23May07

On a visit to Assam, my grand-aunt gave my sister a gamoosa – a traditional hand woven towel given to children on completing a certain age or right before a huge event, such as a Board exam. I had never ever received a gamoosa so when I saw my Pehi aita (grand-aunt) give Preeti the beautiful red and white gamoosa, I felt very jealous. And worthless. Like someone who is always going to be there but will never be acknowledged.

My sister has since lost the gamoosa. And she doesn’t remember that day when she was given the beautiful piece of artistry. But I do. It reminds me of all the moments when I wasn’t appreciated or thanked or given a chance to prove myself. Throughout my childhood, in Assam or elsewhere, I was the awkward kid, trying to make sense out of a changing world. I could not speak Assamese fluently so I was made fun of, I could not dance the Bihu, (I am one of the most ungraceful people you can ever meet) and I could not wear the Mekhala Chaddar (a traditional sari) by myself. I was most comfortable when I was with my friends from school. And I felt all the more guilt, because I started detesting our yearly trips to Assam during the summer breaks.

Then one hot Calcuttan morning, my father spoke quietly to my mother and the next thing I knew was we were driving my mother to the airport. My grandfather had died early in the day and she was asked to go pay her last respects. I wanted to go and see him one last time but I wasn’t allowed to. I was told my cousins would be there on my behalf and besides, ‘I was too young to understand’ but ‘they did not understand’ I wanted to scream. It just wasn’t the same.

When I went to Guwahati 6 months afterwards, I was shown photographs of the funeral. I took the albums and climbed to the second floor of my uncle’s house. The second floor had a wooden floor and it was accessible only by these narrow winding stairs. I looked at pictures of my grandfather lying serenely on the white mattress, marigolds lying on his body. I wept and wept for I wasn’t there to bid him farewell. I loved my koka (grandfather) very much. He used to take me to the tea plantations as a child and showed me how to crush the tea leaves on my palm and then sniff the fragrance. He used to love tea and once, when I was first learning how to make it, he reached over and held my hands, and said ‘If you make it with love, then even the most stubborn tea leaf will taste like tea-gold.’ My koka was a very proud man. When he died, I failed to grieve for him properly. It was only when I looked at those photographs that day, did I miss him deeply.

I cannot look at marigolds any longer without crying. Their gold beauty always makes me feel lonely.

After my father had a heart attack, and was operated upon, for days I would look to make sure he was still breathing. I have a constant fear that he will simply stop breathing one day. I would check to see if his chest was moving with each breath. Even when I moved to Hyderabad, I would call home and get sick with worry if he had the slightest temperature. Our parents have raised two very independent daughters who can look after themselves. But I cannot help feel fear. When I was in Visakhapatnam, at least three of my friends lost a parent. When Paras lost his mother, I was almost convinced that something would happen to my father and I almost refused to leave my family to go to Bombay for further education. I could have been a doctor by now if I had been weak.

Some dogs are barking outside. I am surrounded by houses with dogs. Many Alsatians in the area. My aunt had a boxer called Lucy. The most affectionate silly dog in the world. She would jump on me, put her paws on either shoulder and lick me till I was sopping wet. Unconditionally. Lucy was run over by a car when we were posted in Calcutta and I hope she is keeping koka company. He used to adore Lucy. He would feed her scraps under the table when my grandmother wasn’t looking. Lucy and I had many adventures together. I would climb this huge scaffolding where there was some construction going on and she would follow me up. We would sit at the top and look out at the Guwahati landscape. Three mountains looming in the distance, the vegetable market to my left, full of bustling people, women in their various mekhala chaddars and little, brown children eating bogori (I think we call it ber in Hindi) and of course, the beautiful mountains. Green and brown and black, little bamboo houses, and the All India Radio Tower. Once Lucy, me and my cousin had climbed up to the foot of a hill and we had a little picnic. Lucy grabbed something, I don’t remember what and I ran after Lucy, chasing her when suddenly my legs got caught in some barbed wire and my knees bled a bright red. A man who saw me fall laughed and walked away.

I am a certified mountaineer. During our summer breaks, there really would be nothing to do in Assam so me and my sister would go on these mountaineering expeditions. We went so often that finally the Government of Assam decided to give us certificates saying we are certified mountaineers. Remind me to show mine to you. It was an experience I am not likely to forget. On one of our climbs, I climbed slightly faster than the rest (and broke rule no 1: never leave your team behind) and I saw one of the most beautiful eerie places in all time.

Imagine being alone. All by yourself. And imagine seeing maddeningly green trees, thousands and thousands of them half a kilometer away from where you are standing. Stretched as far as the eye can see. Different types of luscious trees. All towered over by a huge, green mountain. And you hear the cuckoo call, the nightingale sing and the lion roar somewhere in the distance. And you see rocks, and silvery waters falling on them and the bluest sky. Eerie but oh so beautiful. And then you want to shout, make some sort of noise. Anything. To remind yourself that you are but human. You still breathe.

Assam is so beautiful. I truly wish I could show her off to you.

It’s half past midnight and I am currently feeling frustration at the hopelessness of it all. You tried calling me once but I disconnected. Some times, I do not know who you are. Some times, I know you through and through. But tonight you are not trying hard enough. You haven’t called again.

Stop the thinking about the future. Or the past. Or the present. Stop the thinking about her getting hurt. Or of me getting hurt. Or of you not being able to handle it. Just stop thinking.

Today, it rained. And it was happy rain. The water fell in a staccato rhythm, the breeze blowing was strong enough to play with skirt hem lines and the skies were a magnificent grey. Like an Arrow shirt. The rain teased. Unlike last night’s rain. Last night, the rain teased and caressed and whispered on skin. There was awareness and longing. Today, the rain just teased. Like a joke laughed out with a cigar. Happy rain indeed.

I had gone out for dinner tonight with friends. I downed some five vodka shots in quick succession and then I was forced to drink some infinite glasses of water since I felt dizzy. Must have been due to an empty stomach but I am swearing off alcohol in lethal doses. Like in shots. Only Bacardi breezers or vodka smalls for me till I regain my appetite completely.

You still haven’t called.

I had another bribe ready which I was going to tell you on the phone. I was going to bribe you with a midnight tour of Hyderabad. We would have seen the Golconda and the Charminar in the moonlight. I have always wanted to do that. Light and shadows on old castle walls and the moon casting some sort of spell.

And then I was going to kiss you. Right underneath the Hyderabadi skies.

Good night my darling.

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