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Tag Archives: Secrets
I can see it in your lies
The secrets you spill to the world
Like they’re useless facts
So they won’t poison your insides alone
I hear you.
Here’s a story about one of my favourite games. This is a story of why I like it so much. I give you T is for Truth or Dare for today’s A to Z Challenge.
T is for Truth or Dare
What an interesting game. Played between strangers, it’s a round of showing off. Exhibitionism minus context, the spills just enough to thrill, not enough to chill.
It’s nostalgia, when it’s between people who’ve known each other a long, long time. Each one adding the finest of strokes to crystallize a shared memory. Even if it is secondhand and they’ve heard it so many times before that they feel they know it.
But Truth or Dare only ever really comes into its own when it’s played between people who know only a little but matter a lot to each other. How about newlywed husbands and wives, does that describe them?
When Mubeen told me about the dinner, I had an inkling it was going to be an important evening. Sahil and Roshan had been at the wedding but I barely remembered them. Lisa I knew, from meeting her a few times. And I was yet to meet the fabled Amara. I was worried about what to wear but perhaps I need not have been. They were all so busy watching each other, watching out for each other and watching for each other that they never noticed me. And I came home with a different sense of my husband.
Amara turned out to be nice enough, if not as harsh as they had all portrayed her. Or maybe I was the only one who saw the look on her face, when Roshan asked her who her first crush was. Her eyes darted across the room to mine and returned to the bottle on the floor. Her answer prompted a number of jokes, a story coaxed out of her, till she ended with a triumphant flourish. Everyone was taken aback.
Roshan followed, with a dare that he ‘suggested’ himself – a pole dance. And while the others laughed and hooted, I saw Sahil tap his phone. Seconds later, Amara looked at hers. Her eyes flicked up to Sahil again. I expected her to snigger but instead, she thumbed something and slipped the phone back into her pocket. She didn’t look at Sahil again till the dance was over. And after that, she ignored the phone so diligently, that there was no doubt in my mind, who was responsible for it flashing intermittently in her pocket.
Mubeen had once mentioned that Amara had had a thing for Sahil in college. I think he once even said that they had gone around together for awhile. Or maybe he thought they did. Amara didn’t seem to care anymore, if she ever had. If I had to guess, I’d have said it was the other way and Sahil was the reason Amara had a less than friendly reputation in their circles.
When Roshan came back and sat down, he steadied himself with a hand on Sahil’s knee. But after he’d settled back in, he didn’t move his hand. Sahil either didn’t notice or didn’t care. Mubeen tossed him a 50 paise coin to circle over Roshan’s head and tuck into his waistband. Roshan accepted with great pleasure, more pleasure than I thought possible for a ham performance. He seemed to like Sahil’s hand on his hip.
Mubeen was allowed some ‘grace period’ since he had a new wife to impress – or so they said. But they forgot about him and he never had to take a turn at the bottle.
Lisa is the one who really surprised me. She didn’t bat an eyelid when Roshan suggested a mujra. She laughed in delight when Amara suggested Roshan acquaint himself with a cold shower. And she only smiled when Sahil asked her who she’d like to ‘do’ that night, if she had a chance to. I don’t think I even remember what she ended up doing for her dare that night. But I do remember how it ended.
First she shivered slightly and asked Mubeen if he’d reach out and turn the AC down. He had to get up and go to the window to get the remote control. Then she stood up and moved till she was next to Sahil. She looked at Amara when she sat down. And I noticed, Roshan’s hand had gone back to his pocket. Then she fixed her gaze on me and said,
Following her gaze, Sahil pointed to me and said,
“New girl’s turn.”
Mubeen was still at the window, fussing with the remote control. It was blowing the air up and down as he bashed the Sweep setting. I saw Lisa lean in and say something, her eyes never leaving me. And Sahil said,
“Tell us something you haven’t told your husband yet.”
I relaxed. Now we were talking. I looked to my feet, then up again (into Lisa’s eyes) and I said,
“I am really good at reading body language.”
