Mohini

This story is for Roshni, who actually remembered this from ten years ago and asked for a link! Thanks Roshni, and hope it lives up to your memory.

 

Dear Prakash,

 

If you are reading this, I am hopeful. Hopeful because you have not torn up the letter. Hopeful that you have gotten over your anger against me. I know the turn of events was unexpected for you. I dreaded the day you would come to know the truth, because I feared precisely this sort of reaction from you. Perhaps it was wishful thinking on my part that you would come around, you would understand, and somehow you would find it in yourself to love me as I am. As once you loved me, even though it was for a brief moment, like the flash of a distant star in the sky that makes you wonder if you have really seen it.

 

Prakash, remember that day we went swimming in the village pond? I’m sure you remember. The cool waters were always our recourse during the hot summers. Remember the small fish that we tried to catch in the palms of our hands, and how they always got away? And the tadpoles we caught together and put in the pickle jar? I still wonder why they died, even though I know that captivity always kills: if not the body, at least the spirit. I know how it feels to be captive – how it feels to have your every move monitored, and even the freedom to laugh has a price attached. I was never under the impression that this was the perfect life, but I never could have imagined the pain it would drag along with it like a severed limb.

 

The perfect life was when we were children. When you and I ran in the fields, shouting and laughing, scaring the peacefully grazing cows, and making the birds flutter into the blue skies, alarmed by the accuracy of your catapult. When we shared sour mangoes under shady green canopies, hiding from our mothers when they came looking for us at sundown. When we stole coconut pieces and camphor from the temple, while the village priest snored during his siesta. When we flew kites together, I could see the excitement in your eyes, the passion in your lips. And my heart soared like the kite, quivering and trembling in response to every tug of your hand. My heart is heavy now. I am indeed like a kati patang – a kite with no mooring, a kite let loose to roam where the wind wills, a kite that gets more and more ragged with every rogue branch that snags and rips through its very soul.

 

Did it make sense to you then, Prakash? That brief moment of passion we shared as your eyes caressed my body and our lips spoke a language of their own? That moment I have preserved carefully, like a flower pressed between the pages of a book. The memory of that moment is what uplifted me, that’s what kept me going through all the bleakness that painted my walls with its grey misery. Every time I put my kajal, it was for you. Every time I reddened my lips, it was for you. Every sari I draped around my cursed body, it was for you. The perfume of the flowers in my hair faded into the scent of your body. Do you remember how it felt? Or have you tossed it like discarded flowers that are swept away so swiftly by the stream? I cannot write any more. I am crying.

 

I have resolved I must finish what I wanted to say. I must unburden myself, I have carried it too long with me.

 

It’s been a long time since I cried, Prakash. The tears that bled from my wounds have dried, but they have left behind a raw salt residue that burns and stings. I cried when I boarded the train from the village in the dark of the night. I was leaving behind my innocence, clutching onto the useless currency of my dreams. I was leaving behind a life that was familiar but stifling and painful, towards a vast unknown. I was leaving like a thief indeed, ostracized and shamed. But I cried above all because I had to part from you, the sweetest love of my life. You were that first love one ceaselessly seeks in all subsequent loves, an unattainable fantasy fed by hungry dreams, a shimmering mirage in an arid and aching memory.

 

I cried again when I saw you at the bar. Isn’t it strange that of all the bars in Mumbai, you should come to my bar? Perhaps it was the tears that shone in my eyes, perhaps it was Fate playing a cruel game with me. What did attract you to me? Was it some vestige of passion that reared its ugly head just when I had begun to give up my battle with life out of sheer fatigue? Was it some wicked instinct of self-destruction that made me come and sit by you, and initiate that age-old game of seduction?

 

You didn’t recognize me, and I was both glad and hurt. I thought I could start anew what we had left half-finished so many years ago, in the cool waters of the village pond. After all, I had reinvented myself. I was Mohini, the enchantress. So many men had succumbed to my charms, but most had been disgusted when they found out what I really was. Did I really think I could take up where I had left off with you? Indeed, where had I left off with you? My fantasies had so clouded the reality of my memories. That entire night I tossed and turned, wondering in feverish anticipation if you would come back.

