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Posts Tagged ‘People’

People watching at corn stall in front of Pazhamudhir Cholai:

Mr.Stoned – Rendu corn.(Starts walking away looking like he just landed on Earth from an alien spaceship and for the love of his life, doesn’t understand where he is or what he is doing.)

Corn Guy – Saar, saar… Cup aa stick aa??

Mr.Stoned – uh?? haaa…. Apdi na?

Corn Guy – (picks up a cup in one hand and a whole corn kernel in other hand and posing exactly like these telemarketers selling dandruff creams on tv) Cup aaaaa, stick aaaaa??

Mr.Stoned – Uh… cup (and starts walking away again)

Corn Guy – Saar, yenna flavour?

Mr.Stoned – huh??

Corn Guy – Pepper and saltu, butter and saltu, masala.

Mr.Stoned – (mumbles like his voice is too precious for the world to hear it)Yennavo podunga.

Corn Guy – (slowly starting to sound like my mother when she’s about to yell at me for something) Eating aa packing aa?

Mr.Stoned – Eh?? haaa…. ummm… (looks towards the Fruit stall and starts walking as if he’s attracted towards it by the undiscovered magnetic field of oranges and apples) Yedho pannunga pannunga…

Now Corn Guy starts muttering under his breath and making the corn. Well, i did strain my ears to catch the pleasant things he was saying but unfortunately he wasn’t loud enough. He goes on to pack two cups of plain corn and then got back to his other customers. After a solid 10 mins, our guy comes out of the fruit stall empty handed, walks right next to the corn stall without as much as glancing at it, and continues walking out of the gate.

Corn Guy – Saaarrrr, saaaaaaaarrr……. Yoooooovvvvvvvv!!

Mr. Stoned has safely crossed the road.

Corn Guy – Saavu kraaki, vandhu serraanunga paaru, $#@$#, $$#!# <insert (in)appropriate family/mother/sister scolding here>

My genuine kostin : Ganja vaa illa patta saaraayama??

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Ms.Salwar kameez with gym shoes (hereafter referred to as Ms.SKWGS) – Annaaaa…annaaaa

Corn Guy doesn’t seem too pleased with this newly forming paasamalar relationship.

“One cup corn. Half steamed. No pepper. No salt. No butter. No chat masala. ”

Corn guy mutters under his breath ‘Corn aavadhu podalaama illa adhuvum venaama’ which Ms. SKWGS conveniently ignores. He hands her the cup starts to make the next one.

“Annaaa, this corn is too steamed. I want half steamed only.”

Corn guy gives her a blank look and bends down again.

“Can you just take some corn seperately and heat it just for 3 and a half minutes with0ut adding water and give me. Annaaaa?? This is just killing all the nutrients in the corn. It is not at all healthy…”

“Dha paaru maa..Venaaam na vechittu poikittee iru.”

Ms.SKWGS mutters “Kaasu kuduthiten la.. Yaen solla maata” and walks away.

My genuine kostin: Ivlo healthy ya saaptu yenna dhaan saadhikka poreenga??

——————————————————————————————————————

 

Very rotund aunty balancing two bags filled with grocery, one more with fruits and yelling into phone while giving instructions to the Corn Guy.

“Oru corn. Cup.” Goes back to yelling into the phone to Chinnu who apparently has chosen not to do the day’s homework.

“Yenna flavor madam? Pepper and saltu, butter and saltu…”

“Butter. Chinnuuuuu, Amma solradhu kekala night pizza vaangi thara maaten. ”

“Madam masala podalaama?”

“B-U-T-T-E-R. CHINUUUU… Kadhula vizhudha illaya daaaaa???”

“Ummmm madam, pepper….”

“BUTTER PODUNGA. YETHANA THADAVA SOLRADHU?? NERAYA PODUNGA. CHINNUU… PIZZA VA UPMA VA? OZHUNGA HOMEWORK PANNU!!”

Now corn guy seems really scared and puts three spoonfuls of butter into the small cup of corn and thrusts it humbly into the aunty’s hands.

She got into a waiting car and screamed at the driver to go to….. well,no points for guessing this one. Pizza Hut.

Ok, We get it. Butter. Cheese. Pizza. Anything fattening.