Roshan giggled. Amara shrieked a lewd question at me. Sahil as he ordered me to elaborate as he leaned back in his seat, one hand on Lisa’s back. Lisa didn’t crack a smile. When she moved forward slightly, causing Sahil’s hand to slide off, I knew she had got the message. She wouldn’t be trying her games with me.
*Image (without text) via Gualberto107 on FreeDigitalPhotos.net
stir the emptiness inside me
like gunshots in the middle of the night.
The hall was full of sound. A stir-fry sputtered and released tiny bubbles, in a shiny pan on television. But the sound was a devotional song, a chant of some sort, flanked by violin and other instruments that were loosely described as ‘classical’. And the fans were whirring.
“Ma! Can I switch off the television? Nobody’s watching!”
“What is your problem, haan? Leave in on. I’m watching!”
Her mother was in the kitchen, mashing daal with her back to the door so she couldn’t possibly be watching. But her reply had started with a warning tone to not challenge the words that followed.
“What about the music system? Can I turn that off?”
A loud metallic crash resounded as a utensil was flung into the kitchen sink, empty from the timbre of it. The scrape of rubber chappals on mosaic flooring added to the cacophony. Amaine fled. Luckily she had remembered to put on her shoes before beginning the conversation.
Amaine was the youngest in her family. Most people didn’t see 37 as young. But her mother said, that to those who’ve seen you as an infant, you will always be young. This proclamation was always burdened by layers of nuances. There was disapproval, pre-emptive so it was extra fresh and heavy. Then there was a veneer of traditional thought with the merest whiff of punishment for contradiction. A thick sheet of glass covered this, seamlessly. It was industrial strength and bullet-proof and represented the conventional role that she was expected to play.
At the park down the road, Amaine had halted her stride and plonked herself onto a bench. It wasn’t really a park as much as a grassy patch bordering the neighborhood nalla. The grass showed bald patches in several places, just like her uncle’s head.
Satish uncle, her father’s brother; it was hard to believe he had once been her favorite uncle. Amaine thought glumly of his youth. Clad in jeans and leather boots, he had been a rockstar, contrasted by the foil of a respectable middle-class family. As the family rotted and died, his star quality faded and ran to seed.
Now bitterness issued from his fingers. It wafted around the house and settled on everyone’s mood. It mingled with her grandmother’s crumbling grasp of controls and turned into dark grey fleck. It dissolved in her mother’s chronic depression and dripped into their food and their television broadcasts. Even the music system acted up and spewed tinny cacophony instead of the usual melody. And each day, when the maid played her part in the charade, it collected in corners and silted the walls in piles of resentment.
Amaine imagined her house coated with the colourless, shiny layer that grew from her family. It was constantly being replenished by cast-off emotions, long rotted experiences and too-often recycled platitudes. She felt it clog her breath when she slept and woke up coughing. It got into her hair and sometimes her eyes too, and made them itch. It even made her cheek muscles heavy.
She wondered if it was flammable. It wasn’t washable, that she knew. She had tried, once when the maid was on leave. Scrubbing the corners, the walls and even the pelmet had taken two hours. But it made no difference. Her grandmother accused her of trying to steal her jewelery, her mother cried and said she had tried her best and was this what she was destined to have to listen to? Even the scented phenyl smell didn’t last longer than five minutes. Cheats, thought Amaine. She had spent fifty rupees on it and secretly emptied it into the wash water in the bathroom.
Then she had thought, perhaps it was an organic thing, a living layer. That made sense because emotions came from living people and had a way of multiplying in a manner that was exactly like life. The maid was regular after that (possibly because of the combined shouting by Amaine’s mother, Satish uncle and grandmother). So Amaine, at grave risk, woke up at 2:25 a.m. and washed the floor with water mixed in with rat poison. She couldn’t do the bedrooms where everyone was asleep but she made sure the hall and kitchen were covered completely. But this morning, the layer was still there.