 

You did. And the night after. And the night after. You seemed content just to talk to me, to look at me, to tuck my stray hair behind my ear in a caress that sent shivers down my spine. I dared not to long for more. I had rolled dice with Fate, and even a modest win was enough. We spent long hours in eloquent silence, you lost in the smoky haze of your thoughts, and I, sneaking glances in a vain attempt to capture and possess your every feature and make it mine. It was a strange happiness, almost a contentment, and I clung to it as desperately as a drowning man a straw. For the first time in my turbulent, topsy-turvy life, I felt I was floating, just letting go, just being.

 

It was too good to last, wasn’t it? That night, when you finally came to my room, I tried to hide my delirious joy behind a mask of boredom. I didn’t want to tempt Fate, I didn’t want to ruin what I had. But Fate is an expert at playing cat and mouse: just when you think you’ve managed to get away, she sinks her claws deep into you and relishes the blood-bath that follows.

 

There we are, enmeshed and eager, when your eyes fall upon the photo. A faded photo pressed into a cheap plastic frame. Your eyes widen with surprise. My mouth is suddenly dry, and I can feel my breath coming in short bursts. I try to turn you away, but you reach out and pick it up. How did you get this photo, you ask me, puzzled. I mumble something incoherent, while my thoughts fly to that morning. Our mothers smiling and asking us to stand together. The painted cardboard cutout with brightly coloured flowers as the backdrop. The photographer urging us to stand closer. You put your hand on my shoulder and I turn and look straight into your eyes. Something changes between us that instant, and I am immediately conscious of the warmth of your fingers pressing into my skin. I look away, disturbed, but not before I catch your half-smile. And that is the moment the camera clicks. The photo lies: it does not show your smile, but it catches my naked awkwardness. An awkwardness that remains when we jump into the pool later that afternoon, peeling off our clothes in a strange exhuberance. And when I run away, both exhilarated and ashamed, you look on, unfathomable.

 

I am jolted out of the past when the edge of the frame hits me on my lips and draws blood. Tears of a twisted anguish flow as I battle my demons. I try to calm you down, but you are as disgusted and horrified by me as countless others. Listen to me, I weep. Let me tell you what an agony my life has been. A life that is not a life; no hope of love, no hope of dreams; trapped, with no release. A life where Love is forced to walk fettered in narrow corridors that open no doors for the likes of me.

 

But you were so angry with what you considered my deceit. You are not the Mohini I thought I loved,but you are not the Mohan I once knew either, you shouted. What are you, you freak, you perversity of nature? My face, my body still bears the bruises of your beatings. I haven’t gone out since you left.

 

I began this letter on a conciliatory note. I wanted to beg your forgiveness for the hurt I caused you, for my perceived deceit. But now I just wish to thank you for opening my eyes, and for shattering the one dream I had. Unshackled from the ghosts of my past, I experience a tremendous sense of relief. I can now hope that my true love is still out there, waiting for me. A true love that loves me as I am. And for that, I thank you.

 

Regards,

Mohini/Mohan

 

It’s October already!

So many things have happened since I last came here.

This year will be forever marked. My father died in my arms. It feels so final to write that, but that’s how final it is. He will never be back in our lives again. I try to relive the moments again and again, but they slip away, like dreams you cannot remember, like dreams that dissolve in the bright liquid sunlight of the day.

I wish it had been like in the movies. I wish we had known, that we were ready, we were gathered around, serious and somber, waiting for that final moment. We didn’t know, we weren’t ready, we were running in and out, tired and frantic, trying to get him ready for the hospital from where we had brought him home just a couple of days before.

I was right there, and I didn’t know it. If I could change one thing, I would change that. I would sit by his side, stroking his wizened hand, and put on his favorite song. I did do all that, in fact I did just that in the morning. Just not during his last moments. A rolling eye, a single tear, and I did not put two and two together – I was never good at math.

