ETWA | Ch6b: Universe, A Bollywood Movie

Photo by Amaury Gutierrez on Unsplash

Every Thing We Are is a coming of age novel where Samyukta aka Sam learns that every thing we are is not always on display. This is my first attempt at writing a novel. I started this project as part of #NaNoWriMo2020 before I fell off the wagon. Hope you will read along as I get back to writing it. All episodes of this series are available on the ETWA page. Subscribe to my writing here.

“Good morning Mani anna! Let me get you some coffee”, Sreeja said, unable to contain her appreciation for the Universe. Help had arrived.

Mani was not a diffident man. Diving right in, he proclaimed to her husband with enthusiasm, “Vineeth, I am telling you. There is no need to worry”. He did not bother explaining how he had heard the news or what he was referring to. Sreeja could not have asked for a better morning.

“We can cure her. Have faith. Give me a couple of days. Once this upcoming eclipse is over, I will find an auspicious time to speak to my guruji”, he said, turning his eyes up to the ceiling in reverence, at the mere mention of his guruji’s name.

“But how can the guruji help?” Vineeth was not sure.  

When Sreeja handed him his coffee, Mani was saying, “…the operative word here is to believe that guruji can help. What he offers is a way of life. It’s not a pill that we swallow that sets our life right. In his philosophy, a solution exists for all of our problems. All we need to do is to find it. And when we are unable to find it, he nudges us towards it.” Mani took a long pause to savour his coffee.  

A godman who could fix Ammu would be just the medicine the doctor ordered.

“A genius like guruji could have owned the world if he so wished. But here he is among us, helping us live our measly lives by solving our mortal problems. That for me is the greatest proof that he is not a fraud. I think of myself as a rational man. I am not going to fall for a swami type who makes the blind see or the mute speak. I have read most of his works. And I think the way of life he suggests could be one of the ways to live a successful life.” Try as he may to make his coffee last, Mani was unsuccessful. Finally, he returned the empty cup to Sreeja.  

“Anyway, I will get back to you as soon as I get in touch with him. Again, don’t worry!” he laughed a hearty Santa Claus laugh as he headed out of the house. 

Vineeth shook his head in agreement. A godman who could fix Ammu would be just the medicine the doctor ordered. With lifted spirits he headed to his room to get ready for his workday. 

Unfortunately, the hope that Mani had instilled in him did not last very long. Barely a day or two had passed before Vineeth found himself deflated. He decided to speak to his mother about the prashnam looming large over his life.

He found her on the balcony, engrossed in a book, “Amma, I wanted to talk to you about Ammu. She has got into some bad company.” 

“What kind of bad company?” Indira was the queen of downplaying her intelligence. 

“It’s a small prashnam. Nothing that can’t be fixed”, he tried to evade her question. 

“But what is this prashnam?” She was a dog with a bone.

“Amma, what have I not done for her? I’ve pampered her too much I think”, he was pouring his heart out. But she was eyeing the finish line. “That’s what you are expected to do as a parent”, she prodded him.

“To pamper her?”

“No, to help her deal with the prashnam”, she said with a hint of a smile. She had flipped that conversation like a masterchef. And just like that it was Vineeth who was being questioned.

“So this prashnam, do you think it’s a prashnam or does she?” she began.

“She doesn’t know what she’s doing, Amma.” Vineeth was flying blind.

“If she doesn’t know, then how do you know?” Indira was being deliberately obtuse.

“You know what I mean, she doesn’t understand that, what she is doing, is wrong”, he clarified.

“But what is she doing?” relentless should have been her middle name.

“How do I tell you, Amma?”, said Vineeth looking for a way out of this conversation.

Sadly there was none. “If you can’t even tell me, how will you help her deal with it?” Indira was gutting him mercilessly.

“Hmmm, she likes girls, Amma”, he recoiled from the sound of his own voice as he said it out loud for the first time.

“Is that all? Actually, girls are easier to like. They are much more sorted than boys”, Indira laughed silently.

“That’s not what I mean Amma. She likes girls. She has been spending time with a girl. My accountant, Vaithi sir, saw her kissing a girl the other day.” Vineeth was now questioning his decision to talk to his mother.

