Sunday, April 20, 2008
home coming - i
(Don't know how I feel about this story anymore... )
Indra surveyed the remains of what was once her home. The compound wall, covered in the swirls and arcs of paan sprayed graffiti and creaking front gate stood bereft without the house they were meant to protect. Unlike some of the other gates on the road that had flowers, ‘Oms’ and a heavy bosomed apsara worked in to the design, the black iron grills of their gate were thick, jail-like bars. Appa insisted that the severe design would deter thieves, trespassers and unwanted incense stick and sanitary napkin peddlers from entering the premises. Amma had hankered after an arched multicoloured entrance depicting a pot bellied Ganesha, his mouse and plates laden with sweets and fruit. But Appa vetoed the idea.
“That’s like telling thieves – Come right in sir! No obstacles for you here, Ganesha will let you right in.”
Of course, they all knew the real reason Appa said no was that novelty gates cost a fortune. Amma quietly acquiesced but never missed an opportunity to grumble about Appa’s tightfistedness behind his back. Every time Amma pushed open their gate, or passed their neighbour’s 12 foot, gilt-edged gothic monstrosity (a bit much for the modest 60’s bungalow it guarded), she would narrow her eyes and curse Appa. The fact that their gate was easily and constantly nudged open by itinerant cows attracted by the sight of the lush green leaves in Amma’s garden and did nothing in reducing the number of sales people and their persistent mid afternoon bell ringing made it even worse.
Indra rubbed her fingers against the gate’s ineffective latch before pushing the doors wide open. She raised her fingers to her nose and inhaled the sharp smell of rusted iron as she walked up to where the front door had once stood. Indra bent down to unstrap her sandals, but stopped herself when she realised there was no longer any need for that. There was no intricate, powdery white kolam; borders edged in red to leap over. No terracotta coloured floor tiles swabbed twice a day with hot water and salt, no faded rug to protect from mud. There was nothing. Even the rubble had been cleared away.
“It’s too big for just the two of us now that you and your sister have gone.” Amma said. “What will Appa and I do in such a big house? If we had a son then he and his family would stay with us. But we aren’t so fortunate. Do you know, just the other day in Madipakkam an old couple were strangled by their own watchman? It’s not safe anymore- it’s kali yuga after all.” Amma had recently taken to blaming everything – water shortages, the scantily clad women who danced in film songs, the price of onions – on this final, sin infested age of man that they were said to be living in. “Don’t worry. You and your sister will each get a flat. 3000 square feet with a veranda, kitchen-come-dining, everything. You can even choose the bathroom tiles,” she added as though that would make everything all right.
Indra looked back at the street she had grown up on. The mid afternoon June sun had evacuated it of the children, stray dogs and mobile ironing stand that usually staked claim to various segments of its tree lined length. Everyone was hiding behind ephemeral shields of sleep; the iron man and dogs curled up beneath the shade of his stand, the more fortunate spread out beneath fans or soothed by the cool whisper of split-level air conditioners. The construction workers who lived on the grounds of her old home were the worst off; makeshift cardboard and palm leaf shacks were all they could afford. Yet even they slept; legs poking out of gaping doorways like burnt match sticks. The afternoon silence was interrupted every four seconds by the security guard who sat snoring on a rickety green chair placed under the palm tree’s meagre shade. It was the only tree left standing; the red and white hibiscus bushes, jasmine vines and the yellow nagachampa were all hacked down before the demolition.
Indra stood before the watchman and felt a familiar angry depression swell up inside her. How could Amma let them do this? She had called those plants her children; named, fed, groomed and sung songs to them. Indra remembered how Amma hated plucking the flowers, sucking her breath in sharply every time she snapped a tender green stalk, as though she shared their pain.
‘Eh! Don’t smell them’ Amma would admonish Indra and her sister when they helped her gather flowers as children. ‘God should be allowed the pleasure of their fragrance first.’
The nagachampa had always been Indra’s favourite. Its branches caressed the balcony adjoining her bedroom on the second floor and for as long as she could remember it was their deep, intoxicating fragrance that lulled her to sleep every night and that she woke up to each morning. She was always aware of the sin involved in inhaling their sweet scent before the flowers were strung in to garlands for God, but would rationalise that short of breathing there was little else she could do. Now, apart for the single coconut tree the compound was stripped bare of greenery.
“Don’t worry. We are leaving the coconut tree, madam” the site manager had simpered “We are calling the building Palm Haven after all, how can we cut it down?”