Thursday, 18 September 2014

Prelude to a change

We lay calm in our beds that night. Even the baby, for once, slept soundly; even the dog, out in its kennel. And perhaps that was the odd thing, after all: how trustingly we slumbered.  As if fate had gifted us a few last wholly innocent hours, before innocence fell away forever. For when I woke, in the early morning – what was it? A difference in the quality of the light? Some new texture to the silence? But I opened my eyes, and I knew it. Something had changed. Something was wrong. 
Blinking up at the ceiling, eyes unseeing, I made my muscles relax. First the feet, then my calves, the large ropey ones around my thighs, the shorter ones of my waist, my heart – was that what was different? The now? A window had opened. The choice was mine though. All I had to do was step through. Everything was right. 
The baby’s wail cut through the alcohol fumes: low hanging clouds from the excesses of the night before. That’s how it was. She would be asleep one moment the next it was as if the entire world was beckoned. Sliding out from under the arm, which lay thick around my neck: a python of gigantic need, which had swallowed me whole many times; I wore my spectacles, then walked bare feet into the nursery.
Picking up Nina, I shushed her. Teething was painful: incisors cutting through gums. It made her want to chew on something, harder, unforgiving: anything to rival the ache of breaking down barriers. 
Does she know this is only the first of many obstacles she will face in life? That she will need those sharp teeth to bite through arms holding her down. Use them to inflict pain on another being, to save her own?

The swaying of my body as I carried her down the stairs calmed her. Then, reaching for my breast, she latched onto it, sucking with a determination that echoed the sensation running through my body. Is this what they meant by seeing the world through your child’s eyes? 
I looked out the backdoor into the darkness: I have stood here before, in a different life. I know when the dawn will reach out its silvery claws, extending it over the lone tree in the courtyard, caressing my skin and for a few fleeting minutes I will be warm. I have been cold, freezing, since my mother called me a few weeks ago.

For the first time in many decades, kith and kin were getting together at the temple of the family deity. Neglected except for short annual visits, when one of my cousins would attend to the needs of the idol housed there, it had surfaced in the collective consciousness of the larger household.
A series of illnesses, dreams from beyond the funeral pyre, delayed marriages, women having children late or not having children at all, had led to the astrological question being asked: what was wrong?
The answer:  appease the divinity at the core of the generational tree.
The last two priests appointed to perform the daily religious rites, met their end under mysterious circumstances; since then, the gods left to their own devices and had become unhappy at the lack of attention from the family who had sworn to take care of their footprints on this Earth. So in late December they came, from across the globe; assembling at this tiny village in the South of India.
Brothers buried teenaged disagreements.  Daughters of the family who had changed their clan-lineage by marriage had been specially invited to attend, for it was they… us… me? —Who had borne the brunt of celestial anger? The rituals continued over two days: ancestors were appeased, the foundation of a new temple lain, naysayers were silenced. Then, in divine acquiescence, it rained.
But, why did I not fit within this celestial pattern? By leaving the home country had I cut off the threads, which had warped me into the fabric of that family tree? Why was it that appeasing the ancestors had not yet cast its umbrella of benevolence over me? Something had shifted: I could see it shimmering in the air, just beyond me. But it wasn’t enough. For, even the stars did not deliver at warp speed. It took them a while to realign, leaving me no choice.  I had to bend time, take it in my own hands.
Hearing his heavy tread on the staircase I froze. The second step from the top, which coughed hoarsely; the fourth, which squeaked in a high-pitched voice; the one below, which was silent, and the one after which sighed. I willed myself to break out of the hypnotic effects of the symphony. There were only a few rungs to go. I was again a child, the one who was never seen or heard; and I knew I would not go back to that. I couldn't wait another lifetime.
When he entered the kitchen I was ready.
Mikey’s cold nose pressed against the back of my knee, trying to comfort, to encourage? Securing Nina over my right hip, I picked up the unsheathed urumi (Indian sword with a flexible blade), which lay in readiness next to the remnants of yesterday’s pizza.
No, sometimes you just had to do these things yourself. You couldn’t depend on the cosmic to set everything right.