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P.S. No, you are not allowed to ask whether I was so vetti and jobless to eavesdrop on a sweet corn seller’s conversation for so long. It is known. It is understood. Move on.

Moral of the story – Selling corn is a tough job.

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The Judgement

They rained kicks on his groin and stamped his face with boots. He did not make a sound. He did not move.

“Oi Maari! Stay here. Inside the jeep.  No coming out, ok? Veera you stay here with him. You can go for tea after we come back. Yena??

He sat crouching inside the jeep. His arms were wound tight around his knees. The skin around his clenched fists was paler than the dark brown skin of his hands. His eyes were red as he watched the Inspector pull up his pants to rest on his paunch and walk away. He thought of Shanthi and Viji. Shanthi would have created a ruckus by now, sitting in the hut entrance, near the tin door and open sewer, surrounded by women folk. She would be wailing and heaping curses on him, his parents and forefathers.  Avan kai kaal velangaama poga. Andha padupaavi paya nallaave irukka maaten. Aiyooo yen pulla saava kedakudhe… No, he thought. All that would have been over by now. She would have pawned the one or two ever silver vessels that had mostly been on Marwadi shop shelves than the hut ever since being bought 5 years ago. You didn’t buy them for me, Shanthi always used to retort. Yengamma veetu seedhanam.

Yenna pa Maari. It was a matter of 1000 rupees. Now see what happened. 2 weeks in jail. Who will look after you wife and family. That too in temple. Even if the court pardons, God won’t. Saamy kuththam aagidum pa…

He stayed silent. Who will look after your wife and family? Shanthi and Viji. His wife and his sick daughter, who would be lying on the cold General Hospital floors now. Free treatment, they said. But you need to bribe the nurses for a bed. You need to bribe ward boys for the free medicines. You need to bribe everyone from the watchman to the woman at the pharmacy counter. He couldn’t bear to think of Viji. Some mysterious sickness seemed to sponge out his little daughter’s spirit until she could do nothing but lie in a corner of the stone floor and lift her hand with a weak smile when he entered the house. It was more than a week since she fell sick. No money, take her to GH, the doctors said. 100 rupees for a bed, the nurse at GH said. He remembered the last words Viji spoke to him as laid her down on the hospital floor, the cold seeping into her body through the torn blanket. “Appa, yeppo pa varuva.. Na sethuda maaten la” The last words she spoke to him before he left to get money for her, for his little daughter. He tried asking all his friends. There were only bare hands and empty eyes. After all, where would they get the money from ? They were in the same state as he was since the strike hit them two weeks ago.

His mind wandered back to Viji. He couldn’t stop the sobs this time.

“Ada Maari, Yenna pa… Be a man. Stop crying now. Hmmm… What’s the use crying now.? You should have thought of all this before breaking into that temple..” The jeep driver took a long puff from his cigarette and looked at him. “Do you work anywhere or full time thief only?”

He sobbed louder. He had told all this to the judge in his room only ten minutes back. He had begged for mercy and had almost fallen at the man’s feet. He had told the judge that he worked as a cleaner for a private lorry company. That he had been out of work for two weeks since the lorry strike began.  His meagre savings had only lasted for one week. He had no work, no money and then his Viji fell sick. He had nowhere to go. No one to ask. Then he went to God. His last resort. He didn’t want one paisa for himself. Only for his daughter’s life. If God won’t help him save his daughter’s life, who will? He broke that hundi. He took the money. And he got caught. He was not a professional thief to do clean work. Ironically it was a group of beggars who slept in the temple entrance who rounded him up and beat him up till the police came. He had to tell everything to the judge in person. He had somehow thought that the judge would understand. He looked like a good man. He couldn’t be so insensitive to a poor man’s misery. When I tell him the reason, when I tell him about my Viji, he will understand and help me, he thought. He had begged and pleaded with the policemen to let him meet the judge once.

