by Tapan Mozumdar
Whose life am I living? Amma, is Pawan your definition of a ‘suitable boy’? Are you happy now?
Twilight at the horizons, don’t keep reminding me of the dance costumes I’d never wear. I am as happy as a girl should be to marry someone who is a Vice President, Technology Services at 31. Get that clear.
A flock of herons flew back to their nest. Gouri saw their synchronised flight from her 15th floor balcony. How did they find their home without GPS? She lost her way, every other day, even with it.
That morning, she was going through the employment section of The Times of India. Pawan was picking cashew-nuts from the ‘Ready to Eat’ halwa.
“The insurance sector is hiring here, I shall start applying now.”
“Only three days since you came to Gurgaon, what’s the rush?”
After Pawan left for work, Kishori Amonkar, Shubha Mudgal and the likes from his collection accompanied her deep into aloneness. She couldn’t bear the sadness that followed. She couldn’t tell that to the new man either.
She switched on the television. A daughter was against her parents about the match they had ‘fixed’ for her. “Is it a cricket match that you will ‘fix’ it? How will I know that he is right for me?” No one is ever ‘right’, argued her parents. You need to make ‘right’ the person divinity chose for you.
She dug herself deep into the pages of her diary. The TV kept showing relationship games.
The mahogany-coloured grandfather clock chimed Beethoven’s 9th symphony. It was only six. Another two hours before Pawan would reach home. Traffic, he would say, and she would believe.
Back in Guntur, this was Amma’s time to start and continue her ‘serial’ watching till nine. At 9:10, she would flock the entire family for dinner like a mother hen. Again, another hour and a half hours of reality shows. Then sleep.
Like clockwork. Every night. 365 days.
Mīru alā svārtha, Amma. I have the board exams in three months from now. Yet you want me to go with you to the doctor. Why can’t you ask Appa? You are always hiding things from him. Like he is, from you. Nineteen years and three children later, you are still cross with your parents for making your match with a school teacher. And he continues to blame you for not letting him do his M.A. You people!
Narayani had had chest pain for some time. She ignored the ailment as long as a ‘faithful’ Indian housewife typically did. One day, she climbed a stool to take out some money from her secret tin box for Mr Murthy. They wanted to buy a surprise gift for Gouri. Mr Murthy was next to her when she felt dizzy and fell. He caught her in the nick of time. He sent word to his school principal about his absence and dragged her to the nearby Ramesh Hospital.
Three days later, on her way back from her Maths coaching, Gouri accompanied Appa for collecting Amma’s medical reports. “What can be wrong with her? She still shouts all day at everyone,” Appa said, trying to comfort Gouri on their way to the hospital.
“Murthy garu, sit down, please. Ammayi, can you wait outside?”
Gouri eavesdropped from the cold corridor. “Heart condition… Ignored… Quickly… Chennai… reference.”
On the polished stainless steel door for the elevators, Gouri could see her reflection. “You are your mother’s Xerox copy,” Uma pinni would often tease her. She never liked the comparison.
Look Devudu, I can’t really trust you anymore! Before we went to collect Amma’s report, I prayed so hard. With eyes closed. I cried. You couldn’t change those, right? Amma is always out of breath. She pukes so often. Who will take me for the show? Nā amma anugrahin̄cu, please!
Narayani had always desired to learn Kuchipudi herself, but her atta was very strict. She was Gouri’s age when she was married. Her 45 kg, 5’ 2” svelte figure forever looked apologetic in front of the big and dark atta. She quickly learnt how to swallow all her ambitions and desires in the daily grind of a joint family.
When Gouri was 12 and atta passed away, Narayani took Gouri to join Kuchipudi classes and quickly, her little fish took to the dancing waters. Gouri could swirl and tap for hours.
Narayani was back from Apollo, weak and bedridden. “Can you take me to Vijayawada tomorrow for the dance recital?” Gouri checked with Uma pinni as she picked stones from the rice. Narayani had waited for this day for the last three years. Uma stopped and looked at her with despise befitting a deserter.
“Are you a witch? You want to dance when Amma is dying! Shall I tell this to Anna?” Gouri retreated on seeing Uma’s rage.
“You are our ‘first girl’, Gouri, lots of eyes on you,” Principal Madam had said after the pre-tests. She had come to know about Amma recently. “Be brave. Tough times don’t last, tough people do. God bless you!” She may be well meaning, but pity hurts hard these days. “Dēvuni dīvenalu cālā!” Exams are over. I don’t need to see her again.
P.S: I could never do my Arangretam. I try every day to forgive you, Devudu.
