The Wardrobe, revisited.

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My dear Daughter,

Eliot once wrote about measuring out life with coffee spoons. No average beverage for me. I have something better. I am a hoarder. I collect saris. They are not just clothes but motifs of my life. Six yards of splendor draping every memorable moment freezing it for all eternity.

A dust-pink and white chiffon creation swaying on the hanger is where my love affair with saris began. Surprising though it may seem I had nothing to do with its selection. My parents, who had opposing views about everything in life, had for a change, concurred. I was fifteen then and it was the farewell party at school. I remember looking at myself in the mirror that evening and actually liking the girl-woman who looked back at me. I looked taller, prettier. I felt confident. It didn’t matter, anymore, who my friends were, who tormented me, oh whatever! I was ready to put it all behind me. I want you to keep this sari with you as it will remind you, your mother was young once, and stepped into life with the same hesitation that you are showing now.

You will love the chiffons that I have -especially the green metal chiffon creation. It was the first sari I bought with my first salary. I don’t wear chiffon now, but this sari has a special place in my wardrobe as it is symbolic of my independence. It marks my transition from being just a dependent daughter to an independent woman. I want you to have it and remember the pride I felt, to be able to pay for it with my own money, drawn from my own bank account. A gorgeous yellow and red south cotton sari is much faded and wrinkled, but is tinged with a bittersweet flavour, for it was the first sari my husband- to- be bought me. Yes, there were such misguided illusory moments between the two hostile creatures who cannot even exchange a civil word now. Difficult to believe, right? I don’t know my old self anymore. If I happened to meet her, I would slap her hard and ask her to get a reality check! Well, that’s another story altogether!

Do ensure to let my old silks see the light of the sun and toast themselves in the warmth of the day especially after the monsoons and in winter. At the same time remember, too much sunlight makes the colour fade. It’s all about finding the perfect balance. Starch your cottons and iron them out before they are completely dry. As you smooth the creases, you will iron away all the worries that creep up on you unawares. The most mundane of tasks often help you keep your sanity, when things threaten to overwhelm. Just keep pushing, no matter what.

My wedding saris with their intricate zari work and embroidery may seem old-fashioned but I’m sure will be revived soon just like how short sleeves are now back in fashion. You never know how precious these antique saris may turn out to be. By the way, the green and brown Kanjeevaram sari belongs to my mother. It was her wedding sari. Treasure it like you would an heirloom. I know I did.

Wear silks more often. You will feel regal and help them live longer. Nothing damages a sari more than disuse. Just like your talents dear, use them well.

I have been accused of being very particular about dressing, obsessive even. Was I? Am I? I don’t know. I’m at the stage when I don’t care anymore. I can now look people in the eye and tell them to mind their own business. I dress for myself and not to please others.

It all began with a colleague asking me, ‘You have many saris this shade of pink, don’t you?’ That was sarcasm, meant to cut like a knife because the truth was obvious to everybody. The truth was I had just one pink sari. Don’t get me wrong. I did have a dozen silk saris and a couple of cottons but I never thought people noticed what you casually wore to work. As long as you were presentable, I thought that was all that mattered. But, no, evidently people were looking for ways and means to sharpen their claws at your expense. And so I began to splurge. And I noticed I felt better with each purchase. I dripped charm, oozed confidence and people actually thought I was this smart career woman who looked the picture of success.

And that just begins to explain why I bought so many. When life presents you with problems, you can either do something about it or take it lying down. Your father had a misguided sense of excessive loyalty to his family- at the cost of compromising on our little plans. I could not retaliate, so I did it the best way I know how. I went out and treated myself to a sari or a few depending on the extent I was hurting. Yes, it felt good. The world is full of go- getters and sad weepers. When you can be neither, learn to be kind to yourself. But well, I could afford it. I was earning, right? I still am.

Don’t be taken in by the people who tell you the surface does not matter. First impressions count. And the so- called intellectuals who dress in carefully dressed down creations, have to really co-ordinate the casual all- thrown- together look. It takes a lot of effort and money. Things need to be simple and simplicity costs money.

