p on swing
what about edward gorey

what about gardens . what about names . what about clothes without pockets

what about the little finger . what about quotes . what about book covers

what about water bottles . what about names with two syllables . what about twins
what about the chair . what about queen and king-sized beds . what about trees
what about photographs
what about monographs
what about microscopes
what about the seconds hand . what about 12 o’clock . what about mirrors
what about fabric and textile . what about notebook . what about blinking light
what about Maxim Gorky
what about two times two . what about chocolate . what about colouring books
what about fill-in-the-blanks . what about circles . what about the index finger
what about wire . what about radio
what about font
what about sundown . what about bath . what about horror films
what about windows . what about columns and rows . what about shadow
what about gobo . what about ‘many moons ago’ . what about mango
what about pulleys and levers
what about curtains . what about holes
what about brown
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munch woman
Edvard Munch, Woman in Three Stages

Two apples rotten, one orange sour, two mangoes ripe

 Pick the sour orange first, peel it
Squeeze the juice out, sugar and a pinch of salt.
Keep the rind, throw the seeds.
Offer an apple to a cousin, the other to a lover.
Leave both uneaten apples as memories of slight.
Ashes and oil lamps keep the fruit flies away.
Two mangoes ripe,
Two mangoes ripe,
Eat a mango over the sink,
Let a lover watch, keep the other mango away.
The juice of the orange has frozen.
Offer a sour orange popsicle to a child
Tart, smile a secret smile.
Powder the orange into dust
Let a lover watch,
thin peeled orange paste on your face.
One mango ripe, cold and sweet
There’s none in the fridge, not in the fruit basket
The apple’s covered in ash and lamp oil
Popsicle stick covered with ants in the bin
The lover is asleep
A kiss of sweet mango, a sourness on his lips
A slim kitchen blade, to peel mangoes and cut apples
Slice the lover live, sweet mango on his lips

ginger tea

It was late, really late in the evening when he called. The conversation was quick, unusually quick. My response was ready, carefully written out and repeated in mind over and over again for three days now. At the end, it took no time at all. It must have been our most efficient meeting in all of seven months of working together. In good time the blog will be split down the middle- ‘text.image.’ , it says now. Text will become mine, Image his. A smooth parting.

After the ‘meeting’, I went downstairs to make some good strong ginger tea. A fraction of an image shot through my mind and out with a shudder – a glimpse of the tiny kitchen and electric stove top. Achan sat on the sofa, the same spot he had occupied all morning and everyday for the past four years. He didn’t look up, he didn’t hear anything as I walked past the living room and into the kitchen. Moving into a small flat, I thought would mean more contact between us- albeit forced. I didn’t think either of us would look forward to it. Amma’s leaving only meant the distance was furthered, to long uncomfortable silences.

The tea powder was over. The tea powder never did get over when she was here. It was as if everything would always be where I hoped to find it. A little dance, right hand up for the tea box, left hand up for the sugar box, a swirl and turn for the Good Life from the fridge. I decided to make tea without the tea powder. There was ginger, that little sturdy bit of it leftover from the stir-fry two days ago. It was fresh and smelled sharp. I soaked it for ten minutes in boiling hot water. When Achan is not at home, I play music, my phone travels with me to the bathroom, to the kitchen, to the balcony in the rain. Mostly music and the periodic vibration of perfunctory text messages. Now it’s silence. He’s taken to reading again, achan. It’s a good thing I suppose, but the noise of the tv used to help distract us from our silences. Her voice would be the loudest, amma’s. When I was still in school, I would wait to hear the rumble of the bike and her loud bubbling laughter till I switched off the tv and ran upstairs. Seconds later I would be walking down, as if unaware of the quick flight and practised deceit. Half a conversation and a half dozen bursts of laughter would trail behind her as she walked in. Everything about her was quick, except her smiles. She changed out of the saree and into her favourite puff-sleeved maxi even as she made tea for the two of them. She discovered the empty biscuit tins even as she cut vegetables. Her presence was a jolt of energy and the only thing I’d look away from my endless novels for.