District magistrate Nagarajan V looked impatiently at his watch first and then at the stooping man before him. Had been hit quite badly. The damn policemen never listen. They blame the public. Especially in these damn theft cases, the public almost kill the man before handing him out to the police. He had a meeting at 2.30. A very important meeting. Another five minutes. He was usually assigned the important and tricky cases but sometimes petty thefts and minor issues came up and he couldn’t help it. Like this man in front of him. Maarimuthu. Lorry Cleaner. Broke into a temple and stole from the hundi. 1000 Rupees found on person. 2000 fine or 2 weeks RI. Rigorous Imprisonment. The man had been talking nonstop for the past ten minutes. Could hardly make out what he was saying. These damn slum people and their Chennai baashai. Something about a sick daughter and God. He looked at the watch once more and cleared his throat. Such people have to be handled carefully. They could get violent sometimes. He had seen angry convicts break his colleagues’ noses and throw acid on their faces. He didn’t want to risk a broken nose when the important meeting took place. It could, after all, change his life.

“Idho paaru pa, un per yena? Ahhh Maari, Nothing is in my hands now. I may be a kind and compassionate person. I understand your difficulty. I want to help you. But I cannot overrule the law, can I? The law says that taking another person’s money is wrong. Whatever be the reason, you have stolen what was rightfully somebody else’s. If I let you go this time, Next time when you pick somebody else’s pocket or break into a house, you will think that you can justify it and walk away. And that too you have stolen from the temple. Judgement has been passed. You make sure you don’t resort to such means again. Don’t lose your integrity and honesty. Death is better than that”

He looked at the watch again and then at the constable standing next to Maari. “Take him away. I have a meeting”

He could do nothing now. He had no money to pay fine. None to bail him out. He didn’t know if his daughter was alive or dead. He didn’t know if he would ever see her again. He had nothing more to live for. He lifted his head for the first time and ran his eyes through the court compound. Black coats and khaki shirts filled the campus. A lot of people with a lot of problems. It was then that he saw the man in the ill fitting safari suit standing near the jeep. He was holding a shoulder bag that screamed Nike in bright fluorescent orange colour. The student bag looked like a mismatch in his pudgy hand. He seemed uncomfortable with it and kept shifting it from one hand to the other. His eye wandered around the building restlessly. He looked unsure about where to go. Maari kept looking at the man. There was something wrong about him but it was difficult to point out what it was. The man took out a mobile phone from his suit pocket twice but put it back inside without making a call. Now Maari couldn’t take his eyes off him. Veera, having finished his smoke, went back to sit in the driver’s seat mumbling about how long it took for the Inspector to have a coffee. That too with a convict in the jeep.  The man took the phone from his pocket again and hesitated for a second. Then he nervously punched the numbers.

“Hullo Saar? Aiyaa’s PA.. Saari for calling saar. Aiyaa is in the car. He asked me to hand over the bag to you. I didn’t know where your room is. Aiyaa will scold if I ask. 3C hot cash. Saari saar saari saar.. Ok saar I’m coming. Saari saar.. ” He put the phone hurriedly in his pocket, wiped the sweat from his shiny forehead and started walking. Maari saw him knock lightly and enter the same room he had left five minutes ago.

He had almost reached the magistrate’s door when the policemen saw him running and started behind him, pulling out pistols from their holsters and yelling loudly. When they entered the room, they saw him spitting on the magistrate’s face and slapping him repeatedly. They saw a man in an ill fitting safari suit cowering in a corner , his mouth and eyes open wide in shock. They saw a black shoulder bag with Nike written on it, a bundle of currency notes peeping out through a slightly open zip. They quickly looked away.

They rained kicks on his groin and stamped his face with boots. He did not make a sound. He did not move.

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Cobweb Clearing!

Ok I’m not dead. Dusting off the cobwebs once again like I’ve done many a times before. I wanted to be back with a bang, with some meaningful writing, a story perhaps, but no meaningful writing seems to be coming to me any time in the near future. So I’m back to the kind of writing that requires no meaning or thinking whatsoever. Rambling.