So every festival, occasion and trivial matter finds me buying a sari to mark it. I buy myself a sari for your birthday before I get you your dress because I need to celebrate the day I gave you life. It’s more my day than yours.

I buy from stores, friends, colleagues and sales. I make it a point to pick up a sari from all the places I travel. Your father buys me saris to assuage his guilt. I look radiant at the very sight of his gifts. So now you understand why we fight often? We don’t kiss and make up. I get saris instead.

Why am I writing about saris? You see I have a passion for collecting books and music too. Books and music have a voice of their own. You will understand. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about my indulgence in clothes. I want you to know.

Take time off to journey in the sensual drapes of exquisite texture and colour and get in touch with your femininity. Revel in it.

If you do decide that all this is rather overwhelming, you can give them all away. Generosity of spirit is good. However, ensure you give it all away to the deserving. Rightful Charity, to people who deserve it and need the clothes to add dignity to life. For, clothes often define lives. More than one knows. More than one can understand. More for people who can’t afford it. Most for holding your head high, keeping your dignity intact and your expression unruffled in the face of adversity.

Just keep one to remember me by.

Your loving Mother.

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I just reblogged my first post! 😀

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Black Magic Woman

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Suddenly the clouds clear and you see all that is there.

 

Black magic woman.

Prowling.

Ensnaring

the young and the unsuspecting.

Mothers lock your sons away,

for she is on the move.

 

Starry-eyed.

All of nineteen. Then twenty. Soon twenty-one.

Suddenly, a very old twenty-one.

 

No illusions left.

Not anymore.

Twenty-one.

She stopped laughing.

She was twenty-one

when she ceased to smile.

 

Physical charms and black magic powers.

And the body.

Oh, the body.

She laughed.  The very idea!

No, she actually did not.

 

She cried.

For all that she thought was possible.

And all that it turned out to be.

 

They told her what they thought.

She heard their words.

Their logic, irrefutable.

Her mind, unsettled.

They were kind enough to enlighten the world.

She shone brighter in all the illumination of their wisdom.

Irredeemable.

 

On a cold November morning

the ceremony.

On a cold November night

the consummation.

 

And then the confirmation.

Intact.

Immaculate.

 

The rupture.

Perfect.

Irreparable.

 

End of aspersions.

The red badge of honour.

Conferred.

Absolute.

 

Even now

In the darkness of the day

In the garish lights of the night

 

She,

the female of the species,

goes through this rite of passage

willingly or unwillingly.

 

Her core invaded

Her story out in the open

for the world to see and approve.

Or maybe not.

 

And they all file in smirking.

Shuffle out, maybe just a little disappointed.

Through all her chagrin

To their incredulous dismay

She has managed to pass their Test.

 

Meanwhile

She holds on to the shreds of dignity.

While she still can.

 

But hey, lock away your sons.

And keep away your daughters.

Her influence knows no bounds.

The incorruptible a challenge to her.

 

Black magic woman

She has secrets and a spell or two.

 

And suddenly the clouds clear

and you see all that is there.

 

Illusions are just that-

illusions.

 

Ignorance is always dispelled.

 

But, hey, when she was nineteen,

ignorance certainly was bliss.

 

Test

Hear my Prayer

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It is all a blur now.

My eyes, unfocused,

don’t see at all…

but I know it all.

 

The malignant star.

 

Who would it be?

My mother.

I never got to her.

Well, apparently, I did get to her.

In fact, I got her.

She went cold with me by her side.

 

The ice hurt.

I kicked , clenched, contorted and howled.

For hours

On a cold winter’s night.

 

Mother- slayer,

I devoured her soul.

I waited.

 

Rejection.

I tried.

I never felt warmth.

 

Soon

I felt

nothing.

 

the quilt useless

these brittle bones

shall now snap

like branches in winter

sap frozen.

 

I am ready.

Do me a favour.

In all your generosity…

 

Take me.

Now.

