “Yes”, he promptly lifted it, handed it to my dad, ordered a dosa for himself and waited to eat.

In my world, this won’t happen. In my world that is the regions of Indiranagar, Whitefield, M G Road, even Koramangala, people would say “Please, may I sit here?” if at all they had to share tables and chairs in a crowded restaurant. We would be polite and awkward about these intimacies and we’d both be very conscious of encroaching on someone’s private space.

But not in Malleshwaram.

I consoled myself with the magnanimity of how hungry he might have been to have behaved in such an abrupt fashion. Maybe he was having a bad day. Maybe he just didn’t know manners. Maybe no one taught him these things. And I barely tasted my dosa wrapped as I was in all these thoughts. I worried about how shallow I was to spend so much time thinking of this mild discomfort. It’s not like I had to share a life with that man, just a table for the duration of one dosa. It became fairly easy after that. I even warmed to him because like me he couldn’t stand the empty plates lying on the table and he summoned the cleaner boy himself to clear away our used plates – as if we were truly companions eating out together.

Then when he left, another man occupied his seat, again with scant ceremony. This one was in his 40s with an overbearing paunch and a manner of arrogance. By now I had stopped caring about this communal dining experience and just waited to see what would transpire. We sat waiting for our helping of an extra dosa and coffee. He fidgeted, drummed his fingers on the table, willing us to finish early. So I ate rather slower than my usual pace. Then, finally, when the coffee came, he shouted at the waiter. “Couldn’t you tell me that these people had also ordered coffee? Do you know how many seats I let go thinking this will empty?”

I rolled my eyes. The waiter merely shrugged indifferently. The man had asked no one’s permission or approval or advice when he sat in the seat. The waiter quickly gave us the bill to appease him somewhat, I think, and when I paid a 20 rupee tip to the waiter, I felt a quick wave of disapproval from the paunch. I had noticed that not many people tipped the waiters in that place.

My father had barely tried to move his chair before the paunch started rearranging the chairs hoping to claim the four-seater all to himself.
A wife materialised.
She said meekly, “Wait, it’s okay. Let them finish.”
“They are finished. You sit.” he ordered in a very haughty tone at the poor woman.
Just to be capricious, I lingered over the terrible Kannadiga coffee.

I tried being kind again and told myself that maybe he was terribly hungry too. But I think I had reached the end of my kindness quota in a day. These people could easily have been my neighbours were we to have continued living in those areas. I’m sure a few far-flung relatives behave just as obnoxiously. In another universe, I might even have been the wife of a man like him. Shudder.

I often think I thrust these notions on my poor parents who probably don’t mind the area or the people. I know my mother loves the flower markets and vegetable vendors there. My father will calmly and blissfully walk with all our bags as we troop up and down those noisy streets. They also feel very comfortable that it’s a predominantly Kannada speaking area, another fact that gives me something of the heebie-jeebies.
​And then my mother said, “Did you hear that man in the restaurant?”
“Good thing he didn’t ask us to hurry or anything,” my dad replied, “I would have given him a piece of my mind.”
“How shabbily he treated the waiter. It’s a good thing you didn’t hurry. I thought you would when he was trying to rush us.” she told me.
And that’s when I was reassured that this gene pool did indeed make me.

<An excerpt from the brand new journal I have begun keeping in 2016. Ha.>

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