In the past few weeks,

Was admitted into a hospital after a long time. Actually, a very long time. So long that now I don’t even remember being admitted in a hospital before. Not even a vague memory. Amma tells me often that as a child I was admitted into a hospital once at a very critical stage and after 3 days there, I pointed to my tummy and made hand signs asking for food. She says she feels like crying every time she even thinks about that incident. But I have absolutely no memories of this supposedly ‘emotional’ moment and getting to stay in a hospital now was a very exciting and new experience. I actually liked being there for a lot of reasons. For starters, everyone was doting on me like never before. All that extreme paasam made me feel like the thangachi in thangachi paasam movies. People only didn’t stand around me in a circle and sing ‘Azhagaana chinna devadhai’ while patting my head and pinching my cheeks affectionately. Everything else was done. Relatives came visiting every evening in hordes and we had to get chairs from the reception to accommodate everyone. P who usually doesn’t lift a finger at home stayed with me during the nights and was running around with water basins and medicine prescriptions. Dad had become my competitor for the hospital bed by the end of the second day and had to take medicines as well. In fact I wasn’t even dying or had some six-months-to-die kind of sickness. Just the good ol’ routine typhoid which has already struck me some four times and something the entire family is very nonchalant about.  Now I may talk cheeky but I didn’t hate it one bit when it was all happening. I was basking as much as possible under all the hospital light glory. Go away typhoid and stay away, any other sickness! It isn’t time for me to play harps in heaven already. Too many people love me here.

Watched two movies, one of which should go into history as among the best made in the country and the other should never have been made. 40 crores, Mexico, superhero, kokarako dance, pichumani, shriya… there was no end in sight to the miseries that Kanthasamy unleashed on me. I walked into the cinema hall, a full 40 minutes after the movie started wondering if it was really worthwhile going to watch a movie after missing out so much of it. I usually get the kick of having watched a film only if I watch it from the opening credits to the vanakkam at the end. But after the Kanthasamy ordeal I thanked God Almighty and Chennai traffic for having made me miss out on most of the first half. At the end of it, I was left gaping at the screen with a lot of how-could-they questions and a WTH feeling. How I wish they had made a true Superhero film minus all that fake masala! Sigh! And then there was the other one.  Kaminey. What a fantabulous movie! A true blue gangster caper that is raw, edgy, intelligent, dramatic and funny all at once. Jaw dropping screenplay, on-the-streets cinematography, mind blowing music, brilliant is the word. Ok, I’ve run out of adjectives. Vishal Bhardwaj is a rarity in the world of Indian cinema that has come to become melodrama, mindless action and songs in foreign locations. A truly well made movie pulls you into its web. It makes you relate to its characters, laugh with them, cry with them and run with them. That’s what Kaminey made me do. I’m not against the slow paced arty kind of films but give me a completely commercial but rocking Kaminey over them any day. I hate feel good happy endings but this one time I was left praying that neither Guddu nor Charlie (for all his ultra grey shades) should die. And Kanthasamy, well it made me long for the superhero to die or atleast get caught as soon as possible. Mudiyala da samy!

Caught up with a lot of pending reading. The other day I was at Odyssey when I came across a book titled ‘The 50 most influential books in the world’ It seemed to span all genres from fiction to nonfiction to history to science. Bible was on it and so was The theory of Relativity by Einstein. What caught my eye was The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger. Having seen this book on almost all ‘best books list’, I decided to find out just what was so influential about it, only to realise after reading that I was now too old to be influenced by it. The book is a slice out of a teenager’s life, how he gets chucked out of a fancy prep school, what he does enroute to going home after being dismissed, his face offs with people whose kinds he isn’t accustomed to coming across in life so far, his love for his sister, and the inherent child inside every human being irrespective of age. Teenage is that period in life when you are so vulnerable but put up a brave front to hide and mask all the bewilderment. From that point of view, this book is a teenager’s bible and it’s written in an abstract disjointed way, much like Holden Caulfield, our teenager in question is actually sitting across the table from you and having a conversation. But at the end of it, I was left wondering, ‘Now how does this INFLUENCE people in any way’. Then the ever nagging inner voice said, ‘Girl, it doesn’t influence people your age. You are way too old for this. Should have read it 6 years back. Too bad you were busy being influenced by Ayn Rand back then’ So there, Catcher in the Rye was another reminder that I was getting too old – for even some serious teenage literature.

Now I’ve reached this stage where to even ramble any more I have to start thinking, which I’m not really inclined to do (unless forced, as always). So I’ll stop here and get back when I really have something to say. Might take real long, who knows!

