Saturday, 3 November 2012

Women on the verge of a nervous breakdown


I first wrote this post as an exercise in breaking the Fourth Wall--thanks Kriss Morton-- (the imaginary wall between the performers on stage and the audience) where the author ie. me actually joins  the characters in the scene. The results surprised me... read on.

THAT dress from November Rain
September 1991
She turns up the volume on her Walkman all the way to top, the highest it can go, whooping silently as the vibrations from the rock song kicks in. Smooth up in ya….The music from the song from the Bulletboys fills the space between her ears, spilling into every available nook of her cranium, shutting out the cacophony from the kitchen. She drops into the comfortable cocoon of calm sighing as the chatter of her mind stills for a few seconds. Finally finding that she is able to concentrate somewhat Ariana tries to focus once more on the algebra equation in front of her. If only my life could be resolved as easily! She sighs in despair, simultaneously angry at the helplessness that seems to have gripped her of late, holding her rigid in its grasp. The see-sawing emotions of being trapped in a reality that she has no control over annoys her, bringing the heated feelings within her to boil. She feels a wet lick of fury and putting out her tongue catches the first incensed tear drop that rolls down her left cheek. Swallowing down the bubbling rage she tries to rein in her wildly fluctuating mood, focussing once more on the thump-dhrump of the music which now beats in tandem with her heart. Placing her right hand over her soul she drums back in response, her shoulders moving to the right, while her tiny twenty-two” waist compliments the action by swaying to the left. Her long right leg is crossed over its twin, its toes pointed down as graceful as a ballet dancer flitting to touch down lightly on a rose petal, lifting up to pay homage to her face and then down again to bow to the flower below. The numbers arrange themselves into a pattern in front of her eyes.  Their design is akin to the auspicious kolam which her mother draws every morning on the threshold of their apartment in Andheri, situated on the Western side of Bombay, to welcome the Goddess of Prosperity into their home. Ariana toys with the pleasures of parallels for a while, her mind casting back to a lecture in college earlier when her favourite professor had explained the transcendental nature of numbers using… peanuts.  She chuckles in recollection only to start as her mother’s hands creep around her waist. Laying her face against her daughter’s stiff back, she weeps. Ariana sits up straight, almost motionless now, not daring to breathe, hating the fear emanating from the older woman, trying to block out the incoming tidal wave of depression that was bound to deluge her, the music still thundering in her ears now making a mockery of her earlier lightness of being. She looks at the man who’s right fist is raised as if to pound the unseen demons he is pursuing or perhaps being pursued by, something which has never been clear to her. Her nose wrinkles and she coughs on being assailed by the alcohol tinged breath that fumes towards her in a wave of agony. In a flip second of resolution, she yanks out the earphones from her ears and leaps towards the door, closing it shut in the face of the man who is on the verge of stepping into the room. Hearing his rather satisfying yowl of pain, she hopes she has managed to hurt him somewhere, somehow even if it is just as a teeny-tiny prick of pain which has registered below his liquor squelched surface. She turns to the woman wishing once more that were just strangers “You are safe now…Amma.” She watches helplessly as her mother’s face crumples and she bursts into tears. Pillowing the woman’s face on her shoulders, Ariana awkwardly rubs her back in what she hopes are soothing gestures. The familiar blend of cardamom mixed with kari leaves, turmeric, pepper, chilli, cumin & mustard —a spice alchemy, assembled afresh for each meal by her mother for assails her senses. It’s not an unpleasant yet Ariana knows that for as long as she lives that typical smell what she has nicknamed the housewifey aroma will be the bane of her existence.  I will never become my mother… never. “Don’t worry Amma. He cannot hurt us now.” At the sound of her voice her mother raises her tear stained face, eyes reddened by her emotional outburst, and sniffles “Don’t… talk like… that” she says haltingly “he is still your father….”
