To Be Beautiful…

He sat perched on a branch of the Chempaka tree by the window, looking at her with his soulful eyes and smiling. His skin glowed, bathed in the golden light as the sun started to set. He was not just handsome but so beautiful….and ethereal. “Was he one of those mystical beings called “gandharvas” who loved to haunt Chempaka trees?” she wondered. She wanted to put out her hands through the window and run them through his hair as it fluttered in the gentle breeze but her shyness and reticence held her back.

“So, why are you here on top of this tree?” she asked in a whisper. She did not want the rest of the household to be alerted.

“To see you of course” was the prompt reply and his voice was music to her ears. She glanced around quickly to make sure that nobody else in the house had heard him and admonishingly put a finger on her lips, to hush him. He just laughed.

“That is what I want to know”, she continued to whisper. “Why do you want to see me?”

“I want to make you mine”, he said. “You are so breathtakingly beautiful, I can’t keep away from you”, he replied. “Your dark mysterious eyes, your heartbreaking smile, everything about you is so enchanting…” His words caressed her and her eyelids drooped as she sighed in happiness. She stretched her hands out through the window to touch him…

The door opened suddenly and her aunt stood there shouting “What are you doing standing there day dreaming? Are you not getting dressed? They will be here soon and please, please try and get presentable.” She left the room all in a flutter as suddenly as she had come in. She felt sorry for her aunt who had looked after her ever since she was orphaned. Now her aunt was so burdened with having to marry her off in a place where marriages were arranged and money and looks meant everything. As fate would have it, she did not have a big inheritance or money…

She glanced back through the window at the mystical Chempaka tree. Dusk had begun to cast its gloom on the leaves and he was nowhere to be seen. She slowly moved to the dressing table and began the usual process of making herself “presentable”…. She had gone through this process so many times before.  Hurriedly she wore a silk sari and braided her hair. She applied black kaajal not only around the rim of her eyelids but also on the wisps of grey hair that age seemed to gift her with. She tried to cover up her deep scars and blemishes with foundation and makeup. The accident and fire that happened when she was a child, had not been satisfied by just taking the lives of her parents.

No matter what she did, the mirror could never say “she was the fairest of them all”. Mirrors of course, reflect back only the exterior physical ugliness. She heard a car enter the driveway and knew that it brought another man home to see her and reject her for her looks.

The door opened again and it was her aunt peeping in to check on her. “Not ready yet?” she asked. “If this boy is also going to reject you, we will have to stop looking any further. Nobody seems to want to marry you. You are already above forty and …” The door closed again as her aunt left without completing the sentence.

She heard the guests being welcomed into the drawing room downstairs and the sound of their chatter tumbled in as she opened the door and listened. She quickly walked back to the dressing table and sat down looking into the mirror to do some final touch up. She could now hear her aunt call out for her to go downstairs.

Slowly, she took up a wet towel and cleaned all the makeup from her face and loosened her hair from its tight braid. Casting away her silk sari, she went and stood by the window, daydreaming and waiting expectantly for her gandharva, the mystical being who made her feel beautiful…..

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All that she hoped for……

expectations

As the sun’s golden fingers tickled her eyes open, she stretched awake. As usual, she lingered on in bed, hesitant to start the day. After all, she had all the time in the world. There was no one waiting, expecting her services or attention. Her life was the same every day, without the pressures and pleasure of change. It usually started in the mornings with coffee and tasteless breakfast. She had stopped complaining about the hard idlis long ago when she realised that it fell on deaf ears. If only she had the energy and youthfulness to cook her own breakfast, she could have shown them how soft idlis were made. Now, however, she was totally dependent on the meals they provided and aged care homes were not famous for catering to the gourmet.

This morning she was surprised to find a piece of sweet semolina halwa with her idlis and she received greetings and a smile from the woman who served it. It was then that she realised the speciality of the day. After a warm shower, she got dressed in a silk sari that she had reserved for special occasions. Her fingers played with the folds as she fondly remembered the day some long time ago, when her husband had bought it for her on an occasion like this. He had said she looked very beautiful in it with her long, shiny hair braided and her eyes blackened with kaajal. Maybe he is watching her now, waiting anxiously for her to join him. “I haven’t got my passport yet, my dear. I am hoping it will be soon. Please be patient my dear” she muttered to herself. She smiled as she remembered how he used to laugh at her tongue-in-cheek comments.

Pulling open the drawer of her bedside table, the only other furniture in the room, she lifted out her hand mirror and the kaajal from her little treasure box. With her unsteady hand, she adorned her eyes with the kaajal. She was not very happy with the way the black colour spread unevenly around her eyes but she knew she could not achieve anything better because of her frail, shaky hands. She shrugged and brought out the tiny bottle of perfume from the treasure box and dabbed it on her wrists, and dress. She wanted to look and smell really nice when they kissed and hugged her. Suddenly, the world looked brighter. The sun-speckled leaves on the hibiscus tree outside her window danced in the breeze and rays of hope added glint to her tired eyes.