Friday, 29 August 2014

The Ruby Iyer Diaries

There was a little girl
With a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead
When she was bad she was punished
Then, she had her revenge

This is what Ruby’s story is about. Almost. She is one messed up girl, who spends her teen years trying to unlearn everything her parents taught her. That is, when she forgets to be angry with the world.

What can't be overcome has to be tossed aside. That’s Ruby’s philosophy, until life does it to her: throws her over.  Then, she meets the boy of her dreams. He is not the kind she imagined she would ever be attracted to… Yet, he is just what she needs. She knows that. But will she accept it?

How many lives will Ruby need to live, to realise she can’t bend life to her will. It’s life, which will sketch her… To the blueprint it has in mind.

Its all a bit cryptic I know; bear with me, its the writer in me not wanting to give away more.

Ruby Iyer started off as a weekly series, right here on UKAsian. Thanks to you: the readers who wanted more, The Ruby Iyer Diaries, a glimpse into the origins of an angry young girl, who will come of age in a city on the verge of total annihilation is now on sale here.

The Ruby Iyer Diaries, is a prelude to The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer: about a girl desperate to rescue her best friend, a cop willing to do anything to save the city he serves, and a delusional Doctor bent on destroying them. Also, out soon.

Here’s to finding your own inner Ruby Iyer.

Friday, 22 August 2014

World’s best keeper of secrets : The Ruby Iyer Diaries – 6

Ma is away on one of her transatlantic journeys: this time in Europe to research her ancestry. Of late, she is more preoccupied than usual. I should be upset that I don’t feature more in the list of things important in her life. 
Truth is, I am relieved I don't have to bear the brunt of her sharp tongue any more. If words could kill, my Ma would be a champion murderer.
No, I don't mean to sound cruel, it’s just a fact of life…  Know what I mean?
Dad’s on an extended research trip, too. Of course, he is so absent minded, he’s not there even when he is in the room. Yet I miss him. 
He is a warm, comforting presence, full of big bear hugs. And besides, he really has a great sense of humour, which often has me in splits… Most of his jokes go over Ma’s head, which of course is half the fun. It should be cruel that we share a laugh at her expense. It’s only right that I get back at her in some form.
So, when they are away, I have full reign of the house. I am not alone though. Sarita, Ma’s trusted cook and housekeeper is there, along with Hari, her husband who is also our resident driver. This couple has dedicated their life to taking care of our family. When Mum is mad the only person who can calm her down is Sarita. Sarita also knows all of Mum’s tastes: in food, in clothes… In men. There I’ve said it aloud.
She is the soul mate Ma never had. But, I don’t grudge Sarita her facetime with Mum, for she’s always been there for me. 
So this trip—with Mum and Dad both away, and me being able to do whatever I want around the house— starts exactly like any other. I run through the living room screaming at the top of my voice. Then back, this time tracing my path across the sofas, leaping onto the chair. Springing back I use it as leverage to high jump over the antique central table. Ha! What a thrill.
All through this time there is no sign of Sarita. So, I go in search of her, bursting through the door at the back of the kitchen, into the little room that the couple share. It’s the smell, which hits me first: the reek of unwashed bodies, of food gone bad, of unwashed clothes: a dry, bitter, mouth-curling odour that makes me want to turn tail and run away.
I am rooted to the spot. For I have walked in on Hari raising a rolling pin to hit Sarita, who is on the floor.  Her one eye is swollen shut, and there is blood dribbling from a cut to her lip. She raises her hand to protect her face, and even as I watch Hari brings the stick down on her hand—Thwack!—The stick breaks in two. Sarita cries out, cradling her arm. Surely the bones of her forearm have broken too?
Then, I am leaping at Hari, flinging myself at his back, holding onto him, refusing to let go. I am small, just a little higher than four feet, and my ten-year-old spirit is a long way from being broken. It’s the first time I truly feel that funny little fizzy feeling at the base of my spine: a violet burn bubbling up as if the cauldron of a wicked witch. Hari’s a full-grown man, almost six feet tall. Thankfully he is quite skinny, like Indian men from less privileged backgrounds tend to be. I hold onto him: a monkey latching onto the trunk of a tree. Except in this case it’s a moving tree.