The fights had been ceaseless for the past couple of months. The blog was soundless for a month now, unwilling to bear the brunt of the viciousness that had creeped between us. We knew it would end, just as the blog did. An abrupt, non-conclusive end. I poured the ginger ‘tea’ into a cup and slipped out of the kitchen and past achan staring at a dead TV. When they first bought the TV, it was too big for the glorious wooden showcase that adorned an ugly yellow wall. It lay unused for two years till achan decided to cut the top half off(the showcase, not TV) and leave it in the balcony. The same place the swing, the exercise machine, a cot, a sofa and my yoga mat lay. A museum of the obsolete. Now the TV barely covered the yellow wall. The yellow of a hard-boiled egg. Achan liked them soft-boiled. I placed the tea gingerly on the coaster on my bed, looked into the mirror, squinted my eyes and stuck out my tongue. I didn’t smile. I hear achan calling me. I stare at my tea and then into the mirror. I wait a couple of minutes and then went downstairs.

“Make me some tea,” he said.

“Make me some tea,’ he used to say.

ghosts for the haunting and the Prologue(2)

How beautiful it is to look at, never have I seen or heard anything like it- Nalacharitam, Unnayi Warrier

 

krishna gopikas

***

Nila looks her best at  night. She is resplendent in the rains, full and flowing. The lazy river is antithetical to the typical Keralite who wakes up at the crack of dawn and shuts shop at sunset.  Nila belongs to the night, ripples of moonlight gleaming on her silvery waters. Nila likes being not merely the protagonist, but the solitary character to her own story. It is from her story that we borrow the beginnings to the story of Kathakali. It is on her banks that Kerala Kalamandalam, the premier institution of Kathakali was founded almost a century ago. It is on her banks that my father bought his first house in Kerala.

Painkulam is a small village in Shornur, the house we bought is part of someone’s ancestral house. It is ever so slightly odd to live in someone’s ancestral house, there’s no telling how many generations have grown up here. The newly painted walls, the tiled floors, the Usha ceiling fan, all hide layers of musty old stories. It’s usually in the still of the night or during a power cut in the monsoon that my little box-like room becomes claustrophobic with someone else’s ghosts. My father tells me that it is the ancestral house of a kathakali artist. A chutti artist, a glorified version of the regular makeup-artist. The man currently lives in America. As most stories are, his was also a love story. He fell in love with an American woman who came to learn Kathakali and went back with her to the U.S. Today he’s exported the Kathakali makeup tradition to the U.S and given it new forms and a new name and seems to be doing pretty well with some highly acclaimed art exhibitions. My father claims that it is the ghosts he’s left behind that have pushed me into kathakali. Perhaps it’s just that. The proximity to the Kalamandalam, an old veshakaran’s ghost, or simply a renewed interest in theatre. But a little more digging into why kathakali came back into my life, reveals more.

As a child I must have been terrified of Poothana. In full costume, she was even more of a demoness than I had imagined when I read the stories. That image of Poothana trying to kill the baby, the god I worshipped, stuck in my mind as the all-encompassing figure of evil. Years later when I started researching Hindu mythology and its many manifestations in India, Poothana came back to me. She had haunted me as a demoness when I was a child, but now she haunted me in her vesham as the noble woman. I read the story again, and this time as a Kathakali padam. I went back and looked for the demons and the gods in Kathakali, in an effort to find the heroes and villains of my own story. I was no longer a child who believed in the good of the gods, but I was more importantly not the child who believed in the evil of the demons. Kathakali became a synecdoche for the various understandings and manifestations of caste in Kerala.

excerpt from Vidooshakan- the Harlequin.

