Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Sunday, July 18, 2010
I was visiting them for the first time after they moved to their new flat. It was on the 20th floor, they had told me in such excited voices that I felt bad about voicing the panic that was pushing upwards from my gut to my throat. I told myself it can't be too bad, I'll just go ahead and see what the fuss was all about. When we reached, after an hour of weaving in and out of the maddening traffic, it was raining cats and dogs. "Wow, you will actually be able to see the most spectacular view after the rain stops! You've come at a good time!" She screamed for what must have been the hundredth time that day. Silly girl, she had nothing else to talk about, so all she did was brag about their new house, I thought with a small smile. After a while the rain did stop, and when I did muster enough courage to venture near the window, I felt that familiar buzz in my head, my hands were clammy.
"I think I'm going to rest for a while, it's been a long day." I try to get out of it, at least for now.
"Come on! You've got to look at this, come here." She's a very persistent girl. She won't give up until she makes me walk over to the window and look at whatever she wants me to see. I sometimes wonder why children these days are so stubborn.
"Alright." I manage to mumble and I slowly get up from the comfortable depths of the bean bag I've made the mistake of sinking into.
It must be divine intervention, because at the very instant I get up, there's a power failure.
"Oh Oh! We haven't had a power failure in a year now, and of all the days there's one just today!" With that she makes her way slowly across the room to fetch some candles.
I could swear they would have heard my sigh of relief. But I don't quite care. Now that everyone's distracted by the power failure, there's going to be no more forced admiration of any spectacular views.
I wake up before they do, and I just lie on the bed for a while because it's too quiet. When I can't just lie down idly any more, I get up to go make myself a cup of coffee. I take my cup and warily go to the window. I'll just steal a glance and step back, I tell myself. That's when I see it. The hills are staring back at me with a smirk as if to say "I told you so!" They are so green that I almost think someone's rolled out a million green carpets. The sun has just risen over them, and He seems to be smiling at me and saying "Good Morning!" There's a thin silver water fall, which is gurgling away joyfully. A mynah comes to the sill and I'm taken aback for a moment, and then get over the fear. I lean forward and take in the spectacular view they wanted me to see all along.
PS: This post is dedicated to someone very special. I hope you did take in the breathtaking view :)
Monday, July 5, 2010
I get jostled by thirty ladies, most of whom are getting in, some of whom getting out, and finally get into the first class compartment of the local train. I glance at my watch. It’s 4:30 pm. Close time for schools and colleges. And some offices maybe. Anyway, I find a seat in the corner, and gratefully sink into it. It’s going to be a long journey home. At the very least, an hour. I realize I have forgotten to carry my book, which I’m just waiting to finish reading. I curse myself and look outside the window. The lady next to me is engrossed in her book. She’s read almost three-fourths of it, and there’s a small smile playing on her lips while she reads. Maybe a happy ending there. I sigh, more loudly than I intend to.
That’s when I notice little Ayesha. I’ll call her Ayesha. With her thin body swaying while she hangs on to the side bar near the entrance of her compartment she swings as if she has no care in the world. She has rough brown matted hair that’s shining in the sunlight. It’s all over the place and makes her look like a miniature version of one of those sadhus in Varanasi or Allahabad. Except, I think with a smile, the beard. She’s wearing a yellow shirt with brown flowers printed on it, and a matching yellow skirt. The collar is turned up, in a futile attempt at being fashionable. Her arms are thin and have some rashes on them. Her eyes are a deep brown, and although she looks like she could do with a good meal, they have the luster of diamonds.
She’s singing to herself and talking in a loud voice to nobody in particular. There’s a lady sitting on the floor of the compartment, and she’s trying to admonish her for swinging like that.
“You’re going to fall out of the train one day and crack your skull, you stupid girl!” She says in an angry yet affectionate voice. She looks around, and notices me staring at her. Encouraged by the attention of the one bored soul who has forgotten to carry her book to bury her nose in, she goes on.