He bellows in anger, stamping his feet, trying to shake me off. I hold on, digging my nails into his shoulders, which only gets another bellow of frustration from him.  
Sarita crawls to the corner, like a cat slinking away to lick its wounds. Compressing her body, she wraps her arms around her legs. Trying to flatten herself against the wall, she makes her body as small as possible as if that will make her inconspicuous.
The movement draws the eye of the demon on whose shoulder I am perched. With a howl he leaps forward, the rolling pin raised in his hand like a weapon.
It’s the first time I wished I had a real sword in my hand too.
Instead I bend down and bury my teeth in his neck. I am Dracula, I taste his blood. Once I get past the gagging stench of his clothes. I shut my eyes against the horrible, sour, scent of his skin. And, something else. It’s a sharp, lingering spoor. Like when I sometimes walk in to the living room the morning after Ma has thrown a party, and the remains have not yet been cleaned? It’s the persistent smell of rancid alcohol. Ugh! Not even mouthwash is going to get rid of that acrid flavour on my tongue. His blood dribbles, over my chin and still I refuse to let go. With a shriek Hari drops to the floor. 
He rolls over, once, twice, like a bear trying to get rid of a leech. Crunch—I hit my head against the floor. I am stunned sufficiently enough to loosen my hold on this horrible man, who immediately breaks free. He crawls… The other way to the door. After putting enough distance between us, he finally gets to his feet. Now that he is safely out of my reach, he turns to me.  His eyes bore into me. Fear, resentment… Revenge.
I meet his gaze bravely. I am quivering inside but I will not let him see that. I’ve overheard Dad say how you have to always kick men in their balls. I jump to my feet and throw my leg at him. It’s not elegant— I’ve just started learning the basics of Jiu Jitsu—but it suffices.
He bends, over and howls. Just like a dog in pain. Taking advantage of his temporary helplessness, I push him out and shut the door. When I walk towards Sarita, she shrinks further into herself. I notice for the first time that her kurta is torn. Pulling off the towel from the hook on the back of the door I throw it to her and she wraps it around herself, shivering as if it is zero degrees temperature instead of the almost forty-degrees summer heat we are trapped here.
She raises eyes streaming with tears to me: “Don’t tell your Ma… Don’t tell anyone. Please, I beg, you. If you do I’ll lose my job.”
That’s me alright, the world’s best keeper of secrets.
 If you knew the number of little not-to-be-shared-with anyone nuggets I carry around in my head, you’d mistake me for a porcupine; each of these mysteries drilling their way out of me, trying to escape. Soon I am going to run out space for all of them. What then?

Pre-order The Ruby Iyer Diaries here : the prelude to The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer.  Meanwhile follow @RubyIyer on twitter or online Ruby Iyer

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Why life is like one big hangover

A loss equals
An empty space.
A gap in the shape of a lost child.
A parent looking down on you from another world.
A friend who isn't anymore.
The spouse too far away to reach.
A book whose last line has been written.
It sounds so final, as if it were the last nail in the coffin.
You no longer recognise yourself, the hollows under your eyes belong to someone else.
You notice the shape of your fingernails for the first time in days, the greying roots of your hair, the wrinkles, which are your new best friend.
And, there’s nothing inside.
You are spent, purged, done. Finished

You dont even realise you are in mourning, till you see your face in the mirror and see the downward dog of your lips.
There is a space in your timeline, which can no longer be filled.
You see life stare you in the face, and you wish for death.
That’s the truth isn’t it?
But you know you have to go on.
One word, one step at a time, you built that world and now it won't let you go.
Life is like one big hangover. You spend all your time, forcing yourself to do something, and when finally you breakthrough its time to retreat.
Or perhaps its just you who will not bend anymore.
Knowing full well, if you don't compromise you will be snapped.
And yet you reach a stage when you know, all you can be is… You.