Sunday, November 21, 2010

On missing the bus

I knew it the minute I hit snooze the third time. Sometimes you wake up in that groggy grey zone where you're at risk of locking a yawning house behind you three two minutes but you brush your teeth with an unhurried thoroughness that shows that you've braved the risk too many times to bother hurrying.

Usually, it was the newspaper that held me back. Or the rare silences offered up by morning minutes when I can hear my heart out through screeching school buses and bikes honking school leather clad feet out of their way. 

Neither happened today.

 I had learnt to leave the newspaper folded up in crisp tantrums outside my door till my sprint to the bus stop would begin, when I would first fasten my floaters, then pick it up and zip it shut into a backpack groaning with unread papers of the week.

Sometimes I got a two-seater section all to myself where I could spread it to its full grown double sheet breadth, my shoulders expanding with effort. People would turn back at me, annoyed at the creaks and scratches inner editorial pages played out at their ears. Sometimes it stayed shut in my bag.

Neither happened today.

I knew it the minute I could see the tea stall clearly, free of the blue cloud of company uniforms that usually held the smoke in a conspiratorial confinement. I could smell the tea today and having smelt it I couldn't understand why I had been saving all this for later, the tea, the winter that was making its way into the city like a drunken stranger, the newspaper.

"Your bus has left, madam." The boy told me as he handed me the tea. "Yes. It has." I smiled at him. 

He had a thin pleasant face, one I hadn't really looked at in one and a half years of boarding a bus at his doorstep.

I walked back, noticing every detail that had lain dead on my way to the bus stand, red sweaters skipping into buses on time, grateful for hot sour breaths of passing buses that snored past, flowers that fell into foreign hands and forayed into streets four away.  

I knew I was working a way backward through wish lists, through , through life itself. I was staging my life in a way that would make sense in its retelling rather than in its living.

I had missed the bus today. And every day I hadn't I had missed these mornings moulting to life.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

That kind of night

Appa didn’t even look up when I began to talk about the snake in Vizag. “It crossed the road about 100 metres ahead of me. Might have stepped on it had I walked faster. Could hardly see it in the sun.’

“Was it a cobra?’ He asked, with a voice still acutely normal with the absence of curiosity. After all he had spent hi childhood killing water snakes by a well and must have been bitten by six kinds of snakes.

“Yeah.A cobra. A big one.

“Oh.” My father’s response divested the incident of the drama it would have had in the eyes of my mother or my sister. They would have sighed, breathing an excitement bordering on panic, told me off for choosing a shorter road lined with suspicious shrubbery on both sides.

Rain hasn’t failed Chennai on a Diwali yet and this year had a storm forecast to go with the rain that doused half-lit flower pots, turned 1000 walas into an instant red pickle and softened the bombs into whimpering balls of fire.

It was nice to fall asleep to babbling cloudbursts instead of stuffing my ears with cotton plugs that weren’t impervious to firecracker noise. I wished rain had volume knobs so that I could turn it up and down between silence and car noises.

It was a calm orange sky, bearing sunset scars even at ten pm. Orange with a sunset that refused to leave or with a lurking dawn that still preferred disguise. Or maybe the rocket bombs that had sprayed the sky with graffiti of green orange and yellow sparks had rubbed off, like enamel paint.

Amma and Aishu were far behind, amma’s elbow tucked in Aishu’s as she took step after fearful step, fearful of her hypoglycaemic fainting fits. Our efforts to flag down passing autos had met with frosty refusals. They would choose to rattle on emptily instead of the scant fare that this inconveniently short distance would dole out.

So we walked back from the theatre, our feet dodging flights of coloured firework paper, paper that laughed in tiny gusts like fighting birds, paper that had fought off gunpowder smells aided by the rain. Some lay crushed in paper-maiche hills, others like dying butterfly wings making final bids at movement.

We stopped at an auto, waving aside the black rubber rain curtains to rouse the driver. Two khaki-clad figures stumbled out of a strange embrace like twin checks cracking an eggshell open.

“Don’t look.” My mother pulled us both forward by hand. “They were doing something dirty.” My sister and I stiffened our shoulders with swallowed laughter. It was that kind of night.

“Don’t walk ahead of her, SK. Stay with Ramya in the dark.” My mother semi-shouted through the distance. My father waited for me near a snoozing fire engine that must have had a restive Diwali week.

I caught up with him just as a 23C and 29C roaring past me with a perfunctory whoosh of air like the greeting of old friends left behind at an old school.

We whipped out an umbrella and the wind turned it upside down immediately. The umbrella flapped furiously, its ribs exposed and dangling. I shook out old rain hiding within its black folds and readied it for battle with a rainless storm. It wasn’t raining yet, short bellows of thunder and intermittent drizzle hadn’t evolved into a full throated cyclone yet, a cyclone that bayed for leafless trees and had felled branches that lay inert at our feet.

When we reached the gate, a cracker tittered defiantly and the clouds suddenly lit up yellow and laughing. The rain still made morse code knocks upon the earth but the storm went away sulking at the calm that lay shattered by the cracker before it could roar its arrival aloud.

I could always hear the wind better in Madras. It shook out old rain clinging to the leaves still left behind, and it fell lukewarm like tap water, neither cool and light like night rain nor hot heavy and urgent like tears.