So he’s gone now, and life goes on: merrily, pitiless, single-minded. I don’t think too far ahead nowadays, I take one day at a time. I am grateful I have such wonderful people in my life. My family – the strongest one could ever ask for. My friends – always willing, always helping, always there to share both laughter and tears. The entire universe – always going ahead, never looking back.

It’s hard to believe I’ve reached a half-century on this third rock from the sun. I barely knew the uphill struggle – it’s all faint memories. I trust the downhill slide will be just as smooth. There are so many things on the horizon, yet they don’t disturb me.

One day at a time. That’s the only thing given. And I’m ok with it. Years will go rolling by, and when the time comes, gathering moss will have its own charm.

Other Worlds

I recently read 4 books almost back to back that made me feel really low and upset. All of them were really very interesting and opened up worlds to me that I had just a faint idea about.
The first was The Truth about Me: A Hijra Life Story by A. Revathi. The title says it all. The high price you pay for breaking the rules, no matter what you are.
The second was A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. Despite all the controversy surrounding this one, the writing itself packs a punch. Straight in the gut.
The third was Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars by Sonia Faleiro. It made me so, so sad inside.
The fourth was The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad (accent on the author’s name missing). Distressing, especially the plight of the women.
These books have left little dark scars in me. However, to be fair, they have also made me count my blessings.

So It’s July

Almost the end of it. I’m glad to see it go. I keep forgetting and then when it comes around every year, I remember.

I kind of hate July.

It’s hard for me to hate stuff, for I’ve never been one for strong feelings, but July gives me a sick feeling in the stomach. Only because it’s been a month where too many folks I’ve known have passed away.

This year was no exception. When the wind wailed and howled for days without end, I began to feel the familiar dread. Irrational, I admit. But then, someone I know, an elderly gentleman who was the epitome of old-world elegance and courtesy, passed away. That day, the wind fell silent and the sun broke through the clouds. As if a rampaging rakshasa had been appeased. Irrational, I know.

Apart from that, the health front for all family members, including yours truly, suddenly took a nosedive. We hobbled out of that entire mess, clutching on for our dear lives in a manner of speaking. I came down with a case of shingles, and am still on painkillers for the nightmarish pain and irritation (or postherpetic neuralgia if you want to get fancy) that follows.

The only silver lining to this awful month has been that I’ve really caught up on my reading. I’ve finished 65 books (9 ahead of schedule according to Goodreads). I’ll update the list of books soon. I’ve read a bunch of rather amazing YA stuff, and a whole lot of books that depressed me, which, believe me, isn’t a wise move when you’re already feeling low.🙂

That, and the way family and friends have rallied around. Always a blessing, always.

Not Quite Half

June is coming up and I do hope I hit the half-way mark of 50 in my Reading Challenge. I’m reading more in binges rather than consistently, so sometimes, I complete 2-3 books over the weekend, and then two weeks pass before I pick up a book again.

Here’s an update to the list:

28. The Guardians of Halahala by Shatrujeet Nath: A competent fantasy book with Indian mythology woven nicely into the plot. First of a trilogy.

29. Mahabharata Quest by Christopher C Doyle: Again, a fairly interesting thriller (I guess) book set in India, the second in a series. But it lost me in some of the technical details – it was dealt with in a heavy-handed way.

30. Hysterical by Rebecca Coffey: Interesting book on Anna Freud, daughter of the famous Sigmund Freud. I would have liked to read more about Anna’s achievements though.

31. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert: I had heard so much about this book. It didn’t disappoint, but I did feel disappointed that Alma Whitaker was a figment of the author’s imagination instead of being a real person. That makes it a great book, doesn’t it?

32. Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak: Loved the Rumi stories, but was bored with the modern day equivalent that seemed forced.

33. An Outrageous Affair by Penny Vincenzi: It was a really long time since I read something like this, so picked it up from a friend’s house. It was interesting in bits, but didn’t quite stay with me. It also brought home to me the fact that even a “bestseller” like this needs solid research.

