i would like to disappear.
may be then i won't have to fake smiles for strangers. i wouldn't need to step into a costume when i step out of my room. i wouldn't even have to bother about work this much. i could walk slowly and look for stars in the bombay sky. i might even find orion. i needn't bother being non-descript, i needn't wear colours that only seem grey.
and as i face the sun i can cast no shadow. (like noel gallagher says, "an invisible man is the kind who casts no shadow.")
i would like to disappear.
tell me that story, the one i don't like to hear. it stings, and the tears are already in my eyes. i know i've heard it several times. i know, your fingers clench when you say "oh her, she's okay, you know, quite a beauty though." her eyes, i can see them as well as your words paint them. lovely black eyes, with her curly, mindless hair all over her face. her regal nose, and her lips, how soft, i could kiss them the way you did. this is our story isn't it, of love, hidden sensual maddening love. seeking her, seeking you, blushing when you find each other, smiling to yourself, hoping she wouldn't notice. but she does, doesn't she? she knows you're looking at her. she knows you day dream about her voice singing as she speaks, her breath, hotter as you blush some more.
i wonder if she saw you the way you saw her. i wonder if she saw you the way i see you. your eyebrows, perfectly arched, your laughter, thrilled, child-like, your fingers, long, each with a shape of its own. how i like to put my hands in yours. did you do that with her? did she play with your hair? did she like kissing your earlobes? your smell, shampoo and hamam soap, moisturiser and musky deodorant. tell me that story, won't you?
say it, in your charming voice, "our story is of the single life. we like being alone. we take pleasure in being me. i, i'm hot, i'm honest, i love myself, and that's all the love i need." oh, of course i'll interject, i'll ask you, "what about her?" and you know what you'll say. but you don't need her. you'll meet her one day, at a pastry shop you know, buying the cheesecake you got her addicted to, while you'll be buying the banana walnut bread she made for you once.
ofcourse you don't need her anymore. i know, it's bitter between the two of you. but the memories are sweet aren't they? pungent, like red wine and smelly cheese. they leave stains you can't ever wash off.
"Whatever is unnamed, undepicted in images, whatever is omitted from biography, censored in collections of letters, whatever is misnamed as something else, made difficult-to-come-by, whatever is buried in the memory by the collapse of meaning under an inadequate or lying language -- this will become, not merely unspoken, but unspeakable."
i repeat, constantly negotiating spaces. physical spaces. creating dichotomies. private, public. economic spaces. seeing the value, valuing differently. political spaces. inclusion, expansion to shifting perspectives. to empower the individual while also emphasising collective. the personal, the political, which is where?
dupattas and burkhas, closing doors and drawing curtains.
what does it take? silence to noise to raising a voice?
a struggle is never simple. that one, she moved from saying no to the burkha to saying no to the scarf, and then saying no to the dupatta even. she started to talk of sexuality, and who the good woman is. negotiating at all times. sometimes giving in, sometimes bargaining, sometimes accomodating, sometimes standing steady and not moving an inch.
what are battles worth fighting? ones you're sure you'll win, or ones you might not know if there will ever be an end to?
the seamless lives of women.
constantly negotiating spaces.
redefining. boundaries. imagined. physical. geographic. mind space. mind time?
whose voice? whose perspective?
whose lived experience do you see the world as?
on the bus from godhra to baria, technology finds its awkward place. an electronic ticket vending machine, mobile phones, barefoot people, an old man snoring on the side, dirty fingernails on calloused hands - these are only some of the things i notice about the people on the bus. while the (singular) speaker sings in its squealing treble an old hindi song about love and sadness, conversation flows between silences of others. the baby in the second row cries while her mother is engaged in the world outside. my presence, a ripple of a skipping stone in an otherwise steadfast river, draws many eyes.
how the foreign integrates with the known - we take what we want, in the way we want it. the clock indicates time on the bus, phones ring in tones that praise Gods and in songs of films i know. i buy tickets, but i don’t know the cost written on them. many wear their religion, red wristbands, caps. there is familiar clothing, but a dupatta on the head, a saree, but tucked in a way that i have never seen before. women wear beautiful silver bands on their legs, feet left to the sinister earth - cracked and dirty.
it is a hot autumn outside of the bus. hundreds of trees have shed their leaves, in knowledge of the sun drinking up all their water. the leaves are on the ground, a rusted brown. some trees have maroon leaves, some red, some yellow, some still green, all falling in the occasional breeze. is this the colour of the season, a cacophony of drying leaves?
mid-night wine and making puppets.
(stick puppets, newspaper stuffed puppets, pretty grey puppets with polka dots, puppets having breasts, wearing salwar kameezes).
last minute election nominations. (not just other people's but mine as well.)
any minute chai.
being late enough to miss the national anthem, early enough to catch the name of the producer at the screening of any given film.
the uncanny ability to catch the last train, place the last order and drink the last beer every time.
chickoo ice cream.
terrible dh food.
washing dishes deals.
ajay dhaba at 1 AM. colaba at 2.
missing the first hour. everyday.
being thrown water-balloons at.
sending sms-es that don't make sense.
asking questions that don't make sense.
doodling. drawing fake-funny comic strips. falling asleep in class.
deadlines. not sleeping. not working. meeting them. beating them. loving them.
being a workaholic. being a hate-being-a-workaholic.
talking about my bhelpuri addiction.
fun. fun. fun.
how i like making these lists.
