Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wait! And Smell The Roses

-->Isn’t it weird sometimes when someone you least expect opens your eyes to something you had failed to notice for a long time?
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I have a new driver now. My old driver left for some personal reasons and now we have this guy who is new to Chennai and knows nothing about the roads, the routes and the traffic. Anyone who has been to Chennai will know what I mean when I talk about Chennai traffic rules. There ARE no rules. You find your way and go ahead, any way! It is hard to find a vehicle here which does not have at least one dent on it
So our new driver, who is used to roads of Dubai and earlier, Mumbai, is extra cautious about driving, waiting for all the vehicles to pass and going oh-so-slow. I mean, very VERRRRY slow!
It was one such time when he was crawling through the roads of Chennai that I lost my cool. I was returning home from a temple and had to get home and watch a movie. And by the looks of it, I wouldn’t have got to watch the movie for a long time!
‘Anthony! Why are you driving so slowly?? You’re letting all the vehicles pass us! Can’t you go a little faster?’
‘Yes Madame, ok Madame’
A minute passed and 10 cars overtook ours.
‘Anthony!!!’
‘Madame?’
‘A little faster!’
Silence.
‘Do you have something important to attend to, back home Madame?’
‘Not particularly, but it won’t harm anyone to go a little faster, would it?’
‘Madame, how many times have you taken this road?’
‘Loads of times. This was the road I took to college, for 4 years!’
‘How many petrol bunks are there on the way?’
‘2. Why?’
‘Ok. What about temples?’
Quite a few, around 4 or 5.’
‘Hmmm… and which is your favourite house on the ECR (east coast road)?’
‘Err… I don’t know… never looked so closely.’
‘Madame! You’ve travelled this road for 4 years! And there are so many beautiful houses on this road. There’s the one with a lot of bougainvilleas, the one next to the Muthappa temple, the one with the high walls surrounding it, the one with the tall trees... and you can’t even think of one?’
I was stunned. I knew Anthony had never been to the ECR before. And yet, he had seen all that I had never cared to see. What was I to do hurrying back home? Watch a movie filmed in some faraway land when I didn’t even know what was there in my own?
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And then I was silenced. I saw the old woman selling jasmine strands next to the shop selling home d├ęcor and artificial flowers. I saw the women selling fish near the deserted bus stop, yelling at the top of their voices. I saw the lamps flicker at the temple and heard the bells ring. I saw a beautiful house, with a swinging chair in its balcony. It looked like somebody had just left the place; it was still swinging. I saw a woman spanking her kid who was covered in mud or what looked like mud! I saw a bunch of slum kids trailing a foreigner who was trying to dodge them and laughed at the poor lady’s panicked face. I saw a boy and a girl holding hands at the ice cream parlour and that made me smile. I saw a lot of things, and went home and forgot all about the movie.
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Sometimes it helps to go slow and enjoy what’s on the way.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Light, At The End Of The Tunnel (part 2)

also read Light, At The End Of The Tunnel (part 1):

The first few years were like a dream. Husband, wife, a two year old boy and a half a year old girl- happy family. And then the cement factory he worked for closed. Now that she thought of it, then was probably when things had started falling apart. He had to move to a shady place which was a good 8 hour travel from their house. And so Sunita had to stay alone, while her husband visited her every once a week. She worked as a maid servant in the houses nearby- all for her husband and the children. The work was too much for her frail body to take but she thought nothing of it. Her husband had given her a reason to live and she worshiped him. After all, if it wasn’t for him, she would’ve been working in some sleazy brothel.
Quite naturally, she didn’t see the signs when he took to drinking in her absence. Or when he started sleeping with another lady in the other town. She did not ask him where he stayed the whole week. Or why was it that every week, he seemed to give her lesser and lesser money for the family’s expenses. She did not once suspect him of dishonesty. Her love for him was beyond all such emotions.
Until, when one day he came home fully drunk, swaying from side to side and cursing people she had never heard of. That was the day he had first slapped her and only because she had asked him why he was drunk. He had hit her and kicked her and called her a dirty whore. He had shouted at her and repeated again and again that he should never have married her, that he should have let her rot at her aunt’s or maybe at the place where they had planned to take her. It had made no sense to her then. She still loved him. She said nothing. She could say nothing.
But then it became a routine affair. His visits reduced, so did the money. By the time the third child was born, Sunita had to work at three houses. And when on some weekends he did come home, she had to endure the insults and pain. But still she could not bring herself to defy him, to yell back at him. Her love did not stop her anymore, for it was now buried deep under a surfeit of emotions of fear and gratitude. Her duty was obligatory. Her moral self wouldn’t let her shout back at the man who had helped her at the most crucial juncture of her self. She was trapped under her own feelings of liability that forbid her to even bear thoughts against her husband. After all, if not for him, where would she be now? No, she could not say anything against this man who had saved her from peril, not even when she had heard he had not one but two other wives in the other city; not even when he hit her and robbed her off her money; not even when she suspected he had started hating her. She could not be disloyal to her once hero.
But now, sitting there at the brink of the dirty stream, she thought of everything she had had to endure. Her eldest son was 16 years old now. She had lived with a man turned monster for the past fourteen years. When he wasn’t around to torture her, she dreamt of him torturing her. Why was she living like that? She had suspected for long now that he was stealing from her and giving it to his other wives and other children. He did not love her anymore. As for her, she didn’t know. Even if there was any love left in her for him, it was too far beneath all the fear and hate she felt for him now. Yes, he had saved her once, but he had enslaved her for a long time now. And she could not bear to make it forever. She was working after all, in fact for the past so many years she had been single handedly managing the household, no help from him. She didn’t need him any longer to drain her money and well being. She remembered her mother had told her once that a woman was incomplete without her man. She had believed that and lived by it for so long. But she could not take it any longer. She had three children to look after, the eldest of whom was already helping her with a little income. She was not alone in the world after all, and she didn’t need him.
The sun was out now. It shone with a fierce brightness. She had made up her mind. She felt a small tear run down her cheek, her last minute of weakness she thought. And she felt strangely elated. There was a garbage heap clogged at one side of the stream. She found a long stick and prodded at the heap. She could see the water below, muddy but uncluttered, with an urge to gush ahead.
After all these years of self imprisonment within her own endless heap of complex emotions, she had never thought it possible that she would be happy at the thought of leaving him. But she was. Happy. Very happy.
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CELEBRATING WOMANHOOD
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY 2009

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