“My sister’s daughter ma’am. Ayesha. Accompanies me every day to sell these tidbits.” She points at her basket. I nod at her. She loves to ride the train. So she comes, and then behaves like a monkey. I keep telling her one day she will fall off the train. But, where she listens?”
I nod again, this time with a smile. I watch the girl’s agility with admiration; her aunt of course is not happy about that. The little one is happy in her own world, talking loudly to herself, humming the most popular Bollywood tracks, and sometimes thrusting her little hip forward in a pretence of dancing to one of them. She must be eleven or twelve years old. She wants to pretend she’s twenty. I’m amused to see her at it. They get off three stations later, and I’m left to looking around the compartment at the other women who don’t seem to have watched this entertaining show.
So this is now a daily ritual. 4.30 pm, I get on the train. 4.32, Ayesha and her aunt get on. I watch the little gymnast and her antics, smile at her aunt who nods in exasperation, and then watch them leave with a twinge of disappointment at 4:53. One day I have a packet of Cadbury’s Gems in my handbag. I beckon Ayesha and hold it out to her. For a moment the song and dance stops, she looks from me to her aunt in expectation. Then her aunt breaks into a smile and says “Take it, aunty is giving you, no?” One quick movement, the packet of candy is in her hands and the song and dance resumes. She smiles at me, one of her rare, brilliant smiles. And then the moment is over.
One beautiful monsoon afternoon, I get on the train, particularly happy that the summer’s over. Wet shoes, muddy shoe prints all over, and umbrellas peeping out of bags and sometimes hurting fellow passengers, welcome monsoons! I wait for Ayesha and her aunt to board the train, wondering if the rain will be a deterrent. But I don’t suppose anything deters trade, in this ambitious city. Besides, there are mouths to be fed back home. So they come. Ayesha’s eyes are red, maybe with lack of sleep (I cannot think of reasons for a ten year old to lose sleep over), or from crying. Her aunt’s expression is grim, and she doesn’t say a word. There’s no song and dance sequence today, and there’s no gentle scolding. They sit quietly through the 21 minutes and leave. It was a strange experience for me, but I brush it aside telling myself that these were not my best friends for me to come to any conclusions and question.
The next day Ayesha’s singing again, more softly, but she’s singing. There’s no dancing, but I just gather she’s bored of her old moves. I get back to my routine of watching and enjoying the little show she puts up, as if only for me. Her eyes seem a little sad, but, again, I tell myself there’s no need for me to pry. Life goes on, as it always does, and for the next two months I am a spectator to this endearing drama. Some days she’s exuberant, swinging wildly on the side bar like Tarzan, some days she’s swinging her hips like Madhuri Dixit, and some days she’s more mellow, crooning and pretending to be Lata Mangeshkar.
I will never be able to forget the day I saw her aunt stepping into the train alone. Her deeply lined face wears a haggard look. She looks like she has aged rapidly in two months. I find it odd that I don’t see the familiar jumping figure next to her. I tell myself it’s none of my business. But I find it so hard to resist the urge to ask. I look at my watch anxiously, and look outside to see which station we are approaching. It’s 4:46, and there’s one more station to go.
“Where’s Ayesha?” I try to sound casual.
Silence. Then a sob. Then she starts weeping loudly.
“She ran off madam. She couldn’t bear it anymore.” Sob sob sob.
“What couldn’t she bear anymore?”
“All that pressure. She knew her mother was grooming her to be be like herself. And she knew one day she would be sold off to be entirely at the mercy of the men she would have to please.”
Words failed me. Images that I didn’t want to see were flashing in my mind. Little Ayesha, our very own version of Madhuri Dixit, sold off into prostitution some day. But one brave little gymnast she was.
“She kept saying she wanted to go to school, but her mother wouldn’t hear of it. She beat her everyday until the girl just fled.”
“Do you know where she might have gone?”
This question is greeted with a wry smile. I know from that look that she knows. And that she will never tell. Me, the girl’s mother, the men who came looking when the time had come – she would tell nobody. The secret would die with her, even if that was what killed her.