A Thanjavur bobblehead doll

800px-A_Tanjore_doll

Mrs Kumar was unsure of everything as she entered the market. The hustle and bustle of the market felt removed from her as if she had been left behind from it. She realized that each of the thousand times she had entered the market she had always had a to-do list or a list of ingredients to collect for a recipe. And here she was at this late hour of the evening, without a list of ingredients for her life or a recipe for how to cook it.

Mrs Kumar decided that she had wandered into the market because it was familiar. She hoped that the tired alleyways and the small shops of the market remembered enough of the items of her life that she may be able to pick up a decision about it in the next shop around the corner.

The smell of the fresh flowers wafting from the flower vendor reminded her of her husband. She had never really liked Jasmine, but he liked them so much that she had grown to like them too. The memory of a thousand intimate moments made her blush in the fading sunlight. She could always go back to him, her husband. The fight they had was just a fight, everyone fought. She could just go back to him and it would all be back to normal. She looked at her phone, it had been two days and he hadn’t called even once. Mrs Kumar covered her nose and moved on. 

The toy shop down the road reminded her of her son. She would save up money each month for his birthday so she could buy him his favourite toy. And it was always worth it to see his tiny face light up. She could always go to him, he was a dutiful son and would always take her in, but she could never fail to notice how her presence dimmed his eyes just a little nowadays. There was no toy she could buy to fix that.

The bangles on the bangles vendors cart twinkled like her daughter’s laughter. Could she go to her daughter? No, it was too early to even consider that.

And then she saw it, in the window of a fancy shop, a Thanjavur bobblehead doll. Mrs Kumar froze in place, as she watched the doll nod her head and sway her hips. She had had the exact same doll when she was a little girl. It had been her most prized possession. When her father would play songs on the radio, Mrs Kumar would run to the table where the doll stood and nudge her gently, and she would join the doll in her dance always in tune with the songs.  Read more

The recipe

todd-quackenbush-x5SRhkFajrA-unsplashRadha paced in front of the closed kitchen doors. She passed them and sniffed, she could make out the faint aroma of the dish wafting from the kitchen. Her mouth began to water and a smile played on her lips as she reminisced about the dish. She had set up the lunch table already. Everyone in the house was waiting eagerly for the meal. Radha was jumping up and down with anticipation. The kitchen doors were closed since the morning coffee. Any moment now her mother in law would open the kitchen doors and she would walk out holding her world-famous Bisi Bele Bhath. Radha swallowed as her mouth watered more. This year, somehow she would convince her mother in law to give her the recipe.

At long last, the doors opened, and her mother in law walked out, sweat gently dropping from her brow, her fingers stained with spices, a gentle smile playing on her radiant face. She looked like the goddess Annapurna herself come to serve her devotees. She was closely followed by Amba her faithful maid, who carried the large vessel filled with the aromatic Bisi Bele Bhath. Radha eagerly took in the aroma of the dish and almost joined get hands in prayer.

The table was laid and everyone was served. There was silence while everyone ate the dish. “Shanti, you have outdone yourself again. I am convinced when I die I will be sent to your kitchen, cause the door to heaven must be through there…” her father in law said licking his lips.

“Amma. Best. Dish. Ever.” her husband said licking every one of his fingers.

Her mother in law blushed and brushed their compliments aside. Radha was always surprised by her humility. Everyone knew she made the best Bisi Bele Bhath and yet she was always so humble about it. The rest of the meal was spent in silence as everyone licked their plates clean.

When they were cleaning away the dishes Radha finally mustered the courage to ask, “Amma, will you please teach me the recipe for the Bisi Bele Bhath?”

Her mother in law’s face changed, her smile dropped and her eyes hardened. She dropped the plate she had picked from the table, “No!” She said and walked back into the kitchen. Read more

The Cyclone

Mr. Rao saw the first dark clouds gather on the horizon and the waves rise as if to lick them. He pulled the plastic chair close to the balcony. His knees groaned as he made to sit in the chair and he plonked into it. “The cyclone ‘ekla’ will make landfall around midnight. Evacuation efforts are underway and most people along the east coast are being evacuated to shelters…” the news presenter told Mr.Rao from the television. Mr. Rao looked at the watch still ticking away on the wall, it told him the time was around six in the evening. He looked back at the black clouds rolling on the horizon, “take your time…” he told the cyclone.

Mr. Rao chuckled when he saw the first lightning streak through the clouds. The doorbell rang again. Neighbours perhaps or some official trying to ensure everyone had been vacated. Mr. Rao ignored it. “The cyclone is the strongest one to be recorded in more than half a century…” the news presenter was saying. Good Mr.Rao thought. The electricity was cut and the TV feel silent. “Now it’s just you and me…” Mr. Roa said to the storm.

It thundered in response.

Mr. Rao sat starting at the approaching clouds, he just wished he had something to chew on like a gumdrop, but they were all the way in the kitchen and he couldn’t bring himself to go there. But then his bladder groaned in protest. He sat there debating the urgency of it, until he had to push himself out of the chair and waddled to the restroom, his knees groaning in protest. The worst thing about old age, and there are so many, Mr. Roa thought is the number of times you have to use the restroom.