“You have a good daughter, Narayani! Such marks under such stress! Bravo! What do you want to be, Gouri?” asked Uma pinni as she distributed sweets.
The answer was all over her growing body. In her swaying walk, in the way she rolled her eyes to react: “Dancer”. Uma pinni gave her an angry stare. Tears rolled down her Amma’s eyes.
The daily grind of the coaching classes, uff! I would have run away from here had Appa not paid so much in advance. 4 am to 10 pm, daily. My shoulders ache, eyes water, back sprains. Prisons are better than this perhaps; at least you get to sleep more there.
Madhav gave me a rose yesterday. He is so shy!
“Who will marry a dancing Kamma girl? Engineers get good grooms settled in America, ammayi, just get into Computer Science or Electronics somehow. Ī mī svanta man̄ci kōsaṁ!” said Mr. Murthy as Gouri packed for the dancing classes. For this little indulgence on the weekends that he bestowed on her, Gouri was grateful. She never responded to such comments from Appa. He would be proud one day. Last December, everyone had praised her poise on the first day on stage.
For Narayani’s treatment and for Gouri’s PUC, Mr Murthy had shifted to Vijayawada. He just wanted Narayani to be around at the time of Gouri’s marriage. The doctor here said there was a good chance for her to sustain. The heart had found its rhythm and pace. Or so it seemed for some time.
It was Buddha Purnima when Narayani’s heart pumped for the last time. It was just after three days’ hospitalisation. Mr Murthy, to his embarrassment, felt much relief along with the customary sadness. He could now resume saving to arrange for Gouri’s dowry. Mr Murthy, Uma pinni and Gouri moved to Hyderabad near the college. Gouri practised dance at home. Her Guruji visited the neighbourhood only on Sundays. She would not miss a single Sunday class.
It feels so awkward to have these twin bosoms growing and growing! It’s getting so difficult to practise without drawing attention. Vandana winked yesterday in class. Through her eyes, I saw Guruji ogling me. My dupatta had shifted away during practice.
On 6th July 2011, Guru Vempati Mohan was arrested under IPC section 354 on the charges of molesting a young student at his Nrityamandir workshop. On the way to the police van, he said that he felt violated by this act of treachery. As it was a weekend, the guru had to spend two memorable nights in the lockup with the less blessed souls. He couldn’t even eat his favourite Payasam that his wife brought on Sunday. Courts opened on Monday, and the first thing the judge did was to sign the bail order for Guruji. It was rumoured that the magistrate’s daughter was Guruji’s favourite student.
Media went wild breaking news every hour; the bhakts tore apart the conniving family who framed this false allegation to destroy Guruji’s reputation. It was over an old property dispute, they said. Media and police protected the identity of the victim. The small mercies!
Mr Murthy shifted from Hyderabad to Bangalore. Threats were getting too real for Gouri’s safety. She lost a year in the process. By the time she settled in her new college, she had traded the adrenaline rush of her spinning toes for the dancing fingers on the computer keyboards, forever.
Gouri was a regular and attentive student. By the time she graduated, she could sleep walk through C++, Java and the like and recite like a priest the error code diagnostics of the operating systems.
3rd April 2014
One of the large IT factories picked me up today to be one of their neck-strapped IDs. I could hear Appa’s chuckle over the mobile: the first time in six years. Now, he can be respectable again. Now, he can hasten his hunt for Mr Right. “Apply for a passport this week”, he insisted.
22nd December 2016
I can’t face a blinking cursor anymore. The daily churn of many codes and their fixes make me so much like the mainframes I deal with. I feel sleepy all the time. I have stopped seeing faces, countries and animals in the clouds above.
These sounds! Rhymes, rhythm, rhapsody – how these ocean waves bring it all back!
With her head on Madhav’s shoulder, Gouri was humming. At 5:30 am, the beaches of Pondicherry were deserted and quiet. She knew that this was their last sunrise together. Madhav had been by her side always. Gouri could never figure out how to tell Appa about this Mala Dasu boy. She had no strength left to pick up another fight. Madhav would understand her reasons to move to Gurgaon with Pawan.
The door bell had been ringing – with impatience, with anger. Two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc had done their bit. In such unfamiliar Gurgaon cold, it’s so annoying to pull out of the blankets.
Shaking off the evening stupor, Gouri took three full minutes to open the door. Pawan was tired, upset by her delay.
“You will finish this expensive gift soon! Don’t drink alone, it gets addictive”, he spoke in his usual monotone.
After keeping the bottle back into the wine chiller, he proceeded to the drawing room sofa to watch Bloomberg or ET News, waiting for his customary cup of steaming coffee.