Monday, March 26, 2012

Mornings


A watchman's whistle clocks four,
I wake up on the familiar cue;
Flickers of consciousness stream in:
A dark room, the whirr of the fan,
A soft pillow, a book underneath,
The comfort of knowing-I'm Me.

Like a monk, reveling in solitude,
I sit at my desk, my nest;
Wrapped in an old, powdery quilt.
Impatient thoughts spill over,
A page fills, and then another,
In the light of a yellow lamp.

An hour passes, the ink dries;
I sit on the window ledge,
Damp from last night's rain.
The first light enters my room,
A Monet Sky, A Van Gogh sky,
Crimson arteries of the sun.

The petrichor seduces, I give in;
Gypsy toes wriggle into shoes,
Steps into the mellow morning.
A dewy blanket leaks sunshine,
Breeze, birds, feet on cobbled path:
The dawn chorus greets me.

Mossy tree trunks, bamboo thicket,
A lazy dog, birds on electric wires,
Ripples of a pebble on a pond,
A leafy canopy sheltering anthills;
I watch  them as legs defy fatigue,
A meditative stride, a content mind.

I live from morning to morning,
Waking up to the delights of spring,
Where happiness is a bougainvillea.
The world awakes, solitude threatened;
And I walk on the road to home,
Coffee and conversations await me.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Dirty Word



I visited the Sunday Book Bazaar at Daryaganj recently, and I felt faint with excitement at the awe-inspiring treasures in front of me, rows and rows of books scattered in the pavement, waiting to be picked up by readers for less than the price of a cup of coffee. I did what any self-respecting book lover would do, ignored the mortified glare of the people who accompanied me, and sat down at the pavement next to a huge pile of books that included New York Times best-sellers, rare editions with yellowed, well-thumbed pages, translated works from all over the world. I looked sadly at the size of the two totes my sister and I carried; and considered dialling a taxi to take a greater haul home. I added twenty new books to my library that day. And one of them was Joyce Carol Oates’s 'We Were the Mulvaneys'.

It’s the saga about a perfect American family; a Dad with a flourishing roofing business, a cheerful Mom who was more of a friend to her children, three talented sons, an angelic daughter, a quaint farmhouse, adorable pets, a bustling social life, devout God-fearing hearts and the happiness of making a perfect little world for themselves, the perfect world of the Mulvaneys. Then ‘it’ happened. The incident. That dirty word. And the world sided with the ‘rapist’. The Mulvaneys fell apart, the family disintegrating gradually, time playing a cruel trick of engraving the hurt deeper each day, the knife turning in their hearts a little more each day. Each individual of the family, Mom, Dad, the three brothers and Marianne Mulvaney herself, the angelic girl to whom ‘it’ happened; were a ‘casualty’ of the incident. They didn’t crumble immediately, but the helplessness and the frustration of justice denied, falling prey to social stigma, disappointment at each other’s reaction to ‘it’; the failure to protect the lovely Marianne, their world, ‘The Mulvaneys’. How it breaks your heart! Knowing the Mulvaneys at such close quarters, having been handed such an intimate view of their lives, their goodness, their love, their perfect life; and the slow destruction of everything they treasured, the love fading behind uneasiness and their misery. Oates’s is at her finest, describing the trauma of this family, turning to obscurity. But time heals the scars, or at least makes them strong enough to endure it.  There is reconciliation, triumph of hope and compassion at the end. But, why? At what cost? Why them? Why anyone at all? It’s fiction, yet it can be anyone. It can be about me, about you. I couldn’t help the tears brimming in my eyes, as I leafed through the final pages of this remarkable book, this moving account of human emotions, flaws and redemption.

And in the evening, I watched Barkha Dutt interview a rape victim of the 2002 Gujrat riots and sat listening to the trials of her family. It’s a ten year old trial of her family fighting for justice, fighting for survival, fighting to bring up two daughters unscathed. The husband’s eyes gleaming with tears as he talked about the troubles they had to face, the threats they had to endure and how they kept it all aside for what is right, what is just.

I remembered the various accounts of sexual abuse I’ve heard through the years. A friend’s sister, who had a problem of bed-wetting till the age of 23, was a victim of incest at the age of 3 years. A neighbour was a victim of marital rape every time she had an argument with her husband. A classmate was groped by few men during a Durga Puja crowd.

Many women. Many stories. A dirty word in their lives; Abuse, Incest or Rape.