Those eyes kept looking at the telephone, expecting it to ring any time. Those eyes kept looking out through the window into the drive way expecting the cars to come driving in any time. As the day wore on, she still kept her hope alive, finding reasons for the delay. May be the car broke down….. May be they had to stop over somewhere urgently…. May be they got delayed trying to choose the right presents….

That night she went to bed wearily, still clad in her sari. She was worried. She prayed that they had not met with any accidents or anything untoward had happened. She prayed that none of them were sick and that they were all healthy. It did not matter that they forgot her eightieth birthday… as long as her children and their families were happy and safe… That was all what she really hoped for…

Too late to say sorry…

raincloud

“I don’t care if you leave today. Why should I bother trying to say otherwise when it makes no difference whatsoever?”

My bitter words seemed to fall on deaf ears. He just stood like a rock with his eyes looking out into the garden. I became more agitated when I failed to spur a response.

It was a Friday morning and the row had started when Kris announced, “You know, I have to go with my team to evaluate the milk union in Kottayam. It looks like I will be away the whole weekend.”

Again, I was being left all alone and feeling neglected. This had become a regular occurrence. Even those days my husband was at home, there would be a hoard of fellow researchers and friends with him.  “While you guys are  immersed in discussions of anything and everything from world economics to local politics, I  am being sidelined here. Am I married to the television or what?” I used to complain on being left watching programs on the TV.

Now, he just stood there, looking out through the window and running a hand through his thick hair. The silence irritated me. It needled me that my emotional outbursts did not seem to affect him. I was hurting and I wanted him to feel the pain too. So I continued harshly.

“Oh, go ahead and neglect this wife of fourteen years. After all, it’s just me here and we don’t have any kids to hold you here, do we?”

I rushed to smother those words with my hands, but it was too late. They gushed out of my mouth, shattering in the room like broken glass. I saw him flinch in pain as from a whiplash. A wave of shame and regret engulfed me. I hated myself for crossing the line and talking about our childlessness. He still did not speak, continuing to look at the shrubbery with raindrops shimmering on the leaves. It was monsoon season, and his face reflected the clouds of gloom in the sky. I took a remorseful step towards him, but he put out a hand, stopping me.

I looked away, my lids drooping to cover the pangs of guilt I felt in inflicting the pain. Feeling stifled by his silence, I needed to run away from his anguish….and my self-reproach. Hastily I grabbed my handbag and left for work. In the office, I tried to bury myself in projects and reports, but all that I achieved was feel more and more ashamed. Kaleidoscope of my life with my husband kept flitting through my mind. I remembered how we met each other for the first time. I remembered all the romance and the sweet nothings in the early years of our married life. The little tiffs we had, the love and the companionship…. For the past ten years, that was all that I really wanted back, ever since those test results that had cast us into despondency.

We had gone for the health check when after four years of marriage, I could not conceive. Though we believed everything was fine and that we simply had to give it some more time, friends and family had prodded us on for a checkup. After a nerve-racking examination, I had been given the “all clear” and we went for an ice cream and a roam in the park while waiting for his results. It was a pleasant day and all seemed well with the world….  And then we went back for his report.

“Things are not looking good, I must say. I’d suggest that you adopt if you really want children,” the doctor said commiseratingly when he handed over the results. Kris read the report and then held out a hand to me. I clutched it and I still remember how cold it felt. The paper trembled in his other hand as he passed it on to me. The term Azoospermia was introduced into my vocabulary.

“It’s just a health problem dear– it can’t affect the way we feel about each other” I had tried to tell him. “We have to be strong and get through this together”.

But then, he had seemed to withdraw further and further away from me,  burrowing into work… like an ostrich, burying its head in the sand. I realized that he was building a protective shield around himself and I took particular care in not saying or doing anything that would hurt him ….until that Friday.

I decided that I needed to go home and beg his forgiveness as soon as I could leave from work. I wanted to tell him, “I only want you to love me and keep me close. I really did not mean to say what I said in the morning. I’m terribly, terribly sorry..”

But when I returned home sad and contrite that afternoon, he had already gone on the trip. It looked as though the tour team had been in a hurry. Used teacups were still left on the coffee table. One of my potted bonsai plants had fallen off the stand and was lying on its side, as in portrayal of things to come.

The monsoon rains thundered on the roof as I twisted and turned in my bed that night. The next morning, the rain had abated and a lone cuckoo bird was crying plaintively. I was getting breakfast ready when I heard a car come into the driveway. My heart jumped with joy. “He has come home early,” I thought and rushed to open the door.

As if in a surreal world, I saw a couple of policemen. The whole world went quiet except for the patter of the raindrops. They came in and had me seated before they said, “Ma’am, your husband died in a motel last night. We believe he died of a heart attack.”

“Gone before I could beg his forgiveness… leaving me behind” my heart murmured.

While the monsoon clouds darkened the skies crossing over into another realm, in the distance the cuckoo bird continued lamenting heart brokenly. “I’m sorry……… I’m sorry……”