Coming of Age Desi Sad

Story in progress


I do miss my home. The beautiful rose garden my mother has toiled over, my grandfather's sagging cane chair, which swings a bit sadly without it's occupant, the smell of pungent spices which blend together and draw out a million different memories playing out over my tongue. I just hate the people who live in it. 

Each time my feet hit the pebbled garden path to the door, my muscles ache from all the cramps of the 5 hr long bus journey. In hindsight, I could have waited for the next flight or postponed the visit to a more convenient time. But there is no use ruminating over illogical decisions when guilt and I walk hand in hand into my home.

The door is opened by a kid who stares open-mouthed at me, clinging on to the wooden frame. "Roshi Didi is here." He runs into the house, but no one rushes to the door. Thankfully I do not have any luggage except a backpack, and am able to just waltz into the house. In the absence of men, the living room is populated by the women in my family who are normally clustered in the kitchen or hustling about, worrying themselves over children and husbands. 

"I did not know we had guests, what a pleasant surprise." My mother is in the kitchen so I touch every other woman's feet in the room and notice they all have had pedicures recently. Shiny, glossy paint on clean, scrubbed feet, what a way to celebrate my undoing.

Oh did I tell you, I am getting married. To a bank employee, 29 years of age, from my caste, who was looking for a beautiful, fair, educated homely girl who cares deeply about family. His, not my own. I met him virtually a few weeks ago and put up a very successful charade of being a grown up, independent woman who can make her own decisions. He might have seen a few chinks here and there, but the conversation never peeped into those dark corners. Perhaps it was for the best--the madness inside is too abstract, too undefined to be laid out in a cold, uncaring world and for my own understanding as well.The more I try to place my finger on the knotted threads of my upbringing, the tighter those glass twines twist around my fingers, leaving them bloody and cracked.

With sundown, as the men enter the house and fill it up with the dank, stale smell of sweat and cigarettes and alcohol, it is time for the females to coop up in a corner and only make appropriate appearances to serve food or water, or to dash into the kitchen. Tomorrow also happens to be my birthday, so we sit in my bedroom, unpacking my presents a day just before dinner is served,

"Pink looks beautiful on her," my sister-in-law points out, as she shuffles out a lilac, georgette dress to the collective 'oooh' and 'aaahs'. She and I were comrades in the past, now we look past each other, disgusted by the knowledge that familiarity gave us. What do I think of the dress? I love it. If I saw it online, I would select a size, add it to my cart and never buy it. Like I said, I love the dress, not wearing it. 

"It is beautiful," I smile and answer when the ladies fall into a hush, expecting me to throw a tantrum, my sister-in-law is slightly disappointed even. How can I complain? Do I not see all these women around me, my mother, my aunts, my sisters, each of them ripping off each other's personalities, seeking comfort in conforming, yet hating each other for it? Having a personality or rather showing it to their faces would be like having a feast in front of famine survivors.

Yet that is exactly what the early years of my upbringing had been--earmarked in my memory one birthday at a time. My father, a railway engineer, would take me and my brother to the nearby waterfalls one year, to the local zoo, the next. His idea was that with every passing year you should learn something new about the world around you, broaden your mind in some way or the other. He did not see the point of a bunch of hooligans ( that’s what he called our friends) getting together and creating a ruckus, all in the name of a birthday celebration. It was not until my 10th birthday when I was able to badger him into hosting a birthday party. What was it like? Gosh, I don’t even remember.

“Ma, the photo albums are in this almirah right?” A sudden wave of nostalgia hits me and I leap out of my corner seat on the sofa. Everyone looks up to me in surprise, but they know I am a freak, so they let the moment pass. I walk out of the circle desperate for a breath of fresh air, towards the open wardrobe, trying to locate memories of a better past. All the talk about tomorrow’s “Big Event”, the expectant chit chat around my future wedding celebrations fade away to meaningless chatter. After burrowing through piles and piles of clothes and unused curtains, I finally find the treasure trove of childhood memories. Real, tangible photos, whose light faded colours and slowly fraying edges open up the schism of time between the past and present. Not the digital ones where yesterday feels like today feels like tomorrow. 

“Let us know if you find a good picture of any of us, I have put on a lot of weight over the last few years,” one of my aunts calls out and the heathen of women breaks into cacophonous laughter. 

“Sure, sure. But you always look beautiful, weight gain or not.” 

My reply isn’t heard, but I say it nevertheless, because the silence would definitely be. 

