Monday, October 3

Destined to guard.

A on...
I stay at 8th floor, C block .Railway Colony. Off Carter Road. Bandra.

The place, they say, is an old Apartment, at least that’s the feel I got when I came here the first time. I traveled through West, Satara to Thane, Thane to Bandra, at the back of the truck. The last journey from a village in Satara to a district in Bombay and then from the district in Bombay to a Colony in Bandra. To meet my fate …the fate of a door in the Sharma household. That was the last time I saw sunshine. But forget that, this is not my story.

It is the story of the Sharmas. I live with the Sharma family or that would be half the truth. I live in the Sharma household. I am not even supposed to live. But live I must …till I die. Again, I am sorry, this is not my story…it is the story of Sharmas.

So this is Sharma Household. Family of Vinod Sharma…Vinod is a nice man. He works for a manufacturing Company, worked as a shop floor supervisor when he came to C Block, Railway colony and then became a manager. He is a nice man. Ask me …how do I know? Well… I can say. The first time he held me…I knew. Trees know. We have so many people coming and taking shelter. We can tell.

He came here with his parents and two sisters. 8th floor, C block was a rather small place for a family of five. But they were a nice family and never viewed it otherwise. It must have been better off than staying where they did. I used to catch snatches of conversation between the mother and daughter on the merits of C Block over their earlier existence.

The mother and the daughters slept in the master room while the father slept in the little room next to the kitchen. Vinod slept in the living room that opened to the master bed room. And I stood guard to the master bed room.

Sometimes I wonder… if they ever knew that there was a sixth member in the family….a door to the master bedroom with eyes towards the bed room, a door that was not supposed to live, but live it did ….till it died. What would anyone do if they thought their bedroom door had eyes? That it stood as a mute testimony to their life, It felt happy at their joys and wept in their sorrows. That it had its own stories, that it missed a village in satara,missed being a tree, missed its sunshine, missed the rains, the birds that took refuge, the fruits it bore, but that is my story. If anyone knew their bedroom door had eyes they would… I shudder to think.

I must stick to Sharma’s story, for that’s why I live, that’s how I live. Through Vinod. As a door in a Sharma household, stripped of any identity as a tree in a village. This is Sharma’s story.

Vinod Sharma would get up at 6 in the morning and finish his morning ablutions, take a cold water bath and go out in the morning to fetch flowers for his mother’s pooja. Amma would get up before Vinod came in and complete her ablutions. By the time Amma finished her Pooja, Rinky and Pinki the sisters would have made hot steaming parathas and chai for the family. The whole family would sit together on the floor and have the breakfast together before Vinod left for office.

Vinod was a conscientious man. He gave his meager salary to his mother every first week of the month. Amma saved more than half of the salary for Rinky & Pinki’s marriage and spent the rest on the family.

Amma and Papa had few responsibilities, getting Rinky and Pinki married off to conscientious boys and getting a bride for Vinod. And then they wanted to go off to their home in Gorakhpur and stay there. Vinod, like the good son he was tried hard to find alliance for his sisters.

There were people who come to “see” Rinky. Amma would make the bai wait back and Rinky would be clad in red saree, made to fetch tea after few minutes of small talk. Pinki, the taller and the slimmer of the two sisters had strict instructions not to show up. After an audience of some 5 minutes Rinky would be asked to go inside.

And I was to play the door….my role in Sharma household. Guard to their inner secrets. I had to keep the taller, slimmer Pinky captive. When Rinky huddled to me, trying hard to catch snippets of information between her family and her family- to-be, I had to filter information... give her what she should hear, absorb what she should not… like a patriarch. I felt her bridal dreams as she stood there, anticipation and disappointment thumping in her young chest.

And then one day after series of facing family to be … Rinky got married. I was festooned with pink… and the whole household reverberated with Rinky and Pinki’s laughter. I missed Rinky when she went away and so did Vinod and Amma and Papa. I knew Pinki missed her the most. For her Rinky was the friend of her virginal days…Rinky’s marriage made Pinki more lonely…more forlorn and more beautiful. It did not surprise anyone when Pinki’s hand was asked for by one of the eligible bachelor’s in Rinky’s family… I knew what our beautiful Pinki did to him every time she raised her Kohl and love laden eyes to her name. Pinki’s marriage happened within six months of Rinky.

Maa and Papa slept in the bedroom while Vinod took the smaller room. I still stood guard. Destined to guard….consigned to hold fort…away from my own…leading life through Vinod. His state was not too different from mine. Like a tree he had to first create a world and then like a door guard it from the rest of the world.

His marriage was the last of Amma and Papa’s worldly responsibility. Minu came home. Vinod’s bride Minu.The light eyed high spirited Minu, the exuberant, lovely, girlish Minu. Minu reminded me of the creepers who grew around me during the rains. The creepers who tantalized the trees. Minu was the creeper in Vinod’s life. The creeper in my consciousness’… my life through Vinod.

Minu and Vinod took the master bedroom while Amma and Papa shifted to the smaller room. I stood guard to Vinod and Minu cuddled in the first gush of love, like a lover myself in the throes of lovemaking.

Minu won over every heart. She was a balm to Ma’s arthritic knees... a friend to Rink and Pinki…why she even bought me a nice Ganesha to adorn on my bare chest…my creeper Minu.