“Oh!” Indira fell silent. “Hmm…kissing a boy would have been worse, no? Or is it easier to explain away kissing a girl? Who knows!” she said to no one in particular after a long pause. 

“Anyway, how are you going to deal with it?” she was doing her thing again. Her thing where she blows hot and blows cold before putting him on the spot. 

“I don’t know yet. But I was thinking we should do a pooja…a ganapathi homam perhaps…to save us from whatever this kashtakaalam is”, said Vineeth hoping his bad fortune could be banished with a ritual.

“Aaanh…”, she said producing a sound that could mean either agreement or disagreement based on the listener’s temperament. “It is pointless to waste money on indoor fires, coloured powders and overpriced snacks. But if you must do it for your peace of mind…”

“I am too old for these things anyway. I have one foot in the grave already. Do what you think is best. I think I will lie down now”, she said ending the conversation in one deft move.

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ETWA | Ch6a: Universe, A Bollywood Movie

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

Every Thing We Are is a coming of age novel where Samyukta aka Sam learns that every thing we are is not always on display. This is my first attempt at writing a novel. I started this project as part of #NaNoWriMo2020 before I fell off the wagon. Hope you will read along as I get back to writing it. All episodes of this series are available on the ETWA page. Subscribe to my writing here.

“What can you do, ma? You hug her tight and pray that she doesn’t have bad thoughts. I will also pray for you”, said Sudha upon hearing the news. She was Sreeja’s best friend and neighbour.

She found Sudha’s response to be incredibly calming. It was precisely the kind of response Sreeja was looking for when she rang her doorbell. A practical response though Sudha was not a realist by any measure. She believed deeply in the supernatural, was devout to a fault and inclined to mysticism. She believed and therefore she was. 

Sudha’s response might seem non-committal to the untrained eye but it was precisely the balm Sreeja was looking for. It was the kind of reaction that both her husband and her son were unable to give her. An assurance that Ammu’s prashnam was the result of a larger scheme of things, much larger than her 1400 sqft world. An iron-clad surety that whatever had come to pass was as per the divine plan that ran the world. An unwavering faith that in the end, everything would turn out well.

The unexpected incident, much like a gust of wind on a clear day, had landed her right in the middle of moral outrage territory. 

It had been nearly 24 hours since the prashnam had surfaced, turning her head into Shivaji Nagar during St Mary’s feast. The confrontation with Sam had given her a solid headache. The subsequent late night argument and fitful sleep had only made it worse. She had put on her brave face in the morning but it was her child at the epicentre of this fiasco. The unexpected incident, much like a gust of wind on a clear day, had landed her right in the middle of moral outrage territory. Panicked and surrounded by emotional outbursts, she was unable to orient herself and had lost her way back to love. 

The call with Siddu had stuck a knife in her and twisted it. Her conversation with him had gone as expected though he shouted at her a lot more than she had accounted for. At one point he said, “You are mad. You spoil her silly and then complain that she is going off track. You know nothing of the real world.” Sreeja felt a twinge of resentment as he twisted the knife further with more jibes. “Staying at home has made you rotten”, he had said. He was also her child. He had come out of her. She had not realised when he had taken on the role of her guardian.

By the time the conversation with Siddu had ended, Sreeja was at her wit’s end. Both father and son had blamed her for everything that went wrong. As if they had no role to play in Ammu’s upbringing. As if a solution would appear out of thin air if they argued enough about it. If only father and son would harness the enthusiasm with which they shouted at her, into finding a solution, they would be halfway there already. Maybe we should all just let Ammu live life the way she wants. And fend for herself. Sreeja smirked at that laughable thought. 

When she realised that she was sitting alone at the dining table, smirking to herself, she decided that she had to speak to somebody about this situation. That’s how she ended up knocking on Sudha’s door even though they had decided as a family that this news would not leave the house. But it was Sudha. It was just a matter of time before she got to know. If not from Sreeja, then from their maid or from the atmosphere itself. Both Sreeja’s husband and her son seemed to think that secrecy was the only way forward. Sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes to find you the peace you’ve misplaced in the house. And everyone knows that you need a calm mind before you can apply yourself.