Narrow lanes, they turn where you expect corners, and where they ought to end, they don't, but become narrower still. I adjust my dupatta, take a sip of water, and begin my search. They are only names on a list to me. Ughade, Kakad, Shinde, Waghela.. just people, faceless names to be ticked off, to fill details on a form, to fill a day. In a city that is still new to me, I step into a maze of homes. I look for ordinary people who became heroes and martyrs by default. People who, I'm sure, would have prefered to be ordinary. On a yellow post-it, I have hastily written instructions pasted on the bundle of forms I have been handed. 'Identify those who need immediate support.' Bits and pieces, I gather from them. It's all but a day for us, a story to hear. How can one date encapsulate all these broken lives, '26/11'?
"I operate a lift in Cama Hospital," he began. "I have worked here for 31 years." Lift operator, I write. Permanent employee, I write. That his daughter wears pretty bangles, that she was making eggs sunny side up with onions and chilli powder, that his wife was watching the news in Marathi on their TV, what do I care for these things? There is no place on my form for these things. Pointless details, why do they matter? Do tell me about your injury, I prod. He points to a scar on his neck. With his left hand, he indicates a part on the back of his right shoulder.
"I was hiding on the terrace. I was clueless about what was happening on the fifth and sixth floors. I had many people with me. One of them barged out of the door. I heard firing. I wanted to know what was happening. He found me when I was sneaking closer to him. He asked me if there was an alternate way out. I said No. He refused to believe me. Ofcourse there was, but what could I do? There were other people hiding there. He pointed a gun to my back and asked me to show it to him. With him, another of his friends also came out of that exit then. At this time, the police came. They asked me how many of them were on the terrace. I said two. We spoke Marathi. The terrorists didn't understand us. I looked back at him, and I realised that he was hiding in the corner, he wasn't behind me anymore. The second one threw a grenade in my direction. 'There's something here,' I yelled. While I was yelling, it went off. Some sharpnel has cut my throat, look, it's a two inch cut. Another piece has lodged itself in my shoulder." He raised his left arm, and said, "As much as I can raise my left arm, I can't raise my right. I can only move it when I lift it with my left. I can hardly use it. It is going to cost me 2 lakhs to get it operated. And even then, there are no chances of survival."
"What are your immediate needs, sir?"
And like a character out of a story he says, "I want a new house. I have nightmares about this one. What if the roof crashes on my head? What if the dishes fall on my hand? How will I protect myself?" New house, I write. Probable need for psycho-social support, I write. How will he protect himself? The hero who saved many lives of doctors and patients hiding on the terrace of Cama Hospital, he fears that his house may collapse on him. What may I tell him?
"Are you a journalist?", someone else asks me. She opens her bright pink door and starts to pull up a stool for me to sit on. I sit on the floor instead, I insist. "No, a student." I reply. I explain why I'm there. "But the government has given us money," she tells me. "Twenty five lakhs, cheque. My son goes to school nearby. I have a job in the hospital. I don't need anything." Just outside her chawl, there's a poster put up with a photograph of her husband and two others. Shraddhanjali, it says. I talk to her for a couple of minutes and leave. She didn't appreciate my presence there, nor the reason I was there. As I am leaving the place she lives in, some children ask me the same question she did. I smiled, and said no. I overhear someone say "She must have come about the terrorism."
A single day has many meanings for different people. For some, each day is a struggle, each night brings a different roof. A lot of the time, there is no roof. Standing at a train station waiting to go home, when there was scarcely anything to turn topsy-turvy in his life, a bullet struck his face. It hit him next to his right eye and has given this man many problems with sight. "I iron clothes for a living, madam," he tells me. "I have two children and a wife. Even before this happened, the police threatened to throw me out of my home." His business is a little set-up on a road, his home is similar. Immediate need for financial support, I write. I write a long comment about his family. Can I talk about how much I walked from the main road to reach his home? Can I say that I had to ask atleast twelve people directions to 'the home of the man who was affected by the terror attack'?
mother do you think they'll drop the bomb?
mother do you think they'll like the song?
mother do you think they'll break my balls?
oooh, aah, mother should i build a wall?
It wasn't an ordinary day for her. Sure, it started the same way. She woke up late in the afternoon. She got dressed. She was to take a train to Churchgate and go to work. She worked in a call centre. But haven't we all done this before, changed plans? Her friend called her and they decided to skip work and go out instead. She took a train to CST instead of Churchgate. Her photographs are all over the room I was sitting in. Her mother is biting her lips, holding back her tears. What is your plan for the future madam, I ask, as per the form. The eyes couldn't hold the tears anymore. I don't know, said the mother. She brought an album with photographs of the girl from the time she was six months old. Each photograph brought a fresh memory. My eyes couldn't stay dry either. What right did they have to take her life? She wasn't even meant to be there..
..There is shrapnel all over his back. It is still swollen. He was protecting his mother with his arm around her when the grenade went off behind him. She didn't survive, he did. The oldest son, he was made to discharge himself from the hospital on the very first day to perform her last rites. He wasn't operated upon. Today, he doesn't have the money to get himself operated. And even if he does, he might not survive at the end of it. He can't lie down, he can't stand. What do I write on his form? That he needs medical help? That he needs financial support? That he's the only earning member of his family, but can't work anymore? What can I say?
hush now baby, baby, don't you cry.
mama's gonna make all of your nightmares come true
mama's gonna put all of her fears into you
mama's gonna keep you right here under her wing
she won't let you fly, but she might let you sing
mama will keep baby cozy and warm
oooh babe.. oooh babe.. oooh babe,
of course mama's gonna help build the wall