Find part(1) here

the night of the chocolate cake and Marius’ love and Marius’ pity

akbarpadamsee-lg
Akbar Padamsee, ‘Christ’

Late last night, I baked a cake. It was well after they had stopped drilling a hole to put up the Ravi Varma painting in the house next door.  New neighbours, old walls. The dead cat had been removed by someone from the  balcony. The remains of food from the table had been cleaned, my guest was an older man. The urge to have the chocolate cake, was not so much as to have it as to bake it. I sieved the flour while I listened to the television I leave on all night, when alone in the house. The cocoa dust in the flour mixed poorly, too dry, too lumpy. The oil made it silken, the sugar made it sweet and then the perfume of the vanilla. It was a note of that, the essence of vanilla that made me turn off the television. The music rang sharply, and I sighed in relief.

The sound of the microwave, dully whirring, the cake moving in slow circles of precise measures would take fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes of a few pages from a novel, the beginnings of a film, one very short short story, one very long dream. My options were as few as many. I could see the cake through the yellow inside, like the perfect sun set that no would wax eloquent about. Marius and Lenia made my cake burn slightly on the bottom, leaving the centre still soft to the touch.

Marius: Listen Lenia, I shall explain-
Not for love of you for you are a harlot,
Even a witty harlot, but I must
Remove this heat of the sun
Of the City. Sometimes my thoughts
Take fire and as in verse
The lines turn forth. Listen then, Lenia
My beloved of the moment, and
Take your fingers away from my pouch,
For in the moment of relief I feel cool,
And your hand is irritating,
Not enkindling, and listen – 

Three walls there were
And a road along them-
A weary road along them.
The walls and vales
Were lined with women.
Below the cross was a man of thirty,
A wasted face of much beauty,
He was made indifferently well-
But nothing to me,
A lover of women.

I pitied this man,
Though my blood had beat faster,
For you know Lenia
That I am a lover of women, not men.

Thrice did he cry out
And into my belly came
The gear of desire
But I pitied the man;

Three hours passed-
In the vales below the women
Waited and watched him
And desired him
Till I too grew mad with fire.

Lenia: Did you not think of me?

Marius: They were as nothing, as the
Dust, and I was no longer
A lover of women.

Lenia: Look on me Marius, am I not desire?
My body is creamed and desireful.

Marius: The full lips of John
Stroked my body,
And the red nails of john
Did vile things and made
My body soft.

Lenia: Listen Marius, you are no poet.

Marius: I will not remember those things,
The white disease of the body of John.

 

The winds come down from
The mountains and Marius slept again
In the arms of a woman

 

Sultan Padamsee, ‘Epithalmium’ from Yaraana (read full poem)

 

I used oil instead of butter, granulated sugar instead of icing sugar and walnuts for crunch- broken down, right on the top.

At 2 in the morning, I covered the cake with a lid and placed it in the fridge. Uneaten and decorated.

Lenia: Is the night not sufficient darkness
To cover the slight defect of my limbs?
And you who have lain with me often,
Is custom not fertile enough for your embrace?
I have not taunted you in your moments,
Nor shrewed you in the hours before the sun
When my body was hot with expectation,
And yours as impotent as a sterile man.
Tell me Marius why then tonight when
I have watched the crowd surge
Into itself, so that I am in heat
For the embraces of a lover,
You are cold. Have I suddenly lost
The beauty I am noted for?
Have I ceased to be Lenia,
More than the harlot of high places?

Marius: It’s not that, indeed it is not so.

Lenia: Do you find me suddenly coarse?
Am I not versed in the lore of the Hebrews?
Do I not worship the gods of Greece?
Do you find me coarse and unfaithful?
Could I not have had lovers,
Waiting for you?
Am I not a woman? And before you
Many have told me, men from Araby
And others, that the two scars on my thigh
Kindle them to a further desire,
So that they cannot resist my breasts
And must couple with me many times
Till they lie exhausted with the loss
Of their fluid: only I waited
With my wants not disposed of.

Marius: All this I know Lenia and i am weary-
Can you not understand that a man
Sometimes desires and sometimes not?

Lenia: Untrue, Marius, as untrue as your love-
Does it not even sateen your organ
To know that you alone in a single
Embrace completely involve me?