 

Generous

BEE PEE

It was time for Amma’s vacation again. Amma needed to get away from it all. So Amma huffed and puffed her way about the house and Appa saw it coming. Amma’s nostrils flared and her eyes had this fixed unseeing look about them. She stirred at seven in the morning when Appa brought her ‘bed coffee’. Appa trembled as he placed the tumbler on the bedside table. With good reason, of course. For Appa made the worst coffee ever.

He never used fresh coffee powder. The day-old coffee filter stood with its stale coffee grounds waiting to be revived yet again. Arrey, how much can you extract from something that gave up the essence of life a long time ago.  Appa boiled water and poured it with his trembling hands into the filter, spilling some onto the kitchen counter. The decoction that Appa managed to coax from the dying coffee dregs was a watery mess, completely unable to create an identity for itself, as coffee. Ditchwater, maybe. Milk added to it only made it worse…coffee fit for invalids. A heaped spoonful of sugar and Appa carried it to Amma who lay with her back to the door, facing the wall.

I knew Amma’s eyes were wide open, she was staring at bloodstains on the wall, caused by the violent flattening of greedy mosquitoes that feasted on all of us, sucking our blood, till their bellies shone like translucent rubies while they settled on the walls, unable to move for hours. They met a bloody end, but what did it matter, they had feasted well before meeting death. Amma was looking at them now and I wondered if she imagined seeing us all flattened like that as well, for if we disturbed her reverie, she would turn on us with such a look the blood would freeze in our veins.

So Amma stared at the wall, unmoving, unresponsive even to Appa whom she barely tolerated. Appa saw the signs even before we did and stopped nagging Amma about anything at least two days before Amma entered her ‘state’.

He resisted temptation even when Amma soaked enough rice and pulses for dosas, savoury pancakes that could form infinite circles on the heated griddle, for breakfast, lunch, dinner and breakfast the next day… The coconut chutney and the potato curry would be made and stored in huge containers, gradually undergoing irreversible changes. The coconut would separate from the rest of the condiments in the chutney, solid against a watery mess. The mint would turn itself from a fresh green colour to an unappetizing brown mess and give out a sour smell, indicating the ripe activity of bacteria. We would refuse to eat the curry and chutney by evening and the maid would throw it away as well. Amma would scoff and say that maids were so very impertinent and proceed to serve us dosas with sugar. Either you loved this innovative touch or hated it. And we hated it. So Appa would go to the little ‘Darshini’, the eatery around the corner, and have ‘Bisi Bele Bath’ and ‘Curd Rice’, both staple rice dishes, to keep ‘Atma Rama‘, his soul, satisfied, and I would look for pickles and chutney powder to help the dosas go down easily. We did not dare to make anything else, for it would be sacrilege to mess with Amma’s menu. Amma cackled as she recounted how Manjunath, the boy who had the ‘wet’ grinder appreciated her dosa batter and stole at least half a liter of it.

Aiyyo Manjunatha…why couldn’t you have stolen more?

Appa mumbled, ‘Dosey Sammaaradhane’ – a ritualistic adoration of dosas, a ceremony that literally went on for twenty-four hours and even more… and that drove Amma over the edge. Appa saw the mad gleam in her eyes and backed away. ‘No, no…’ It was too late. Amma had had enough.

The coffee that Appa had proffered to Amma grew cold by her bedside. Amma refused to get up till eleven o’clock. After that she got up and walked unsteadily to the dining table that nobody ever used for dining. It was a space where books, old newspapers, mosquito ‘mats’, unused cassette tapes, unwashed laundry, fresh laundry, dirty dishes and clothes pegs vied for space. She sat on a chair behind the table and traced patterns in the dust that had collected in a fine film on the table. She sat there for an hour and then, at noon, condescended to brush her teeth and sat there waiting for her coffee. She swung her feet rather insolently as she perched herself on a chair evidently too high for her. She sipped at the coffee I gave her and refused breakfast. Dosa, what else?