Amaine sat back in her seat and put such thoughts out of her head. It was a pleasant morning, fresh with the ripe smells of a moving city. The stench never bothered her. It tingled inside her senses and woke her up from within. She drew in a deep breath and savored it as a siren rattled on by. She closed her eyes and drifted.
There was a crowd collected in the building compound when Amaine returned. Someone pointed to her and people started to look at her. As she climbed the stairs, she encountered it. It smelt like the layer melting and cooling – hot then cold and now liquefied and flowing out, down the stairs. It flowed past her but it didn’t cling to her clothes the way it did, within the house. And when she reached her door, heavy hands tugged at her and draped themselves around her. Three bodies lay covered with white sheets. Amaine noted how they were perfectly lined up parallel, in the hall. Nothing in this house was ever placed so tidily except in her own room.
The coroner’s report pegged it at food poisoning. Chemicals in the food, usually found in pesticides. Her downstairs neighbor had protested that there were no rodents in their building but that was attributed to crass, personal motives. Everybody knew he had been receiving prospective buyers for his flat throughout the summer. They looked at him with derision and at her with pity, quickly finding their hero and villain in the story.
When Amaine was finally alone a week later, she drew in a deep breath and was pleased with what she discovered. The layer wasn’t there anymore. A new coat called age settled around her shoulders and she nestled comfortably into it. Amaine wasn’t the youngest any more.
The open space opposite to my building affords a number of interesting sights. It inspired this story, for one. That was about the ground as a separator. But how about the ground as a space in itself? Here’s what it plays home to.
Yesterday evening, I spotted this man walking his dog in the pouring rain. Now, I have heard of doggy-sweaters before, in cold places. But this is the first time I’ve seen a dog in a raincoat! What was funnier was that the man himself wasn’t rain-protected. Some people sure love their animals more than life itself!
The summer was full of screaming kids, playing crazily in a way that only children on summer vacations do. In one of those brief lulls, the park looked almost desolate. Except for its lone guest, a solitary bicycle parked right in its midst.
The same thing a few weeks later, right after a particularly rainy night yielded this sight: a log right in the middle of the empty ground, now lush with grass.
The weather hasn’t deterred our young, budding sportsmen.
Any semi-green patch in Mumbai acts like a magnet for all the children of the vicinity. This particular park doesn’t belong to any one housing society and doesn’t have an entrance fee either. So it often plays host to impromptu cricket matches, rainy football games, bat-and-ball toss and sundry other games that appeal to every boy under the age of 12 (and most of them above to, in retrospect). The kids come from the surrounding colonies and also the adjoining slum area. I’d like to say it’s a place where they all mingle but that isn’t really the case. They play in their own groups but at least they all play within close vicinity and I haven’t seen any territory battles happening.
A cricket game had just begun. First, a lone ranger staked out the pitch. Or perhaps he was sentenced to a remote fielding location. Either way, he didn’t look too bothered by it.
I was most intrigued by the batsman, being as he was the same height as the bat he was holding…just about.
They were watched by a cosy duo sitting on a log in a corner. I wondered what these two had to talk about that was so important. *Sigh* The good old days of a bestest friend to share playground secrets with!
In another corner, I spotted a bunch of boys practicing dahi-ka-handi for upcoming Janamashtami (which also kicks off festival season in Mumbai…hooray!).
Childhood is never out of vogue, even in a concrete jungle. It stakes out its own spaces and finds plays to jump and play.
I was burrowing through my closet the other day. Buried beneath the long-forgotten scarves and shawls and tee-shirts, I found an album.
Just before he left for his first trip back home to Delhi, he asked me,
What shall I get you from there?
And I said.
Yourself. Lots of yourself.
Yes. You with your family. Your school. College. Friends. Festive occasions. Baby memories. Photographs. I want to see what the rest of your life is like.
He looked at me like I was crazy. (Those were early days after all..in the months that followed, he got used to my weird requests). But he brought back photographs. An album full of them.