Monday, March 06, 2006

My flashback

This one’s for Grandma

Surya shivered as the sleety wind did its best to find chinks in her winter armour. She stamped her feet, trying to dispel the numbing cold and her mounting impatience in one go. The 114 finally came trundling down the road. It groaned to a halt, spluttering out smoke and passengers. Shuddering all the while as though it too felt the cold.

The driver grunted as she flashed her pass at him. The bus lurched forward and she stumbled into the first available seat. Her neighbour’s face was obscured by the faux fur collar of her coat, but the faint smell of turmeric and the bindhied forehead gave her away. Bulging plastic bags were clasped to her chest like well fed pups. Out of the corner of her eye, Surya saw chipped maroon talons pull out a tube. ‘Fair Always’ it proclaimed. The woman squeezed the tube releasing a sluggish yellow river that flowed through the crisscrossing tributaries of her fate. Camphor, saffron and a 9-year old girl’s fear burst out.

'Surya! Surya! Wake up. Lazy girl.' The covers had been whipped off before she could protest. Surya opened her eyes and looked sullenly in to the murky, cataract ridden eyes of her Paati.

'Who are you scowling at, hmm? ' Surya knew better than to reply and silently rolled up her bedding and made her way to the outhouse. Paati had hobbled after her as though to make sure she didn't fall asleep on the way.

As Surya went about her morning ablutions, Thangam the maid and Paati began a daily ritual of their own.

'Look how dark she is' Paati muttered – still unable to digest the fact that her son
(who was often mistaken for a fair Punjabi mind you) had produced such a dark offspring. And a girl at that.

'Look how she washes her face – how will the darkness go if she's so gentle? She needs to scrub harder' Thangam demonstrated with the coconut husk she was cleaning the vessels with.

The statement galvanised Paati in to action. Her self-diagnosed arthritis was forgotten as she leapt across the courtyard and grabbed hold of Surya's neck, mimicking Thangam's vigorous wrist action on her tender skin.

The bus stopped. Ms. Fair Always stared at Surya and then transferred her attentions to the smug, middleclass cars around them.

'Why don't you use the ointment I got from Neela’s?’ Paati had demanded ' Her daughter’s become white as milk.'

'Surya is fine. She doesn't need anything.' Her daughter-in-law retorted.

'Why would you want to change her –she's taken after you. You know, people think
Ravi is a-'

'I know, I know! A Punjabi. Maybe she's not Ravi's daughter after all.’

'Look at what she says! Shameless! When Ravi comes home I'll- what are you laughing at? Insolent girl.’

The memory of her grandmother’s impotent fury made Surya smile.

Mother and father were going out of town and Surya had begged to be taken along. She didn't want to be left alone with Paati. Mother had wiped away her tears and father had ruffled her hair. And then they left.

'Enough loitering at the gate. They've gone.' Paati had crowed.

Surya looked down the empty road and reluctantly went back inside.

'I want hot water to bathe Paati' she murmured.

'Oh ho! Did you hear that Thangam? Maharani wants hot water.'

Thangam sniggered in to her coffee.

'Shut up Thangam! Blackie.' Surya kicked an upturned bucket and received a smart slap from Paati in return.

'Who are you calling blackie? Huh? Dark as a coffee nut and so arrogant. Go!'

It was December, and the air was gently laced with cold. The idea of a hot bath was too good to resist. So she waited till Paati had adjusted her sobre, widow’s nine-yard sari and left for the temple. Cultivating her limp along the way for her audience of sympathetic cronies.

Thangam was washing clothes out back when Surya snuck in to the kitchen. A large aluminium vessel trembled on the stove – spitting out angry drops of boiling water every now and then. Mother had told her to keep away from fire but she shouldn’t have left her with Paati like this. Surya turned the knob as she had seen Mother do and stood on her tiptoes. She grasped the edges of the vessel with an old kitchen towel and had brought it down half way when-

'Thangam! Thangam! I forgot my coin purse. It’s in the kitchen.'

The 114 slowed down as it approached Surya’s stop.

The doctor had said she was lucky she hadn't been blinded. Mother had sobbed. Father had looked helpless. Only Paati had words.

'No hope now. Dark and disfigured. Nothing can be done.'

Surya turned to her neighbour.

'Excuse me. Can I try some of that cream?'

Update

Slightly modified version. Only slightly.

28 comments:

thennavan said...

Good one (konjam ammani style-aa irukku ;-)). BTW, have been religiously following all your creative writing posts albeit without commenting so this is not for marking attendance :-)

MumbaiGirl said...

Gave me the shivers.

TomCruiseChellum said...

Konjam pastu
Konjam presentu
Pinnem Konjam Pastu
and
Konjam presentu

Randum sernthal
Konjam flashbacku

(Apologies to that Aggarwal no in Thiruda Thiruda)
Alas fantasticas

ammani said...

Chilling. I like the way it alternates between past and present. Very nice. I think it will still work if you didn't have the past in italics. Just a thought.

Nessa said...

I really really felt for Surya :(

I'm a huge fan of yours, SF..