The maid avoided Amma as she glared at her, piercing malevolent darts, into her back, as she swept the dust and spread it evenly across the room. Appa had gone out and would not return till late evening. Amma retired to her bed and declared somebody was ‘pushing’ her from behind and she felt giddy. We knew what would follow. ‘Bee Pee… Nannage BEE PEE jaasti aaythu…’ You see Amma had hypertension. High blood pressure. High BP. And Amma took complete advantage of her ‘condition’. The friendly neighbourhood doctor advised Amma to take rest and Amma concurred. She lay in bed for at least a week. The neighbours would drop in to check on her and her reception of guests would differ from person to person and from time to time. Appa would tiptoe his way through the house, from room to room, a shadow of himself. I would end up cooking bland, salt-free food till Amma emerged from her ‘invalid’ state.

Appa would apologize to the women who looked hurt that Amma had not received them. I would get them coffee, while Appa made excuses for her condition. ‘You see, Missus is going through Menopause,’ Appa would say blithely, and the ladies would hastily gulp their coffee, hiding their embarrassment. Well, in that case Amma had been menopausal for twenty years now. I would glare at Appa from the kitchen but he would go on, oblivious to the ladies’ discomfort.In fact he took great pride in announcing ‘160/120…and she does not take any medicine…’ I would swoop in and change the subject but Appa always found a way to bring the topic back to Amma and he would say, ‘Please don’t mistake her…her heart is good…she is a good woman…her health is weak though…she is fragile…’

Believe me there was nothing remotely weak and fragile about Amma.

But Appa would know, wouldn’t he?

And Amma would emerge from her self-induced vacation and go about her day as if nothing had happened.

Take a look at her photographs.

She didn’t have Bee Pee when the first one was taken.

And the other one speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

I hope this meeting with Amma is memorable. Because, with Amma, one never knows…

Fragile

Warp and Weft

Warp. Yes, I am the warp. Taut and unyielding.

There is nothing distorted or twisted about me. Truth be told, I have been distorted and deformed by an act of depravity. To suit a skewed mind.

I gave up on freedom to be stretched, to be tortured into this flow of perfect tension.

Never had it easy. Nothing came easy. Nothing came. Nothing.

I strained at either end.  I was pulled taut and tight. When I thought I would break, they stopped. My strength tested, assured and rested till the next assault came by.

I waited till I felt nothing.  Nothing. Till she came along.

The Weft.

Weak and fancy, floating with ease, picked between my every fibre, she insidiously crept into my hidden spaces, where I thought there were hardly any, weaving herself into my lines, waiting for me to ease a bit, before she snaked her way further.

I arched, contorted every fibre to resist, but she came with her own yarn, of how she would create this magic, how she would help support my arching fibres, how she would make it easy for me to let go.

Obvious wrinkes appeared in the fabric that was now taking form.

All because of her.

She could not hold on strong enough. She could not hold her own when the strain appeared. I pulled and she complained she had no space to move, to improvise.

She now claimed all the attention. Nobody really cared about how rigid and steadfast I had been. All that mattered now was how bright and how colourful she made the world. With her improbable rigamole of false dyes, she now grew more demanding with her narrative.

It all made sense to me. Every filament of my being understood. I was holding on to somebody else’s saga. Every strand of my being rebelled.

I let go.

I sprang up and coiled with all the tension and then I uncoiled slowly and descended. I floated all the way to my descent.

She rambled on about how lovely the world had been with the colour she added to it. Well, I could not get rid of her.

Silence, please.

She reminisced about the good times we had had and ranted that it was over so soon. Why doesn’t she realize it is all over?

Silence, please.

She never let go. For she had inextricably woven herself into my form and could not find her way out. Would not, rather. She still hoped, I would pull myself up and she could be this work of art again.

I shook her off, all I managed was to make a few strands loose. Perplexing tenacity.

I wanted to be left alone. She wanted things to be the same. She had her way.

It suited her, you know. She could never stand tall, taut and unforgiving. She needed a frame to weave her magic on.

On our descent we were caught by a couple of inquiring rods that projected curiously from the rock walls of a fort.

Had they been strategically placed to foil covert assaults and random attacks?

Anyway, we were caught and I finally slumped, bowed to my fate and waited to collapse.