For Amma and Papa life was lived, they wanted to go back to Gorakhpur on their fed souls. I remember the last time Amma stood against me…one hand on her bending ailing back another on me. I stood like a forceful son….like I wanted to reassure Amma of being the ever faithful son.

“I stood by my promise Amma” .Still remember the evening when Vinod was away for to a friend’s place. Raju Baba was on his way to the world. Minu had labour pains in the afternoon. My perceptive Minu saw danger lurking in the corner and called up Rinky. She also readied herself for the hospital, a chore she and Vinod had practiced over the last few weeks. But before she could reach the bed, she fell at my feet. And I sat vigil to her pain until Rinky came.

Raju Baba took his first steps standing against my large bare chest. The naughty Raju Baba. The brat… children were different when we were young. Raju Baba took the little Sharma household by storm. Barely out of his diapers Raju Baba took a whole pack of crayons and smeared by proud white chest with his childish graffiti. A fatigued Minu picked up the boy. Later that night Vinod took a sponge and soap water to smear off Raju’s misdeed.

Did Vinod hear my helplessness that night? The agony of being trapped in a door and living through vicarious acts.. Can’t say but next day the painter came and painted me dark brown. When children happen you have to change yourself…I guess.

Raju had started going to school when a weary Minu got pregnant a second time. I hoped for a little girl this time and so did Vinod. Raju needed a sister. This time Minu was perfectly normal. Daughters I thought were always more accommodating. Lovely, they called the daughter. Angelic and beautiful just like my Minu.

Our lives revolved around Raju and Lovely. The school, the cricket matches, the dance classes, the report card days. They grew out of knickers and pigtails into unsure teenagers wanting affirmation from the world.

And they entered adulthood. In their own rebellious ways. Minu and Vinod had not practiced for the adulthood. It was different in their times.

I thought Raju played the music too hard and slammed me harder. Did he know there was a patriarch lurking within? And lovely spent far too much time in front off the mirror. She and Minu always fussed over what she wore. Can anyone tell this girl she looks very pretty with clothes on as well?

Youngsters these days….. Minu and Vinod were off to Nasik some day for some Puja. Our Raju got a bunch of friends and had a party. They made a complete mess of the place. Loud blaring music… my Raju boozed and smoked that night…how can he?

But it was nothing compared to what lovely was upto. I knew the way she looked at Raju’s friend that love was brewing.”. So next afternoon when the maid went away and Raju was off with friends, Lovely got him home. That was the only time I slipped in my duties off guarding the family secrets from the outsiders.. the duty of an inanimate door. I slammed against myself, thanks to the August weather. My bolts loosened…yet Lovely went on the forbidden path…youngsters these days…..

Things change…Raju got through Engineering and went off to hostel. Lovely looked lovelier as her childhood kept giving way to matured youth. A letter arrived from Gorakhpur. Amma’s touch…was gone. Amma would never touch me again. But things move on…people are not destined to stand rooted to a place and guard like me.

Like Raju moved on to the States. I hear his letters when Vinod reads them aloud to Minu and Lovely. Stories of a life that filled the whole household now truncated into a letter. Then an e-mail. And then a picture on the desktop.

Lovely moved to States as well. Another life reduced to an e-mail and phone calls. The house looked empty; I had nothing left to guard. Vinod took retirement from his job. Life for them was left to walking in the park, watching TV, an occasional e- mail or a phone call. That’s about it.

The children kept in touch but people don’t come down for small things from the States. Minu’s arthritis, her dark circles, her increasing BP all of them were small things. As if the whole world was waiting for the big thing. And then it happened.

One morning, Vinod didn’t get up.

Vinod…. Vinod…Minu kept shouting but Vinod wouldn’t listen. I kept screaming, slamming against the wind. Vinod…. You liar… I have not lived yet…you cant go away. But Vinod did not listen…he had lived his life and he didn’t care about mine.”

Raju and Lovely came over. A quick cremation and a simple discussion. My Minu bowed her head down. Her life being lived she would accept her part in her children’s future, their lives; she would go to States too.

They locked the apartment and left. Discussion of selling it was too painful for Minu. That was for another time another day….when memories turned sepia…and so I stood guard to an empty bedroom in a locked apartment…a life marred by a lock.

I had been like that for the last so many years…until last week when a key stirred the lock. From what I hear of the conversations between the labourers.The house has been sold to someone…and it was up for renovation.

A young man in his thirties is looking around the house with forlorn eyes… “Raju….my Raju… that’s my Raju. He looks so wonderful. Yes, he has come to claim me.” Raju looks at me…Is there a flicker of recognition…does he recognize the surrogate patriarch?

Raju has a small chat with the labouers. Next day the boy who smeared my chest with crayons gets the door pulled down and orders an axe in the middle of my heart.

“Do you see blood coming out Raju? Did you see the father dying? ”The men worked for 4 hours and made a lovely wine cabinet for Raju to take back to States to his family.

somewhere in a small village a tree died. somewhere in the City a door was pulled down.


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Ajit Chouhan said...

Simply awesome...........reflections of our times........I wonder how this story tells a lot about our lives and aspirations.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff, this story has a soul... And a soul thats alive even when the door( & the story) ends.... Awesome!


Hardik (Blogging NetWork India) said...

I just featured this post under 'Desi Blog Of Note' on my website,
Hope you dont mind..

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Raps said...

hey Shuchi,

this was a very nicely written story.