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H.O.M.E

(Planning to migrate a few posts here, from my older blog(which i had to close down due to ‘edhir katchigalin thittamitta sadhi :P’). These are the ones I think are worth migrating, atleast so that I can read them whenever I want to without logging in, giving passwords, etc. This post was written exactly a year back. Happy anniversary HOME!! :))

A paint peeling, concrete arch proclaiming the name of the street. A narrow tar road dug up in a few dozen places. The tiny grocery shop at the corner. A primary school. Pullaiyar Kovil. Methodist Church. A few hundred houses. And another few hundred hearts. This is the constitution of the place that I’ve been calling ‘home’ for the past 10 years. Whenever I think home, it’s never a single building. It’s always a parcel of the street, friends, neighbours, roadside cricket, the huge neem tree next door and occasional squabbles. The picture is incomplete without all these.

When my parents decided to buy a plot and build a house where it is sitting pretty right now, they almost drowned in the discouragement that followed. The place is good for nothing. It is nothing but a breeding ground of pigs and stray dogs. It is thief infested. There are only two other houses in the entire locality. It is a low lying area and will not survive the first monsoon of the season. And the worst part was that each of this was true. Even my mom was half sceptical of the idea. She always wanted her dream house in a posh locality. Anna Nagar was top on her list, not some nameless hole in the by lanes, a region between the heart of the city and its suburbs. But dad was adamant. So in six months, the parents and 12 year old me shifted to our first own house, all eager and joyful. It was a modest one bedroom house. A very modest beginning. The house was ridiculously small when compared to the one ground of empty space that lay sprawling in front of it. But in less than a month again, the empty space had transformed into a lovely garden. Marigolds and Chrysanthemums framed either side of the pathway leading from the gate to the main door. Coconut trees were planted dotting the compound wall. The rest of the space was a mini farm growing ladies finger, brinjal, tomatoes, green peas, pumpkins, snake gourds and herbs. The garden became the pride of the neighbourhood (which consisted of five houses now), and they contributed seeds and saplings zealously. It was like living in a separate planet away from the pollution and noise of the city. The early morning Bharatnatyam practice surrounded by the scent of blooming jasmine flowers and roses, badminton sessions in our very own farm-cum-playground, hide and seek with the chameleons and frogs, all stamped in memory, fresh now as ever.

Slowly I graduated to high school and the street graduated to a few more houses and tar roads. Globalisation reached as far as our private planet and dad thought we needed a bigger home. The flowers vanished, vegetable patches were pulled out and we got a majestic gleaming new home in return. Now new houses mushroomed, one here and another there at a rapid rate and we suddenly had neighbours smiling at us through window sills and bringing home sweets for Diwali. There was Sundari aunty in the opposite flat who waited with piping hot coffee every evening when I came back from school. Now I didn’t have to stand waiting on the road till mom came home if I forgot to take the house key. I could take my pick from Teacher aunty’s rolls and buns or Shobha Akka’s idli vadas and keep munching to my heart’s content till mom was back. Street cricket with Sathish was a daily affair till his dad got transferred toBangalore. Even after moving to college and hostel subsequently, Friday evenings back home were never complete without snacks at Vaishu’s place. If animosity existed, it was fought out at Margazhi kolam competitions and diwali crackers. Pullaiyar and Jesus sat smug and contended, a stone’s throw away from each other. Even during the first few weeks in hostel, when I was home sick, I missed my neighbours as much as I missed my parents. Only then did I realise how the entire neighbourhood had become an integral part of what I called my ‘home’.

Things seem to have become a wee bit different these days though. All the kids have grown up. Some are doctors, some engineers and IT professionals, some settled abroad. The youngsters are too busy to notice neighbours and the grown ups are too old to socialise like before. Their occasional window sill conversations have shifted from sweet making and sarees to diabetes and arthritis. The warmth and love exists but it is more restrained and even a bit wary sometimes. The owners of a couple of high rising apartments that the street can boast of now, hardly ever open their doors or windows and sneak in and out of their own houses like burglars. I realise now that it has been more than six months since I dropped into any of my neighbour’s home for some hot coffee and hotter gossip. I make a mental note to do it this weekend. It takes a wedding, a birthday or an occasional power cut to bring everybody together and relive the old gold days again. People seem to be afraid that if they stop to talk to each other or care, life may whiz past by. I wish we could rewind back to the time when all that life meant was to stop, talk and care.

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Shirley…

(A very long personal post ahead. Not for light reading.)

Shirley weds Antony.