It wasn’t meant to be. Soon, they came with a frame and more rods to create this structure that I didn’t understand. What purpose could it serve?

Stump me!

My fibres relaxed and her hold on me relaxed as well. She slipped reluctantly, her tirade went on tirelessly, she could never allow herself to deteriorate.

I, however, wanted to decline into oblivion. Degenerate that I was, I wanted her to plummet to her fate, but she held on. And I had to hold on, this dratted supporting frame…

And so here we are, frozen in time, the gaps forming between us and widening with time.

A mere lapse in time will allow life and death to take its own course.

In the meantime, well, come to think of it, it baffles me, how we still create magic, you know…

A dance of light and shadows.

Predominantly shadows that loom large and dance whimsically, offering respite from the unrelenting sun.

She cannot stop talking about that either. As if the shade existed only because of her. Yes, she brought the shade in, along with me, but in a distorted world, only she gets credit for it. Rather, she unabashedly claims credit, ignoring my role in the entire matter.

My role? Oh, now completely forgotten, even by you…

You see, the tension, I created the vertical fibres that pulled with force. I set myself up. She came my way and decided to undulate from loose skeins to become my horizontal… I had been minding my business till then…Well, you know the rest of the story…She is the weft you see, and I remain the warp.

And I am defeated.

Nonplussed.

Shhh…silence now, for here they come, to seek welcome shelter from the sun.

Welcome, strangers.

Ah, blessed silence. Despite her.

 

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An incredible photograph by Jasvinder. Thank you for generously sharing this beauty with me. XOXO

Stump

At your service

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Unobtrusive.

Yes, that’s me.

I hover about tables, take orders, serve people. My presence is very often taken for granted. Nobody notices me.

Then one evening, I was noticed. It was too much to take. You know, you kind of get used to being invisible. When you are noticed you realize how much you have become part of the décor. And that hurts.

The conversation was muted at most tables. The obnoxious man was on his phone, oblivious to the other diners. Fortunately, he was accompanied by an elegant woman, draped in a black silk saree, who quietly told him to put his phone away or take his call outside. I swooped in as soon as he left. ‘More Jasmine tea, Madame?’

Madame nodded and pulled the ends of her shawl around herself tightly, while she studied the menu. Madame looked as if she didn’t want to be here. Sometimes I get the feeling people would rather stay home and have leftovers for dinner than make the effort to dress for dinner. Nobody dressed for dinner anymore. Nobody dressed up anymore.  Don’t get me wrong. Madame was dressed up alright. In fact Madame was the best-dressed lady in the restaurant that evening. But she seemed to be distracted, lost in her thoughts elsewhere.

The toddler in the corner found great joy in throwing assorted cutlery to the floor. Firdaus winced as he bent over a hundred times to pick up the same spoon. The toddler chortled in glee. The doting parents said nothing and Firdaus managed to turn a wince into a grin every time the supervisor looked his way. Hey, great acting Firdaus!

The supervisor noticed Firdaus’ agony and sent young Tony his way.

Firdaus ambled my way and mumbled within earshot, ‘Parents these days spoil children. If that kid were mine…!’ His  thinly veiled threat trailed away and he was no longer audible because Mr. Phone sauntered back to his seat and called Madame ‘Darrrrrling’ in a louder voice than before. I could imagine Madame cringe. I did not look their way, especially when he said, ‘Darrrling, are you ready to order?’ I busied myself filling water in glasses at my tables, when the dulcet tones of Madame reached me, ‘Excuse me, we are ready to order now.’

‘Yes, Madame.’

‘I will have cream of mushroom soup and  hot and sour chicken soup for my husband.’

‘Any starters, Madame?’

‘Prawns tossed in garlic herb butter and steamed chicken wontons please.’

‘What? Garlic herb butter? What in…’

‘Bottled water? Or…?’

Mr. Phone blustered, ‘We will have regular water. We are Bangaloreans!’

I smiled politely. Evidently Mr. Phone thought that was a witty answer and chuckled to himself.

He demanded, ‘What did you order? Is that enough? What is herb butter?’