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

thennavan - thanks! and i'll take it as a compliment if it's konjam ammani style!

mumbaigirl - sure it's not just the 2 degree weather? :)

tcc - I think you are referring to anu aggarwal.Many thanks for the inspired lyrics :)

Ammani - thanks. I'm wondering about the one line references to the present. Like when she says 'Almost home.' Will it be clear that's the present if the whole thing is non-italicised?

nessa- *Hugs*

1$ Saint said...

yo...super...thotutey po..
d next modern kalki huh?
lolz..
i loved it..

Falstaff said...

Nice. I liked the dialogue between the grandmother and the mother - it gave the reader such a clear picture of the family dynamic so succintly.

I do think Ammani has a point though - the flashback may not quite work without italics, but that's something that could be fixed - from the point of view of the assignment, the italics are a cop-out.

And I'm not convinced about the ending - I mean, first, would you really lean over and ask some total stranger for cream? And second, I'm not sure what the significance of her asking for the cream is supposed to be. It didn't, for me, follow from the logic of the story.

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

c not o- Modern day Kalki? Too much I say

Falstaff - Thanks. You and Ammani got me... it is a bit - no a pretty big cop out :P Hmm... I'd better fix it.

With regards to the ending... I wanted it to be a light hearted thing. As a reader it might seem that her disfigurement is something terrible - not to be made light of. But she's lived with it all her life - she's used to it. She might still dislike her long dead Grandman but the years have probably taken the edge off the pain. So she's almost having fun at her own expense - finally taking Paati's advice. Am I trying to say too much and not getting it across? oH NO!

Anonymous said...

To tell you the truth, if you meant that last line to be light-hearted, its not working.
The last line just shows you how every Indian woman is pushed into ultimately believing that skin-deep beauty is the most important thing in life.

The last line is FAR from light hearted. It makes me think of all my friends and roommates who have suffered at the hands of their dark skin, in spite of their good hearts and Masters degrees... and how I am umm.. *rejected* in the "marriage market" for my short height. So the last line's a reality check - coz all our self-worth does go to dogs in the face of all the pressure to conform to the way models looks

Guess I said too much :)
- Aparna

PS - no, I dont have a blog, but I can share my writing assigments with you via email. I follow your stories every day!

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

aparna - Hmm... some diconnect between my intentions and reality. I sometimes think that's ok... that each person has a different take on a story. Or does that mean that a story is confusing and not very well written? Would love to read your stories! Oh and I'm about 5ft2":D

Anonymous said...

It is true that interpretations are a really big part of reading and appreciating the story. The story needs to depict what happens (as in incidents), but the emotion is on the reader, and usually the place the reader is in life.

For eg., any painting - another form of art - you dont expect someone who views it to KNOW exactly what the artist was thinking! You expect them to interpret and understand.
Similarly writing.

Maybe its because I am at this point in life. 28 and looking (sheesh), that I applied that emotion to her asking for the fairness cream.

Although am not there yet, I can understand it :)

- Aparna (5'0") hehe

San said...

ah that was great :)

i am running out of words to praise your posts now.

apu said...

Shoefie, I've missed reading most of your course posts on account of my holiday...Just got back in and read this...very nice; I like the mvoement between past and present; And I also felt the end was well done - not wallowing in self pity....

... said...

What can I say? Beautiful...as always.

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

Aparna - I agree with you on that... I guess writers can't be with every reader explaining what they were thinking.

Sangeetha, Keya - thanks!

Apu - You're back!! yeah! I hope you're back to blogging too!

Anonymous said...

too bloody long. are you writing a book or maintaining a blog auntyji....

... said...

Why do people like to remain "anonymous" to complain about something?

Anonymous - this is for you - if you think the post is long, get the hell out. Noone is really forcing you to read it. That is what internet is for. You can choose what you want to read. And please have b***s to reveal your identity.

D.N.A. said...

"Why would you want to change her –she's taken after you. You know, people think
Ravi is a-"

I was going to complete that sentence with "...albino" ;)

Good one, though "shuffle card/back & forth" approach is becoming a trend.

Shyam said...

Nice story but ugh... you didnt know my grandma, did you?

Just a PS: My brother spilt boiling water over himself when he was a kid, though - too impatient to wait for someone else to pour it out!

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

Anon - Please to refer to comment no 18

Keya - Thank you playground saviour!

DNA - Albino??? Well that would have been a rather interesting :D

Shyam - Ouch!

Anjali said...

Nice one, once again!

I liked the banter between the grandmom and the maid. So very typical that grandma is venting to the maid.....i have seen this scene so many times in my home.

Anjali said...

Oh, I forgot to mention....i LOVE the new look!

Nessa said...

I like the new look too..... But what's with the apostrophes?!

Sunil said...

excellent stuff.

perhaps i'll steal ideas from here for my next microfiction posts.....save me some thinking.

and the blog look is nice too.....

kaaju katli said...

Oye! Finally finished my tag and now blogger is acting up and I can't seem to post anything. Excellent story, very well written!

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

anjali, nessa - thanks! Nessa I have no idea what's wrong with the apostrophes! trying to fix it.

sunil - sure! but you'll have to pay me a creative fee then :P and thanks!

Kaaju - thanks! and i can;t wait to see your tag post!

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