I saw the simple, elegant wedding card lying on the sitting room table, half of it peeping out of the white cover. My mind drew a blank for a fraction of a second before registering that Shirley was actually getting married and I got to knew about it only accidentally. From a card lying on a table. Dad was watching some news broadcast on TV as if his life depended on what happened in the Parliament meeting for the day.

“Shirley’s getting married?”

“Ummm… hmmmm” He grunted, eyes fixed on the TV still. Clearly, my question didn’t even sink in.

“DAD!!!”

“Ok, What???”

“Shirley’s getting married?? Nobody even told me!! She didn’t even call me to tell…” My tone grew more accusatory by the minute.

Dad cut me off rudely.

“When was the last time you called her? Did you invite her personally for your wedding? You only get back what you give” His eyes were cold and he went back to his television news not even giving me a further glance.

I opened my mouth to protest only to close it again not knowing what to protest about. What dad had said was true. When was the last time I called Shirley? So long ago that I don’t even remember when. I couldn’t let myself argue saying she never made the effort to keep in touch as well. I knew she wouldn’t. Not after all that she had been through.

I met Shirley for the first time while we both were in tenth grade. Our mothers were old friends, who had got in touch after a decade or so when Shirley’s family shifted to the same neighbourhood as ours. As the two women caught up with the details of the years gone by, they left their two shy daughters to get acquainted with each other. Both Shirley and I were painfully shy kids back then and I remember how we used to sit in the same room for 45 minutes a day without saying a word to each other, merely looking at the walls and ceilings, not wanting to catch each other’s eye. It took a while for me to open up to the lanky bunny toothed soft spoken girl with whom I spent a lot of time more out of compulsion than by choice. We were put in the same school, travelled in the same school van and were in adjacent classes studying the same subjects. So talk we finally did. We had to. A few words at first. A hi in the morning while getting into the van, a smile when we came across each other in between classes. Later sitting next to each other we would talk for a couple of minutes about zoology lectures and maths problems. Then we would start ‘catching places’ next to each other in the school van so that we could talk all the way home. And then we started dialling each other’s number first thing after getting home. As with all girls, once we hit off, there was no stopping us.

Shirley was shy. She was funny. She was an introvert. She had loads of wit. She spoke softly. Each word was laced with slapstick and sarcasm. She was frail. She was a tough nut to crack. Oh, duh! She was a bundle of contradictions. One minute she’s almost be in tears that it’s been years since she saw her dad in person (he left to work abroad when she was really young and visited very rarely) and the next moment she’ll be smiling through her tears and singing a song, flitting across the room. We loved each other’s company. But what Shirley loved most in the world was her mother. Since the father was away, Shirley’s mom doted on her boundlessly. Her entire being revolved around making life comfortable and hassle free for her daughter. I’d even noticed that most of her conversations with my mother started with the words “my Shirley…”  Shirley had the perfect confidante, friend and guide in her mother. I even remember envying the kind of pampering her mom showered on Shirley. She was a blessed child.

We grew up together for 2 years. When we were in high school, every weekend we used to go for entrance exam coaching to join medical college. We did everything other than getting coached there. We bunked classes and roamed the streets, cola in hand. We licked ice cream cones and chased kids on bicycles. We shared and confided in each other our dreams, hopes and ambitions. And the deepest secrets and darkest fears too. I knew what Shirley feared the most was losing people she loved. She yearned to be with her father and fought to him over the phone almost every day to come back home so that they could live together as a family again. Her father always promised he would but never kept his word. And Shirley was determined not to let go.One day, she seemed hyper excited and started whispering excitedly as soon as she got into the van. “I did it!!! Dad’s coming back!!!! It’s final. Only the paper work remains!! In a week!!” The words came out in gasps coated with joy and excitement. I was happy that the only piece of jigsaw missing from her life was finally falling into place. I prayed along with her for next week to come sooner.

Next week came. It was the morning her father was arriving. I was busy rushing for school when the call came.

“Hello?”

“Shirley here”

“Hey!!!! Dad came??? What did he…”

“My mother passed away. Heart attack.”

I was left standing with my mind numb and the click of the phone echoing in my ears.

The house was crowded. I had never seen her father before but I knew him from the way he was weeping inconsolably, sitting at his dead wife’s feet. Relatives were scattered all around the place like chaff. I scanned the room for Shirley. She was not near her mother. She was not sitting in any corner weeping. I asked a stranger and he pointed me to the kitchen. I went in. She was sitting on the floor by the door, hands around her folded knees, staring at the kitchen sink. I sat next to her.