Madame looked my way and said, ‘That will be all, for now. Please give us a few minutes to decide on the mains.’

I walked away to the counter to give their order as I heard her voice trail away. ‘Herb butter is butter which is infused with herbs. The herbs and garlic highlight the sweetness of the prawns….’

When I returned with the soup and starters, Madame was sipping at her Jasmine tea and Mr. Phone was checking messages on his phone.

Madame touched her plate to check if it was warmed. I liked that. She was somebody who knew what was expected in a good restaurant. Plates had to be warm before food could be served.

Mr. Phone put his namesake away and bit into a succulent prawn that was drowning in butter. He made a face and insisted that all the prawns be heaped onto Madame’s plate. Madame raised a bejeweled hand and Mr. Phone looked up, livid.

‘Give Madame all the prawns. I don’t want any.’

‘Please doggie bag the prawns.’

‘Do you fellows even know how to prepare prawns? That’s why I told you not to order anything fancy.’

‘Darrrrling’ was forgotten as he spat the last sentence out at Madame. Madame ignored him and smiled at me.

‘Please could you doggie bag the prawns? They are delicious. Perfectly sautéed.’

Madame’s attempt at salvaging the prawns infuriated Mr. Phone as he raised his voice and a few diners looked their way.

The supervisor made his way to the table while I went to the kitchen to get the remainder of the dish packed.

When I returned the supervisor’s supercilious smile had been wiped off, quite effectively, I must say, and he was being dismissed perfunctorily by Mr. Phone.

‘Darrrrrling, you know I don’t like stuff like that. Now these wontons…’

He took the sauces- soy, chilli and hot garlic and doused his portion liberally.

Madame was using her fork and knife and placidly biting into buttery chunks of prawn.

She wiped the corners of her mouth with the napkin and said, ‘Not all sauces at the same time, oh dear!’

‘That’s how I like my food. Waiter, come here! Get us the menu again.’

I took their order. This time Mr. Phone took over.

I turned and caught the surly eye of my supervisor. He didn’t look pleased. He was not having a good evening. His charms had not worked on most diners in the room. Obviously! He had a terrible knack of walking over to people who were in the middle of a conversation and asking them if they were enjoying their meal.  He tried that with a couple of parents who were seriously giving a sermon to their disoriented teen who looked as if he were a ready candidate for Death’s next kiss. They gave the intruder such a glare that he shriveled up visibly. The teen surfaced momentarily and catching sight of the Grim Reaper again, collapsed like a deflated balloon.

Mr. Phone and Madame had not made him feel good either. Mr. Phone had been downright rude. Madame had not spoken at all. In fact she had not even looked up till it was time to ask for the check. My supervisor skulked in the shadows, wounded.

I presented the check. Mr. Phone exclaimed loudly at the bill, cursed service charges and, predictably, did not leave a tip. He walked out speaking loudly on his phone and I was clearing the plates away when Madame walked in, a few minutes after leaving, under the pretext of picking up her doggie bag and slipped a hundred rupee note into my palm.

I murmured a hasty thank you. It was time to welcome the next guests who had been waiting for twenty minutes for a table.

She was a vision in white and seated herself. Soon she was absorbed in the menu. The woman with her asked for Jasmine tea. I poured the fragrant brew into the cups when she looked up and asked, ‘Have you had your dinner yet?’

I looked at her, a surprised drop of tea splashed onto the tablecloth spreading into a huge blot. I looked in the direction of the supervisor who was flashing an ingratiating smile at a couple who obviously wanted to be left alone, having requested the discreet corner table.

‘Sorry…I… ’

‘Have you had your dinner yet?’ She asked again with a smile and I realized she was asking me, of all people.

You see I was so used to being unobtrusive, almost invisible even.

‘Yes, Ma’am,’ I said, though that was far from the truth.

I filled her cup and turned away before she could see the little drop that escaped my eye, trailing its way down my cheek. More importantly before it could plop itself, to drown deliriously, in her cup of tea.

That wouldn’t be acceptable now, would it?

 

Plop