Justifying her actions thus, Sreeja found herself knocking on the neighbour’s door in the post-lunch lull before the hustle and bustle of the afternoon coffee began, offering up the news. And Sudha in turn opened the door into her sanctum sanctorum, graciously gifting her that merciful short sentence. I will pray for you. 

Sreeja instantly felt better. Unburdening her concerns had made her forget her headache. She felt her vision clear in the knowledge that someone other than her knew the secret. By watching Sudha’s face mirror her feelings, she felt validated. For a fleeting moment, she felt that she was not alone in this. Someone else was listening. 

All along, Sreeja was hoping that Sudha would tell her husband, Mani, about it. Mani and Sreeja’s husband were colleagues, morning walk buddies and car poolers. One half of her hoped that her best friend would keep the information to herself. The other half wished that Sudha’s husband would bring it up with her husband. Of course she knew that if her friend told her husband, she would tell others. But it was a risk she was willing to take. 

Sreeja knew that her husband was drowning in the aftermath of the news. He was flailing in anger, making it difficult for help to reach him. And he would never hold on to her for support. Help had to come quickly, from another man he respected. Mani was the perfect candidate. But if word ever got around that she had made it happen, they wouldn’t call her resourceful. They would call her a manipulator. Sreeja had to be discreet about it. And if things went south despite her plan, she would play her designated role as the helpless housewife.    

The universe is a Bollywood movie. For the most part it is predictable. There’s action, drama, romance… something for everyone, wrapped up into a short time period, and perhaps a packet of popcorn and a loo break. And yet again, the universe did not disappoint. Departing from their daily routine, on the way back from the morning walk, Mani anna walked right into their living room.

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Next Chapter | Ch6b: Universe, A Bollywood Movie

ETWA | Ch5b: What’s Happening Here?

Photo by Sarah on Unsplash

Every Thing We Are is a coming of age novel where Samyukta aka Sam learns that every thing we are is not always on display. This is my first attempt at writing a novel. I started this project as part of #NaNoWriMo2020 before I fell off the wagon. Hope you will read along as I get back to writing it. All episodes of this series are available on the ETWA page. Subscribe to my writing here.

“You will sit down and finish your breakfast. I don’t want to hear another word”, Papa pointed at the lonesome idly idling on the plate. That’s when I realised that I was no longer sitting at the table. I had no memory of getting up but I was now standing on the opposite end of the table. I had no idea how I got there. I stared at Papa, unable to process.

I sat down as instructed. I focussed on my plate. When did I get up from the table? I remember drowning my idly in chutney, just the way I like to eat it. I remember Papa saying that no boy will marry me. What happened then?

Papa was not finished. Taking my devices away was not going to be enough. 

“You will not go anywhere without one of us with you. You will not talk to those useless friends of yours. You will prepare for your board exams. You will score above 90%. And I will make sure that you have a bright future” he said.

“And you will help out with chores around the house. No more dancing. No more watching TV. I’m done being your slave.” That was Mama. She had returned as soon as Achams got back to our room. 

It was as if at the end of their life, Chetta would give them a certificate of merit for outstanding performance as parents.

I knew from the face she was making that Mama was worried about the impending phone call. Chetta called Amma everyday at noon. It was their ritual. She would tell him of all the little things that happened here and he in turn would talk about his plans for the day. And today it meant that in a couple hours, she would have to tell him about me. I’ve always felt that my parents looked up to him for approval. It was as if at the end of their life, Chetta would give them a certificate of merit for outstanding performance as parents. They also refused to call it my ‘relationship’ with Madhu. They referred to it as a ‘prashnam’, meaning problem. 

“When Siddu calls…”, Mama sounded unsure. “I don’t know what to say to him. I can’t lie to him. Can I? He is so far away. To tell him about this prashnam. I don’t know how he will react.”

I focused intently on my idly, squishing it into a paste, moving it around the plate. The lump in my throat wasn’t letting me eat.