Marius: Listen Lenia, I shall explain –
Not for love of you for you are a harlot,
Even a witty harlot, but I must
Remove this heat of the sun
Of the City.Sometimes my thoughts
Take fire and as in verse
The lines turn forth. Listen then, Lenia
My beloved of the moment, and
Take your fingers away from my pouch,
For in the moment of relief I feel cool,
And your hand is irritating,
Not enkindling, and listen-

Three walls there were
And a road along them-
A weary road along them.
The walls and the vales
Were lined with women.
Below the cross was a man of thirty,
A wasted face of much beauty,
He was made indifferently well-
But nothing to me,
A lover of women.

Three hills there were
And a crowd between them
People spitting and cheering.
The hills and the vales
Were lined with women.
On the cross they nailed
This thief and sinner,
And I felt pity.
They had taken away his garments
He was made indifferently well-
Yet nothing to me
But an object of pity
And strangely, a little love-
But nothing to me,
For I, Lenia, am a lover of women.

Three nails there were
Two were bright and one was rusty
They went into his left palm
And his two feet and his right palm
A sweat was upon me
My skin pricked up
A lust as faint as the breeze
Of your stranger Samaria
Awoke me and left me.
Three nails there were
And the valleys below were mingled with
women.
I pitied this man,
Though my blood had beat faster,
For you know Lenia
That I am a lover of women, not men.

Thrice did I cry out,
And into my belly came
The gear of desire,
But I pitied the man;
Only that they hurt him inflamed me,
And I was a god, cruel and loving,
They raised him and he cried out
In thirst-
For pain and fear are thirsty things.
I wined a sponge of a god who is loving
And I galled it as a god who is cruel,
And gave it to him.
But he was not thirsty enough.
I grew angered, and my love
And his pain and the dark sky
Grew together, and I knew
I must enter this man
In sensuous pain.

Three hours passed-
In the vales below the women
Waited and watched him
And desired him
Till I too grew mad with their fire.
And I seized a spear
And entered his body- in my haste
Below his right side-
This cooled me
For I am a lover of women, not men.
He died crying strange things.
The women jeered him and the men
Cried out strangely,
And as he died, my mind
Grew clouded,
And i gambled with the soldiers
For his garments and won.
I seized them and in that barren
Place which you Jews call Golgotha,
Behind a rock I buried my face
In the lice-ridden cloth
In my madness I remembered
The beauty of women, their thighs
And waists and their hair,
Their breasts…

Lenia: Did you not think of me?

Marius: They were as nothing, as the
Dust, and I was no longer
A lover of women.
I went from that place
To the Jew whom we Romans call John,
And desired him and I have
Come here defiled.
From the body of John stroked my body
And the full lips of John
Stroked my body-
I am weary of delight.

Lenia: Look on me Marius, am I not desire?
My body is creamed and desireful.

Marius: The full lips of John
Stroked my body,
And the red nails of John
Did vile things and made
My body soft.

Lenia: Listen Marius, you are no poet.

Marius: I will not remember those things
The white disease of the body of John.

 

 

The winds come down from
The mountains and Marius slept again
In the arms of a woman.

Sultan Padamsee,  from Yaraana, Gay Writing from India edited by Hoshang Merchant

 

City Girl

I’m a city girl.

I dream of living somewhere I can cycle where ever I want to go with my skirt flying in the breeze and only green around me, I’d like to live alone, in the mountains or beside the sea and always feel like I am part of something infinite — this fantasy is enough to tell you that I’m a city girl through and through. I’ve grown up in a several cities, and now once again, I am in a new city.

The two cities closest to my heart — not always dearest, but closest by choice and by faith — I would like to think I know well, but I do not know them at all. I am always getting lost, even a few hundred metres from my house. Everything looks familiar and at the same time chaotic, but I am sure it will be okay, because I must be part of this living, breathing organism. I remember these draws of cells from school, and how every little ribosome and mitocondria looked like a creature by itself. I fancy myself a centrosome in a huge cell, which is a tiny cell in something bigger that I cannot know. 