“But a drunkard nevertheless…” she replies then recoils more in shock but not in surprise as her mother slaps her. “Show some respect, he gave you life…”
“… and little else,” she mutters anger radiating from the pain of her right cheek.  “One day I will be strong enough to stand up to him and then… then don’t hold me responsible for what happens.” Ariana’s voice rises in fury and she can feel the white hot lick of rage coiling her in its whiplash.  She feels caught up in her own particular brand of nightmare, the scenes being replayed over and over again every day ad-nauseum. Suddenly her room, the apartment, the entire city feels too small. Without giving herself a chance to think Ariana moves to her desk and gathers up her Walkman. Spotting her purse (her father’s worn hand me down man’s leather wallet) she picks that up to, and moving to the door she listens. All seems quiet, perhaps the beast has moved away. Either way she is past caring right now, and opening the flimsy wooden door she walks the short distance through the hallway, past her parents’ bedroom, resisting the temptation to look inside to see what he was up to. Walking with firm steps to the front door, she bends down to pick up her sneakers and socks and stepping over the threshold and her mother’s patterned kolam she sits on the topmost step of the staircase to lace up her sneakers. Springing to her feet she takes the steps two at a time sprinting down the steps, through the small dusty paved strip which passes for the grounds of the apartment block, ducking around the various scooters & the one car parked within the gates of the complex, she makes it out. Then tasting freedom, she breaks into a run leaping over the patch of stagnant water outside of the gates and runs up the short sloping path towards the main road where she finally slows to a halt. Panting from her exertions she joins the crowd of people, cars, handcarts, vendors and auto-rickshaws one of which pulls to a stop right in front of her. And the driver’s enquiring look she wordless steps into the back and seats herself “Station” she says briskly. The auto driver nods then with a casual flick of his left arm turns the meter down indicating the vehicle was occupied. As she put-puts her way in the rickety old she once more feels the gloom of what she has left behind pulling at her and resolutely pushes it away, willing herself to savour the freedom of where she is for the moment at least. The remnants of her temper fade away and with it she stabs jerkily at her cheeks finally giving in to the need to soothe the smarting flesh. The tears trickle down her cheeks and she resolutely swallows, trying to gulp them away. Hopping off, at the railway station, she pays the auto-driver and walks to the platform, not quite sure where she is headed. Seeing the first fast train pull in—it’s headed for Churchgate—she jumps into the relatively empty compartment. Of course! Its Sunday no wonder the trains are empty. Happy at not having to fight the crowds at least for that day she settles in by the window and peeks through the bars at the passing scenery. There’s nothing new to see yet the swaying motion of the train is strangely soothing. Hooking on the earphones of the Walkman again she settles back against the seat tuning into the song again….When I look into your eyes
I can see a love restrained…
With a smile she closes her eyes playing back the scene from the music video of November Rain, of the tall beauty in the short skirted-long trained wedding dress walking towards Axl Rose…She drops off into a light sleep.