“I mean, when he hears about this, at first, he will definitely get angry and shout at me. Once he calms down, he will perhaps say, I’ll come back and deal with her. I’ll show her what happens to children who go astray. Alle?” she turned to Papa for approval.

“When I think of how Chinnu’s family will take it, ayye! The shame makes my skin crawl”, Papa was worried about my sister-in-law’s family’s reaction. “Imagine us going to a wedding in their family. How will we face them? She has stripped us of all dignity. Che!” Papa shook his head.

It was as if they had forgotten that I was there at the table with them. As if I were invisible. They couldn’t see me and I didn’t matter. 

“What do we do, Sreeja?” Papa sounded desperate. Mama looked up, confirming that we had both heard the desperation in his tone. “We should not have come to Bangalore. I thought the city would offer our children the best opportunities. But I was wrong. It’s ruined us!”

Mama was never without a response. “Shall we send her away? Maybe to live with Siddu in the UK. Better opportunities for her as well.”

“Are you mad? Papa lashed out. “If she does this here, god knows what she will do there. Also, between the home loan and the loan we took out for Siddu’s wedding, we won’t be able to afford it. Who else can we send her to? You can’t send her to my brother. How about your youngest brother? That could be a good option. Let’s think about it a little. I am sure we can find someone to take her.” 

They were trying to wash their hands off me. Palm their ‘prashnam’ off to someone else. I couldn’t hold it in anymore. My tears breached the eyelids and tumbled down to their death. Hopeless. 

I’ve been toying with the same idly the whole time. Not that they were noticing it. But if I didn’t finish it, they would definitely hold that against me. I don’t want to put myself in that position. Not right now. My food pipe was still closed to traffic. I continued to chew on my mouthful.

“You know who I was thinking of? Mr. Roy’s son”, Papa begins and both of them laugh out in magic unison. I look up at Mama and Papa. They seem to be genuinely happy.

“What was his name? Ashok? Or was it Alok? Pch, something like that. Amogh?”, Mama is sure this time. “No no, something with ‘S’, I am sure” says Papa.

“Wait, wait, wait…got it”, it’s on the tip of her tongue.

But Papa beats her to it. “Pratap!”

“Yes, of course! Pratap with an S!” They both laugh again.

“What a name for a pansy fellow! Hijra he wanted to become it seems. After attending IIT—IIM. His entire family’s hopes he wanted to crash. Mr. Roy knew what had to be done. Got him married asap. You remember how he used to open the door and say…”

Papa got off the chair and opened the imaginary door, pushed his imaginary hair behind his ears and said coyly, “Hello Mrs and Mr Nair. Good evening! Your earrings are stunning! And your tie…”

“I can’t!” Papa sat down laughing uncontrollably. Mama was too. 

“You should have auditioned for Chandupottu. You would have been brilliant”, Mama said referring to a Malayalam movie from the 2000s with an effeminate hero.

Papa gets into character again repeating a rape joke from the film. It’s a wordplay joke where the effeminate hero is accusing the rather manly heroine of ‘raping’ him everyday since they met. “Allengilum njan ivide vannappo muthalu Rosy enne ivide ittu peedippikkale?” 

What is happening here? I keep asking myself. They are beside themselves with laughter. They don’t notice when I put the final piece of idly in my mouth, gulp it down forcefully with water and leave the table in tears.

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ETWA | Ch 5a: What’s Happening Here?

Photo by Mpho Mojapelo on Unsplash

Every Thing We Are is a coming of age novel where Samyukta aka Sam learns that every thing we are is not always on display. This is my first attempt at writing a novel. I started this project as part of #NaNoWriMo2020 before I fell off the wagon. Hope you will read along as I get back to writing it. All episodes of this series are available on the ETWA page. Subscribe to my writing here.

I woke up knowing that life as I knew it had disappeared as I slept. So had all the relief I felt in letting my parents know that I liked girls. In its place was a jumble of sadness, anticipation, longing and fear. A heavy dread carried this ball of emotion from the pit of my stomach, dragging its feet all the way to my throat. 