I realise an adventure I have had with all my closest friends — deciding to get lost. I am usually lost anywhere within five minutes. Infinity hasn’t gone anywhere in the city, it is just even more incomprehensible, while my brief visits to the mountains and oceans is fuelled by being completely overwhelmed (and all the Coleridge and Wordsworth that echoes in my head). Sometimes, of course, it – the city – is finite, I do not think about how endless the universe is every night in the city. And then it is also boundless but all concentrated in one small dot, some mathematical twisting which I can barely understand — this sense of being completely unknown but always watched, lonely but never alone, this wonder at human progress and this despair at all of humanity.

sinfulwaters.jpg
From William Booth’s illustration “In Darkest England and the Way Out”

I don’t know why I write so much about the city — I say now “the city” instead of cities because that’s what it suddenly becomes — every city is the same and completely different. I write more about the city than about lovers, maybe because I believe the city is my greatest lover, someone I can never know completely. Someone who makes me feel like a stranger sometimes, and then like no one could know me better in the world.

I’m in a new city now, and I spend a large amount of time reminiscing about the old. Anything can trigger it — an ice cream shop, a ring tone, an old Hindi song.

(T brings me ice cream in the middle of the night because I have cried too much, over what, I do not even remember. I eat it a slobbering mess while T laughs. S and I talk over the phone half an hour after saying goodbye at college, and I wonder how we have still not exhausted topics. P would ride his bike while I sat on the back dizzy from a little alcohol and he continuously hummed under his breath.)

Friends reassure me that I will grow to love this city, and I don’t yet know about love but it is creeping up on me. I now feel reassured that I will not die in traffic because I understand how vehicles move. I get lost almost every other day on my way to college, but I usually reach hoping that all roads will lead to Rome. And I spy on my neighbours every morning and every evening as they spy back on me. But what is that mundane profundity that love always surprises? So I have stopped waiting around for the precise moment that I fall love.

34424869511_79132be751_o.jpg
The Maps of Matrakçı Nasuh, Ottoman Polymath

15 August, 2017

rain in a drawer

12.36 AM

The cat tried to enter the house again. I had left the door ajar as usual and she popped out of darkness with her usual noiselessness (I should fix the bulb outside. This will be the fourth one in six months). Her movement is so noisy, but without a trace of sound. The first few steps are brisk as she hauls half her body in through the opening as thin and fat as her. Then the sudden halt, complete stillness save for the belly heaving under brown-white fur. Her ears sense that I am looking at her. With a quick jerk she turns left to find me in my usual spot. I look into her alert green eyes and wonder if she can see the dormant sleep in mine. I also wonder whether the rest of her body is as still as the present half pretends. I think especially of the tail. The inside of my right palm trembles invisibly as the image of a soft tail escaping my loose grip flashes for a second. Meanwhile, we are still looking at each other, testing waters. At times, without looking away, she takes a step forward and I lunge at her with a mock threat. Immediately the supple feline body folds back into darkness like half a wave. Tonight though, we were too tired for these games. She retreated gently into the night.

I wonder if she will come back tonight. Her surrenders are never final.

 

1.32 AM

I cannot sleep. I must remember this. Even if we spend every living moment of our days and nights together, doing the same things, together, we will never fall asleep, together, at the exact same moment. Even if we see the same dream, we’ll always be at different points in the story. I miss you terribly. The night is a torment. It’s raining. I don’t have to water plants tomorrow.

 

2.04 AM

The rain has turned furious and is crashing passionately against the corrugated plastic roof of the veranda. I have two towels. When it starts raining, I save only one of them. The rain is so thick tonight, that the one hanging nakedly on the wire, will remain soaked for a long time. Perhaps it will take till afternoon for it to dry. That is if the sun comes out. I hope it does. Hot water showers depend on it.

 

2.23 AM

All that sound and fury lasted for twenty puny minutes. I am sure the annoyingly slow but insistent puttering of droplets will last longer. I thought I’ll go through the text I have to teach this Friday. ‘Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea’ Shakespeare, Sonnet 65. The copy of the textbook they gave me, is in tatters.