***

I board the train at Bandra station and walk into the ladies’ compartment, thanking my stars that the train was relatively empty for the weekend. I sink into the window seat opposite a young girl who seems to be asleep. Straightening my peach coloured silk saree, I swear at the trickle of sweat which runs down my back. Its twelve noon just when the sun is reaching its zenith in the Bombay sky, not quite the time to be wearing a heavy saree, yet as I am headed to attend a family wedding I have no choice. I sigh, and look at my watch grateful for the slight breath of air from the window as the train pulls out of the statin. Running late I had no choice but to take the train if I were to make it in time—it would add at least an hour or more to my travelling time if I was to take my air-conditioned chauffeur driven car —and my husband hates to be kept waiting. Making myself as comfortable as possible I pick up the strains of one of my favourite rock anthems 'Cause nothin' lasts foreverAnd we both know hearts can change… Looking up to find its source I realise it is coming from the earphones of the Walkman of the young girl sitting opposite me. She must have it turned up all the way for me to hear it over the rattling of the train. I smile wondering what it would be like to be young again. Or probably not…The sweat drying on my back cools me a little and I shiver. The girl’s eyes suddenly open as if sensing my gaze and I lean back a little, slightly embarrassed to be caught staring. She looks at me unblinking and I wonder what she sees. A middle aged, saree-clad, woman—still in good shape—I am confident of that, with slightly greying hair at her temples? I hope I look closer to her own years than not. Something makes me lean forward and introduce myself. “Laxmi” my voice sounds hoarse to even my own ears as I clear my throat keeping my hand held out. Then suddenly the young woman breaks into a smile which lights up her face as if caught in a strobe light at a rock concert. Pulling the earphones off she clasps my hand, our palms are about the same size I note, and suddenly I feel my age. “Ariana” she replies, her voice sparkling with her smile. “Why were you crying Ariana?” I blurt out, and then bite my tongue. Middle aged I may have become but it seems the impulsiveness of youth is never far from rearing its head. She doesn’t miss a beat though, as if it is perfectly okay for a stranger to ask her about her inner emotions “I hate him.”
“Who? Your boyfriend?”
She blushes on hearing this and I find it very endearing. When had I last blushed on hearing the name of my loved one? Not since….“Uh! No, my father” her reply interrupts my train of thought.
“Why?”
“He’s an alcoholic” she puts it out there casually. My father’s a doctor. ? He’s a lawyer… My father’s an alcoholic…
“Why do you think he drinks?” I ask gently.
“He’s….. Unhappy?” she asks tentatively.
“Why is he unhappy you think” I am not sure why but for some reason, it feels really important to find out exactly what was troubling this girl. Did she remind me of myself? Maybe.
“I don’t know….” She pauses “He has lot of work pressures, he just lost his job… he’s looking for a new one and has not found it yet…. It’s not the money though. We have enough…” She muses as if thinking to herself. “He’s actually far ahead of his time, he has a lot of ideas… just doesn’t have the encouragement to use them…”
“Why?” I realise I have fallen into the role of a psychoanalyst here, something that comes naturally to me.
“My Mum’s the more grounded one, maybe too grounded, too practical… she holds him back.”
“Isn’t that good though that they balance each other out?”
“Maybe…. I don’t know. But it’s not what I want that I know.”
“What do you want?”
“Someone who loves me and understands me. They had an arranged marriage…. I’ll never have one.”
“What?”
“An arranged marriage…. Did you?”
I blink before I retort defensively “What?”
“Have an arranged marriage?”
“No. I met my husband at a rock concert many years ago.”
“He was in a rock band?”
“No, he was shooting the show… and I was organising it.”
“And…was it… you know… love at first sight?”
I laugh, breaking the slight tension that had crept up on us “Yes, very much so, at least that is what he says.”
“And for you?”
“I just felt so comfortable with him. Everything was so easy. I didn’t have to struggle, I could just be swept along and it felt right… it did not feel wrong. There was nothing… nothing I had to resist. It was just right…” I know I am repeating myself, but I am not sure how else to explain my decision. “Something’s are just meant to be, I guess.”
“That’s so good to hear.”
“You’ll be fine…. Really.” For some reason I feel the need to reassure her, it’s important she believes me. “It will turn out to be alright.”
She huffs “That’s what you adults always say… but how? How can I be sure? What if I do something I should not?”
“Well” l leaned back in my seat considering “You know, you’ll never be sure what is right or wrong, till you try it out. But that’s what life is about. You just have to experiment a bit. Find out what’s right for you. If it doesn’t work out you can always try something else. And if it does work out… well then… you know it was the right thing to do….”
“But I am scared…”
“Of what…?”
“Of failing…”
“No you are scared of being judged…” I can feel her start when I say that. “I know, that’s how it was for me for a long time. And when I was a teen, I was painfully conscious of the world, what would others say? Right?”
I smile when she nods “But you know they don’t really care. You are the flavour of the day and then they move on. No one knows what you are going through except yourself. All I can say is…” I know I have her full attention now “All I want to tell you is, to follow your heart. Never go against your instinct. Go with what really makes you happy and you can’t go wrong.”
“That seems so simple….” She smiles
“It is.”
Ariana opens her eyes and finds that she is alone in the carriage. The cassette in the Walkman has wound down and all she can hear is the static of the tape in her ears. She pulls off the earphones and wonders if it was a dream. No can’t be, she was here. Ariana sniffs the air, at the remnants of a very sophisticated perfume….she can’t place what it is, but it’s a fragrance that speaks of being a woman of the world, confident, strong….someone who is at ease in her own skin and yet knows what she wants. Someone who… always follows her heart. That’s what I want to be when I grow up. Satisfied she looks up as the train pulls into Churchgate. For now though it is still the weekend, college is a million miles into the future the most pressing thing is to be in time to see Terminator 2, at Eros Cinema with Arjun.

I’ll be back too with Return to 7 Islands, #2 Chronicle of The Three, March 2013
So what did you think? I'd love to hear from you. - Laxmi


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