I had to distract myself to survive this day. As I lay there refusing to get on with my morning, I closed my eyes and conjured up Madhu’s lively guffaw that always filled the room around her. I concentrated, rather intently, on her shoulder bone peeping through the collar of her school uniform as she laughed. I felt that new yet familiar sensation starting up between my legs. Just as that pleasant feeling spread like warmth under my blanket, I was pulled back into the present. 

It was Mama. She was rummaging through my things on the study table. What was happening? These days, nothing I hold dear is just lying around for anyone to find. It’s all in the virtual realm where she would never find it. But it was still bothersome that Mama was going through my things. I could feel her suspicion sneaking around my room, slimy to the touch, leaving indelible stains. 

“Woke up already? Your acting didn’t fool me!” Mama broke into my thoughts.

“What are you doing Mama?” I tried to keep my voice from breaking. “Why are you going through my things?”

“It’s a surprise inspection! I’m going to find everything you are hiding.” she said matter of factly.

“Mama, I’m not hiding anything. I told you everything last night!” I barely recognise my quivering voice. 

“If you have nothing to hide then give me the password to your laptop”, she hissed giving me the side eye.

“But why are you going through my things Mama? You can’t do this. You can’t go through my things”. I am not entirely sure if I said this aloud or if it was in my head.

She’s entering the password now. Did I give it to her? I don’t remember. She won’t find anything on my laptop. But that will only make her more suspicious. What is happening here?

It was as if the sense of safety, privacy, security…call it what you will… that I felt at home…that I felt around my parents…was being undone, one slow stitch at a time.

Next, she goes through the books on my shelf, flipping through each of them. She checks my bag and does the same to my school books. She looks calm. She’s in no hurry. As if she were browsing in a library. She’s paying me no attention. I stare at her in disbelief for a while. Achams is not to be seen. I look at the time. She must be having breakfast. That’s why Mama’s here now.

I head to the bathroom because I can’t stand this anymore. I leave the water running and cry my heart out. Why is Mama being so mean? Why doesn’t she care that she’s making me miserable? I take my time in there, waiting to calm down.

But when I come back out, she is still here, looking under my bed. When she hears me, she looks up. I try to look away because my eyes are swollen from all the crying. But I needn’t have. She doesn’t ask me if I’ve been crying. What is happening here?

Mama has always known when I am upset. When I got home after school, she would know how my day was just from an inflection of my voice. It seemed like she had stayed up last night building a stony wall of otherness between us. Now, she was like the Other Mother from Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. She looked like my mother but when she spoke, she was cold; sinister even. My mother would never do this to me.

“Hmm, a girl child…she is like a paper cup at parties”, Papa goes off on a tangent.

Achams was done with breakfast before I sat down. Once she left the table, Papa cleared his throat.

“We have always been proud of you. We have told all of your friends’ parents that we trust you enough to do the right thing. We’ve never kept tabs on you…” 

I sniggered to myself at their short term memory. It’s true that they tell other parents that they trust me. But it’s also true that I have had to leave my phone with them after dinner everyday since I started high school.

“Hmm, a girl child…she is like a paper cup at parties”, Papa goes off on a tangent. “It works perfectly well the first time. But if you refill it a couple of times or hold it at the top, the paper loses shape, begins to leak or worse, it will cave. Now, it’s bizarre to try to eat a slice of pizza from a cup, isn’t it? But if you insist on doing that, you will definitely ruin the cup. Instead, if you place the cup down at a table, hold it around the middle and drink from it at intervals like a normal person, it will last you the whole party. What I am trying to say is that, no boy will ever want to marry a damaged cup!”

“But Papa, I don’t want to marry a boy!”, I blurted out.

“You. Will. Keep. Your. Mouth. Shut!” he snarled at me, grabbing my ear and twisting it with each word. What was happening here? I was so shocked that it almost didn’t hurt. They have never laid a finger on me before. Ever. This was all new to me. Perhaps because I was so much younger than my brother or because my parents were older when they had me…I don’t know. But they have never, ever hit me before. But it’s happening everyday now. I feel like I have taken a wrong turn in my life and completely lost my way.

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Next Episode: Ch5b: What’s Happening Here?