Thursday, November 26, 2015

I see her

I see her smile
A kind of smile that masks all pain
The broken tooth with signs of yellowing
From age
Her eyes gleam
There is a brightness in them
She is genuinely happy
I see her shrug from the cold wind
As she stands by the snowman
Whiteness like she has never seen before
Pristine beauty like her soul
Her shawl folded in half around her neck
Grey jacket which has her smell
Her hands soft and warm
Her face smooth like ice
I see her
Yes, I see her
From my soul
She took my smile with her
She took my hope with her
She took the warmth from me
And she hides now
I see her on my table
Her reflection in my shadow
I am her flesh and blood
So I see her
It was someone else at the pyre
No it was not her
I know she will come
And I will see her smile, again.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


My memory of buying clothes goes back to the vendor opposite my house in Sampangiram Nagar. The guy who owned the shop was Shanthilal. It was a small shop, with a counter in the front. He sat behind the counter, chewing his pan or a red stained mouth, from a pan chewed earlier. Everyday morning like an alarm, he opened the shop at the same time. He had hired a lady to sweep the front of the shop and draw a small rangoli. This lady was old and lived on the money she earned by doing menial jobs for others. She did this for some adjoining shops as well. She came home occasionally and my mother always fed her.
So Shanthilal opened the shop and sat there waiting for customers. Watching the inflow of customers to his shop and the other shops was an instant timepass for me. I just stood outside the balcony and watched the people who walked into his shop. Evenings were rush hours. He ended up buying the building with two floors above and three adjoining shops, which was a sign that his business was flourishing. The first floor was his residence and he rented out the second floor. When he went for lunch in the afternoon, his wife or son, Mahaveer sat at the counter.
My mother and I went to his shop once in a while to pick up some socks for my father, handkerchief, towels, or innerwear. The commodities in his shop were expensive, according to my parents, so unless it was really essential, we didn't go in there. When we didn't have the money to pay, he opened his big red book of accounts. There was a page for my father, and if we didn't have money, he would add to the account. Usually we went with hundred rupees when our need was for two hundred.
Beyond his counter there was another room full of shirting and trouser material stacked against the walls. There was a hard mattress on the floor for customers to sit and select the fabric. It was a small room, maybe 8 ft by 8 ft. When he made enough money, he expanded his shop to the next room and started selling salwar kameez, sarees, dress material. Whenever we went in, he would ask my mother, 'Thangam, saree dikhaoo, Indu ke liye salwar kameez, lelo..' 'Thangam, shall I show you some sarees, salwar kameez for Indu'. He was a true businessman.
My mother's sarees were often bought by my father on some official trips he went to, Calcutta or Orissa. Occasionally they were from our family friends who owned a silk loom. But now, when I think of it, maybe she wanted to buy a few sarees from Shanthilal's shop. I don't know.
My father bought shirt material, maybe once in a decade from Shanthilal and always gave it to one tailor, all his life. He believed until recently, that those were the only group of tailors who could stitch his shirt and pant the way he liked them. He always had a maximum of three sets of shirts and pants.
My clothes and my brother's came from Chellaram's, once a year. I think it was for my 10th birthday, that Kids Kemp opened on MG Road. With all the advertisement for Kids Kemp, I forced my parents to go there for my birthday dress. I don't know how heavy it must have been on them, but I remember feeling like a princess, in the red frock with white net all around. 
Buying the birthday dress was a family ritual and something I looked forward to. Before my birthday or my brother's we took an auto to Chellaram's. After a lot of searching, I almost always settled on a yellow dress. First they came as frocks, then skirts and blouses, and finally when I was in pre-degree, jeans and blouse.
As I entered college, the salwar kameez came from the inner streets of Commercial Street. They were always too big for me, blame it on my miniature form. They never made clothes in petites those days, it was all free size, atleast the ones you got from the bylanes of Commercial Street. For t-shirts and pajamas to wear at home and hostel, we went to Burma Bazaar. Not inside the bazaar, but the vendors on the streets around Burma Bazaar.
As my income grew, I exercised more freedom in the clothes I bought and their price. About three years ago, I switched to Fab India, and that was a lot of freedom. The most fulfilling experience has been buying clothes for my parents. Its not the arrogance, but the fulfillment, that life has come to a full circle in a little way.
Today, I shop from JC Penney or Gap or one of those shops. I can go there anytime I want and buy what I need. But the happiness of that one birthday dress, simply cannot be recreated.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

From Madhavikutty to Kamala Suraiya

I am no biographer, my interest in the author Madhavikutty was a tiny spark when I was a child. My father mentioned that his favorite author was Madhavikutty. When I grew up and started reading I picked up a few books authored by her and couldn't stop myself from rereading. Memories of Malabar is my favorite. My grandmother's house, her poem is the best I have read.
There is some feminine pull I feel towards the lady behind the words. She was just another girl growing up in the safety of her grandmother's house. She had dreams of happiness and much more. What made me curious is why she became Kamala Suraiya. As I read through Memories of Malabar or other writings about her, I realize that she never planned to become Kamala Suraiya. The people in her life and the circumstances that she was subject to forced her to think the way she did and do the things she did.
It is unfortunate that girls who grow up as innocent beings have their feathers plucked out by a man she marries who should be her partner. The trust she places in him, with her whole life is shattered. There are some brave women who fly away before the branch breaks, because they trust their wings. But there are many others who sit there scared that the branch will break and forget they can fly. They were born to fly. They wait there in anticipation that they will be rescued.
We cannot blame them because the people and circumstances in their life has led them to disbelieve in their ability to fly. And these birds become Kamala Suraiya...

Monday, November 16, 2015

Of coffee.. Of chit chats.. Of smiles..

There is a place far away from where I live now, where the coffee machine works just like it used to, the cafeteria is full of people and voices, there are people standing behind those huge glass windows talking about their woes. Every morning there was an IM with the coffee mug and a question mark. It was endless chatter about work, people, kids, school and what not. After another two hours, there is another IM, this time a group one, with the word 'lunch?'. Tracking down people, organizing the schedule, buying the same old food, or devouring the other's lunch box, and endless laughter and fun. Then there is the evening tea with snacks in our own coffee shop by the lake with plans for the evening or venting out the frustration of the day. It was people, there was a life, where I was surrounded by people. Unlike today, where I sit in my office room. My mother smiling at me from her most beautiful picture. Stacks of paper waiting to be cleared out on my desk. The dim bulb of yellow light, which makes me feel like just shutting down. There is no coffee.. there is no IM.. I have lunch, mostly by myself, either huddled in my seat at office, or on the 4-seater dining table in the corner of my house.
I know its hard to believe, that there is a place far away from where I live now, where I was happy. It was where the people around me, cast a blanket over the qualms of my other life. I lived in the happiness that they created around me, leaving my troubles locked up somewhere. I didn't have to spill out my lows, just sharing my highs and listening to theirs was happiness. There was someone who listened, someone who spoke.
There is a place far away from where I live now, where people still IM for coffee.. meet for lunch, share scores of laughter and return home to meet again. While I, reminisce in yesterday, trudging through the memories, crawling through the happiness, longing for that place that is far away from where I live now..
And yet, a voice from some inner core of me tells me, everything happens for the good and I live in false-belief..