34. Netherland by Joseph O’Neill: The blurb looked really interesting, and when I started reading, it seemed one heckuva tale. A Dutchman playing cricket in America, talking about outfields and pitches and Sachin and Afridi…what’s not to like. Writing is brilliant, but the story itself wasn’t captivating enough. I could take in only small doses at a time, which was quite frustrating, since I wanted to finish it soon and get on to the next one!🙂

35. Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos: When I began reading this book, I just fell in love with it. The women seemed so real and familiar to me. Of course, as the story progressed, everything was too pretty, and loose ends were all tied up a bit too neatly. But I hugely enjoyed this book and read it at one shot.

36. Ithaca by David Davidar: Did not quite work for me. Though it provides a lovely insight into the publishing world, I just did not feel engrossed enough to care.

37. The Unfinished Clue by Georgette Heyer: GH was one of my favourite romance authors growing up. I loved that her heroines had such spunk and I liked her witty writing. I picked this up on a whim, and was a little bit disappointed that it turned out to be a murder mystery instead (didn’t take the title literally – duh!). But it was nice to read her writing again, and see the wit sparkle.

Still quite a bit of catching up to do, though. So many books, so little time!

One Plus One

I saw two movies recently. Both were aspirational and inspirational. Both revolved around Maths.

The movies I am talking about are The Man Who Knew Infinity and Nil Battey Sannata.

The former was about Srinivasa Ramanujam, the genius. Though I loved the movie, straightforward as it was, I somehow felt it portrayed Ramanujam as very desperate. I did not get the same feel when I saw his real pictures and read about him. Of course, this is my own perception, and I guess I will never know how he really was. But the impression I got of him was something we see quite often – the sheer determination to rise above your circumstances to achieve something, together with confidence in what he was doing. That he was a genius goes without saying, but the grit to make something of himself felt all too familiar. It would be so fascinating to see how exactly his brain was wired to make him such a prolific and original mathematician. It’s a joy to watch open-mouthed with amazement, and marvel at such phenomena.

The latter movie too was about the same, but in a different sort of way. Though I did like the intentions of the movie, some things felt a bit too superficial, like the bit about Maths. There was no need to even touch upon it, imho. Similarly, the last bit of dialogue, though quite representative of the scenario today, left me with mixed feelings. For those who haven’t seen the movie, and don’t mind spoilers, the last scene is that of an interview where the girl is asked why she wants to become a Collector. The answer she gives made me wince: Kyonki main bai nahin banna chaahati. Because I don’t want to become a maid. If the point of the movie was to follow your dream and work hard to make it happen, this single statement undermined it completely. Dreams are about what you want, not about what you don’t want. But other than these few moments, I thought the movie itself was heart-warming and worth a watch. It says something that the theatre was almost full on a week-day morning!

Catching Up

I started quite a few books, but somehow didn’t feel inclined to finish them.

The ones I did manage to finish reading were all good reads, but I didn’t find anything particularly spectacular about them. So here goes the list:

23. Ponniyin Selvan – The First Floods, originally by Kalki, translated by C.V. Karthik Narayanan: This was an interesting read. I liked that the flavour of the original Tamil version still came through nice and strong. (I really liked the use of the word “Adada!”) The descriptions were really quaint – sometimes I felt I was reading a “Shakuntala” novel. But all in all, very nice, and I would definitely like the read the entire set.

24. Personal – A Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child: Didn’t particularly care for this one, to be very honest.

25. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story by John Berendt: I was recommended this novel in order to understand better how to do character sketches, and boy! this one rocks when it comes to characters. The story itself didn’t somehow interest me too much, but the writing was excellent.

26. Holes by Louis Sachar: Lovely book. It was well-paced, and though not too much of a surprise for me, I really liked the way the story went. Solid writing.

27. The One You Cannot Have by Preeti Shenoy: I had the opportunity to meet the author, and she came across as a sincere, down-to-earth, practical and hard-working person. So I thought it would be good to read one of her books. I can easily understand why this book is such a hit with young people. It reflects a lot of their lives and the relationship problems they grapple with. It is easy to read too, without becoming too preachy or literary. But I guess I won’t be too inclined to read more of her since I’m not particularly interested in this genre.

GoodReads tells me I am behind in my reading challenge by 2 books. I do hope the next crop of books excites me more than this one.