Me petting a rabbit, 9th birthday. My brother and I on a toy locomotive, his 12th birthday. But where are the ones I wanted to see the most? I remember inviting my best friend over for my 10th birthday. ‘I am having a party, a real birthday party.’ I was so excited.  Who else did I invite? What did the cake look like? I almost slam the album back to its place of ignominy, and start burrowing for another. My mother jerks me back by the arm, and I notice everybody else has left for dinner. 

“Why do you always have to embarrass me like this? Would it kill you to at least act naturally, like the other girls do?” Her eyes are ringed with grey shadows and a thousand cracks, seeping into the whites. She must be so tired, I feel sorry for her. Reminder to myself, more small talk next time. 

“I cannot find the photographs from my 10th birthday. Where is that album?”

Her face crumples in disgust before it hardens with impenetrable impassiveness. “Go and start serving food at the table, everyone is waiting.” I badly want to ask her what is wrong, how is she feeling etc.etc. There is hardly any point in doing that--she will be better tomorrow, after the groom’s parents have gone away satisfied and happy. Like they were when my brother locked himself in a small office with dark glass windows, working himself away from the boy who loved to dance. Society-approved happiness, their parents did it and their parents before them. So I assume her happiness will come with time like the rain after summer heat--she does the same for me. We pretend that our souls are so ancient, unchanging and unmoveable, that seasonal gusts of wind can sway them in no different direction.

I pile up the old albums one by one, and a few loose photographs fall out, memories which were not precious enough to be encased in plastic jackets, some torn and ripped to pieces. I collect a handful of those and stuff them in my pockets, just like my brother and I always used to bring home fistfuls of sand from the banks of the Ganga on weekend visits. Sometimes, in my Delhi flat, when I feel like a piece of vermin trapped in a rat trap, that plastic jar of red-brown river sand reminds me I am human--I know my brother keeps his jar on his office desk. 

Later that night, I lay awake in the dim fluorescence of a night lamp, thankful that my mother is the only person sharing the room with me. 

“She can’t sleep without lights on or some sort of background noise,” she explains and offers an apology as to why I can’t share my room with my cousins.

Most of my extended family already knows that, but my grandmother points out, “Don’t spoil her so much. You should have taught her to adjust from childhood itself. Now that she is going to be married, who is going to teach her to adjust?” She hobbles away in contempt, to her own room, which, she by the way, is not sharing with anyone. I wonder what the minimum age is for a woman to stop adjusting, 30, 40--is it 50? Maybe I would have to wait for my husband to die-- I am not even married to him and already planning his funeral. Such dark, gruesome thoughts are they not? I chuckle a little but lose the smile quickly as my mother lies down to sleep. 

“Switch off the light and sleep today, you are not a child anymore.”

“Ma, you know I cannot. I have not been able to for my entire life.”

“That is not true,” she mutters, her face turned away. “For a long time, you did not have any such paraphernalia. When this house did not have a second floor, all of us used to sleep in the same room, the two of us on the cot and your father and brother on the bed.”  

This was just a teenage tantrum of mine? The fact that I wake up sweating and heaving in the middle of the night sometimes, that I sometimes dream of holding a dead baby in my hands. In Delhi, the traffic noise and the watchman on his night shift are sufficient to protect me from the silence of the dead night--as soon as the night shift goes to sleep, the morning shift starts to hustle around. This seamless transition between the early birds and the night owls keeps me alive in the big city. And its absence at home, nearly kills me.

“I have very bad dreams when I try to sleep in the dark, I guess the night scares me,” I say out loud, almost to myself. 

“If you close your eyes tightly enough, all the monsters go away.” My mother has turned towards me now, and her eyes are pleading, apologising, accusing. For what? 


October 02, 2020 04:49

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Mesh Govender
22:04 Oct 15, 2020

This is so beautifully and skillfully written.


Ipshita Majumdar
06:36 Oct 16, 2020

Thank you for reading the story:)


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Lyss V.
01:34 Oct 08, 2020

Good writing. The words are sharp as it hits the reader. I could feel how the struggle of the persona between herself and the perspective of others. It is such depressing reading. Makes us aware that the world is not only full of bubbly happy ending story, but something opposite from it still happening. It's an irony that we reader just feel it through reading but in fact, they're still lots and lots of injustice in the true world! You did a great job to make the story stark. By surrounding the story around a missing photograph, rather tha...


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