She spoke softly as usual. “Remember she used to stand there making coffee.”

“Shirley…”

“She was so particular about the sugar. It had to be just right. She used to pour some coffee separately and taste it before serving guests” She turned to me. “Remember??” I couldn’t stop myself anymore. I broke down and started sobbing loudly. She continued staring at the sink. A relative came rushing near us. “She’s been sitting like this from the morning ma. Not a single drop of tear from her eyes. We’re all scared. Tell her to cry and let it out ma… Ask her to give vent. Tell her please…”I couldn’t say a word. All I could do was sit next to her and sob until her mother was taken away to be cremated. She didn’t come out to see her mother being carried out for the last time. She didn’t budge.

That was the last time I went inside Shirley’s house. Her days after her mother’s death became hell. It was more hell because she wouldn’t let the hurt penetrate and show through her. She came back to school in 3 days as if nothing happened. She spoke of the changes that the death caused as if they had nothing to do with her.

“I plaited my hair myself for the first time today”

“Do you know where I can get a good mop? The old one is worn out”

“I made sambhar today. It was burnt up.”

She only made matter-of-fact statements but I knew how hard it was for her to lose her mother at an age she needed her most. The girl who didn’t even know to turn on the stove or hold a broom was cooking for the family, doing the washing, cleaning and trying to cope up with the loss of the most precious thing to her, all at once. I sometimes felt like shaking her up and screaming at her to let it out. To cry and get it over with. To scream and yell that life was unfair. But I knew she wouldn’t. And I knew I couldn’t do anything to make things easy. We joined different colleges and kept in touch occasionally. She got used to the life she was thrown into or so I presumed. She never invited me home or came if I did. She was topping her department in college and called up every semester to compare scores. I always scored lower and started dreading her calls. Sometimes I wouldn’t even pick her calls especially if they came close after semester results. I was home from hostel for a particular weekend when dad asked me over coffee one evening, if I’ve been in touch with Shirley. Not recently, I said. Six months since we spoke or longer. Why?

“Her father has stomach cancer. Incurable stage. The poor child is running from hospital to hospital but no hope. He only has a few months to live. Give her a call”

I didn’t give her that call. And I regret it till date. When I look back and think about what held me back from reaching out to her during those dark days, I have no answer. I could have been there with her, holding hands and speaking comforting words. But I didn’t. I knew it was because deep down I didn’t have the mental strength to comfort her. I couldn’t hold back tears like she did. I couldn’t pretend to be strong and brave seeing her worst fears coming true. I might have rushed to her side if I knew that she’ll come running into my arms crying out for help as soon as she sees me. If I knew she would sob her heart out pouring out all the mental agony and get soothed by my gentle pats and tears. I knew she wouldn’t. She’ll probably show me hospital reports and discuss the prospects. I was simply not strong enough for that. I did not make that call. I was afraid of her grief. And I did not go to visit when her father passed away a couple of months later. I thought I don’t have what it took to be with her in her toughest times. What would I say? What could I possibly do to ease her pain? Even trying to comfort would seem meaningless, I reasoned. I didn’t realise that I didn’t have to do anything. I didn’t have to talk. Didn’t have to hug or hold hands. I only had to be there. And I wasn’t.

I always used round about means to enquire how she was doing. Mutual friends, distant relatives, her classmates in college, her neighbours who I met in supermarkets… Once when I asked a mutual friend about Shirley, she shot back, “Why don’t you ask her yourself? She always tells me you used to be her best friend but stopped being in touch all of a sudden.” But I didn’t call her once. We used to bump into each other sometimes in Church. I had a thousand things to talk about. A ton of unanswered questions. But all I could manage was the usual how are you and how’s work. She smiled, answered and left hurriedly. I knew she thought I betrayed her. It wasn’t her fault. I was the only one who could have bridged the gap and I never did.

The wedding card still lay on the table. I would go for the wedding even if I was not invited. I didn’t want to go up the stage and tell her how happy I was or ask her to forgive me for not being there when things were tough. But I would still be there, sitting in a corner, seeing her smile. But before everything else, before it’s too late, I would first make that one little phone call.

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