(British Literature from Chaucer to the Present Day: Tomes and Tatters)

This copy once belonged to Amina Kauser. Her handwriting, like her name, carries a guileless elegance. Diligent notes fill the margins of practically every page. Around the dark black ink of printed words, Amina has practically re-written the whole text, with the softness of her pencil and plainness of her language.

In Sonnet 65, she has no patience for Shakespeare’s tentativeness  : “How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea”. Her version on the side is more conclusive – everything can be destroyed by time beauty is temporary.

She complicates the last line though : “That in black ink my love may still shine bright” (Amina’s note: poem immortalised my friendship to my love (poem)).

 

3.00 AM

Tried sleeping but couldn’t. I felt like going through Amina’s book again, this time to find the more interesting notes – doodles, obscenities, declarations of love, nonsense conversations. There were none. As if Amina always knew that her book will end up in a library. As if she was performing a task, a duty of sanitizing Goldsmith’s dirty mind and containing Donne’s unruliness in her polite annotations. Or perhaps these words and thoughts are not her own, only the handwriting is. I did chance upon a few spellings that Amina is likely to have made up on her own – orthodocs, shasiated, disulutionment. And a question that I cannot decide is a doubt or a rhetoric – “Why is speech primary and writing secondary?”

The last page of the book with no printed word on it, Amina has used to write down all the phonetic symbols in order. Next to each symbol, she has recreated the sound in Urdu script. I think of that old hindi film song where the creepers on the wall, look like Urdu letters and words. This book now looks like an old house full of creepers crawling on walls.

I’ll perhaps listen to that song, while I try to sleep. The cat didn’t come back.

 

12.25 PM

I slept through the morning. When I woke up, a few minutes back, the day was so sunny that for a moment I forgot about the rains. It was raining in my dream though. There was rain, grass, mud and you. Our bodies were glistening and shivering, feet glazed with damp mud, hair as thick as rivers. We were wrapped in each other like coiling leafy creepers, and our hands moved with the elegance of verses written in longhand.

I woke up utterly disoriented. My whole body felt dry as a desert, inside and outside. A strange stiff shoulder and a blocked nose. I should not sleep naked in this weather.

 

1.38 PM

I haven’t opened the door since morning and all the windows are shut; the sun is warming their translucent glass panes. I slept through the breakfast hour, and now I am too lazy to cook. I plan an elaborate lunch for every holiday, but on the day itself, cooking seems like the worst idea. I’ll order something. Water is over too. I hope Murugan is not too lazy to bring it today.

 

2.00 PM

I feel like writing a poem to Amina Kauser. The title – to Amina Kauser is running in my head. I searched for her name on Facebook. The first profile that popped up, carried the picture of an anime girl with pink hair and doe eyes. The profile was empty save for a few pictures, with a string of comments by several men.

One of the pictures said – ‘Life is full of fake people! Trust no one’.  Amina in her book had put a curly bracket around the last two lines of “To His Coy Mistress” and added a note – seize the day. Another picture, another advice – ‘No Love, No Tension’.

The most recent picture was a still from a Hindi film – closeup of a teary eyed actress. The text on the picture said – ‘Don’t come visiting me after I DIE.  I needed you when I was ALIVE’.

 

3.50 PM

Murugan brought water. When I opened the door to collect the canister, he was grinning at me like an idiot. It took me a few seconds to realise that he was grinning because he thought I was an idiot. I had left the garbage bag out last night and by now it lay it tatters, its contents strewn around gloriously on the cement floor. “Abhi poora saaf karna padega” Murugan said, still grinning with his overly white teeth.

Bloody cat!

 

Nari’s transistor radio

The only celebration for me was the leaf itself, I’m sure Paru would agree. Ummoos had used the long ladder to twist, coax, cajole the large leaves from the tree only that morning. It was the first thing I would see every birthday morning while I brushed my teeth under that very tree, a mixture of Colgate and saliva that made the tree grow too tall for Ummoos to pull down its branches.

