ETWA|Ch5b: What’s Happening Here?

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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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