Read more

Joining the dots

ratham rangoli

Mrs.Mani stared at the last two rows of white dots on the ground. She set the bowl of white rangoli down and stood up holding both her knees. She winced as her back cracked like an old twig. It looked like the vermilion on her forehead was seeping into the violent shades of the morning sky. The sun was not yet seen on the horizon, and judging by the cold sunlight that had just reached the wide metal gates of the house, it was well before six in the morning.

Mrs.Mani wiped her forehead as she looked down at the rangoli she had been drawing for a while now. It looked like a chariot, well an artist’s rendering of a chariot. And the last two rows that formed the wheels of this chariot were the only ones left to be connected. It looked simple now, the chariot design with all its dots joined the right way, but Mrs Mani knew how joining even two dots the wrong way would spoil the whole design. She stared at the road that led to the gate, they must have landed at the airport by now. Her son and his new wife, a woman she had never met. They would be home in another hour. Mrs.Mani sighed and knelt down again. She picked up a pinch of the rangoli and could feel it instantly slip out of her grip. She hesitated, which dot should be connected to which one next. More of the rangoli slipped out of her fingers. She rushed her fingers and joined the last two rows. Read more

The blastoma of our beliefs

laura-olsen-414141-unsplash

It all started around the time of Ganesh Chaturthi, which had always been the family’s favorite festival. They had all put in extra efforts to make this year’s festivities happier, grander, louder as it would be Lakshmamma’s last festival. It seemed wrong to be celebrating a festival for that reason, but it seemed worse not be celebrating it either. Lakshmamma in the innocence of what ailed her assumed that her family was indeed very happy in life and were making a gesture of gratitude to the gods.  She was thrilled to see the large Ganesha statue that had been brought for the year’s festivities. She helped as well as she could with cleaning the house and preparing the several sweets and savories. Her excitement was contagious, her happiness palpable.

It started exactly during the Mangala harathi. The whole family was gathered around the elaborately dressed statue, chanting the arati and as it rose in a crescendo Lakshmamma’s eyes widened, there was a brilliant halo emanating from the statue as the words of the Arati transformed into the brilliance of the diety’s form.  The elephant god looked at her, his all-knowing eyes benevolent, his smile a personification of peace, his trunk waved at her and her family. Lakshmamma was speechless, she couldn’t believe her eyes, the gods had blessed her and her family. She swooned seeming to achieve nirvana on the spot. As she swooned a red balloon that was part of the decorations exploded and she distinctly heard the triumphant trumpet of an elephant in it.  “Madhava! Did you hear that? The gods have blessed us! We are all saved, blessed we have been blessed! Lakshmamma exclaimed as she swayed and collapsed in the waiting arms of her daughter-in-law. Read more

Hide and seek

frank-mckenna-720248-unsplash

“No, no, no…” Kavita screamed as she opened her eyes and planted her legs on the floor with force. He feet were glad to touch the threadbare living room carpet. She could feel her fingernails digging into the varnish of the sofa. She looked at the balcony, not that she wanted to. Her neck just seemed to turn on its own. The balcony was empty. An angry orange sun was setting below the railing of the balcony. She forced herself to look away. To look at her son.

Her five-year-old son was staring at her with wide eyes. His lips were puckered up, his chin ready to quiver. He was leaning against the coffee table to support himself.

Kavita’s hand trembled as it rose towards him, “I am just afraid for him…” she told herself. She pulled Ravi into an embrace. “Did I scare you? I am sorry…” she whispered as she kissed his forehead, “Don’t be afraid.” She was not sure to whom she said that.

“The police inspector is at the door…” Ravi said in a small voice. Read more

Ria auntie’s arrival

arrival.jpg

I yawned at the arrival terminal of the international airport, trying to open my mouth as wide as the gates. It was a Sunday morning and I was at the airport to receive Ria aunty. There should be a law about not allowing relatives to travel on Sundays. I made a mental note to start an online petition for a such a law. I half-heartedly held up the homemade sign that read “Ria aunty” in glaring pink letters, that my sister had made. You see, I hadn’t met Ria aunty. Of course, my mother said I had, at a wedding when I was five. But, I don’t remember it, the most I can recall is a silk saree clad wall of fat lumbering over to pull my cheeks until they turned red and tousle my hair. There might have been a bear hug that engulfed me in a cloud of cheap perfume and almost made me faint. I decided I had repressed the memory on purpose and didn’t dwell on it further.

The flight was announced and there was the usual flurry of people exiting the airport, but there was no sign of Ria aunty. As the last people from the plane left I felt my heart lighten. Maybe Ria aunty had suffered a heart attack, ok that was harsh, maybe she had just fractured her hip, whatever the reason was she was not here and that meant one less thing to take care of for the occasion. I turned around to leave when I heard the slow creaking of a wheelchair. Two of the airport staff emerged, one pushing a mound of luggage and the other pushing a figure in a wheelchair. I bit my tongue as I realised the figure in the wheelchair was Ria aunty. She was well dressed but looked pale almost like a wax statue. I felt sad for having thought so ill of her. I promised myself to strive to be a better person. I walked towards Ria aunty. Read more