I loved her passionately, my saviour and friend. Ummoos was brought from Tirur five years ago to look after Ammamma. Achan had insisted she get some help after her arthritis got so bad that she had a nasty fall from the mango tree. No, really. Ammamma always climbed the mango trees in summer, in full mundu and veshti, completely unabashed. She fought with Achan about it for months until Ummoos made the perfect sour mango curry and then her religion was forgiven. Now ammamma and I couldn’t imagine our ripe mango and plantain leaf plucking summers without Ummoos. When mangoes were at stake, ammamma always found a way to make peace with her gods.

The leaf was bright green in colour, dotted with white, yellow, red, black and a lighter green. I started moving around the rice to form the chutti first, thick and white lining the boundaries of the face. I let the green of the leaf pour in, before drawing the black of the eyebrows with Ummoos special ginger-tamarind chutney. The eyebrows rose in a perfect arc. I stared at the half formed veshakaran. “Stop playing with your food, kutti!” Ummoos never called me by my name, just kutti. I looked up at the roof leaking more songs. “ Should I go upstairs and call him amma?” Ummoos asked tentatively. No one spoke about Nari in the house except us kids and ours was more with the transistor radio than Nari himself. The thing had to die, and it was our yearly mission to provide it the best possible death. “ I’ll go, I’ll go. I’m done anyway, I’ll take the food to Nari and come back for my payasam.”Appukuttan regularly punctured holes into Nari’s long, song-filled afternoons.

I pleaded silently with amamma  to let Appukuttan leave. There was an evil gleam in his eye when he wished me a happy birthday in the morning, I knew the familiar “Nannaku vechitundu di” look. Appukuttan firmly believed that ammamma was partial to me because I was from ‘outside’ and he sought revenge for every extra teaspoon of Horlicks and special hot water baths. My birthdays were always occasion for an elaborate prank. Usually involving a good degree of public humiliation, terrible frights or just some physical pain when in an uncreative mood. But amamma asked him to sit back down and eat his payasam off the leaf, “ And don’t let me hear you call him Nari again, he is your uncle. Show some respect child! Have you taken bath today?” Ammamma always asked him that question when he got into trouble, one that inevitably landed him in more trouble. “ The water was cold.”

I quickly folded my leaf and slipped out before Appukuttan caught my eyes, baths were a sensitive topic with him. Ammamma took a bath once at 3:30 in the morning and once at 5:30 in the evening. She took bath silently and in complete darkness, as if in secret. I discovered ammamma’s secret one achingly embarrassing night two years ago. I could never get used to having a toilet outside the house and the dark dingy little hole into which unspeakable things went into was impossibly worse at night. On that particular night, the urge was tremendous and all dingy holes and darkness was to be suffered, if suffer I must. On my right there was Appukuttan, to my left Unni and above, Nari’s transistor radio bleating steadily into the night. In the darkness, the radio sounded like a wailing banshee stuck behind the walls. I paused for a few seconds in complete fright, willing the urge to go back the way it came. But it was one of those nights. I made a sudden dash from one door end to the other.  Now if there was no moon that night, the darkness would have been so complete that I wouldn’t have seen her. But in the narrow gleam of the moonlight, a frail shrivelled up figure with a bright halo covered in white had a stunning effect on me. Again, the effect was so stunning that I could have remained silent, but in between two creaks of Nari’s wretched radio the figure looked up straight at me. I managed a scream of the likes that overcame all singing and all sleeping in the house. My urge found a way out and by the time the entire house had found its way to the ghost, ammamma had slapped me twice and whisked me away to get cleaned up complaining about having to take another bath. By the end of that summer my ears had turned a permanent burning red.

Ummoos and I went to feed Paru our leaves, “ Look at her, she can both shit and eat at the same time. Who does she think will clean this up for the third time today!” From what seemed like right behind us, a ringing shriek and a thud sent Paru mooing into Ummoos’ midriff.