Saturday, February 11, 2006

Check (the) mate

  1. My cousin, who was born sixteen hours before me, got married recently. I am expected to follow her footsteps soon. Thankfully, I have been granted more than sixteen hours to do that.
  2. My father’s health has taken a turn for the worse.
  3. My mother is completely exhausted.

    Rationally, points 1, 2, and 3 would be distinct from each other. But in my family there is no such thing as ‘rationally’. Therefore all these points are inter-related. Strangely, here, we believe my marriage to be an antidote to mortality and fatigue.

    I happened to be sitting in my parents’ room while Ma looked through Papa’s blood reports. They didn’t look good. Ma was worried and Papa didn’t help matters much. He kept talking about Sourav Ganguly and why he deserved better. Ma got further agitated and after flinging the reports somewhere inconvenient to retrieve (I should know), she snapped, “So what? There are many like him.”

    Papa doesn’t believe that and would have no one in his family believe that either. He went to considerable lengths to explain why there could be never be anyone like him. It was a waste because Ma doesn’t listen to people, especially her husband. It’s a trait that runs in my maternal bloodline.

    Amidst all this, Ma asked Papa, “What if you die?”

    Papa replied, “Then I’d be dead.”

    Ma smiled. In my parent’s language, that was ‘I love you’ and ‘I love you too.’

    Now that the subject of impending death had been broached, my parents looked at me. I, of late, have come to be associated with such merry matters.

    “See, she looks worried,” Ma observed.

    “Hmm”, said Papa, a little perplexed. He would have preferred to go on about Ganguly’s eternal uniqueness. His daughter looking worried was, well, normal and hadn’t we all learned to live with that now?

    “What is worrying you?”, Ma asked.

    The thing is that I have joint eyebrows. If I’m thinking about anything, they furrow and give the impression that I’m translating Bertrand Russell’s works to German in my head. In reality, I may be thinking of something quite inconsequential. Like, when my mother asked me what was worrying me, I was actually wondering what a pregnant sparrow looked like. I told her.

    “Why are you worrying about pregnant sparrows?!” I think I had alarmed her a little bit. Papa couldn’t believe that his eloquent discourse had been interrupted for this.

    “I’m not worrying about them. I was just thinking why I hadn’t seen any.”

    Now Ma came and sat next to me.

    “There is a boy,” she began. “I want you to meet him.”

    “Sure”, I said. “What standard is he in?” Usually, I give career advice to distressed youth.

    “No,” Ma said. “For marriage. The proposal is for you. Meet him.”

    “No. I won’t.”

    “Why not?”

    I was pretty sure that I was trying her patience now.

    “That’s not how I want to meet my life partner – like this.”

    “Why?”

    “It’s like getting a job through reference. It’s not on merit. I don’t like it.”

    “On merit! What..how…what..on merit?!” I could tell that she was having a little problem grasping what I had just said.

    “How do you intend to find a partner – on ‘merit’?” Sure, when you say it like that, the idea seems pretty silly.

    “The universe will unfold and I’ll find him if I have to.” I made a sweet gesture of using my hands to denote the universe. The way kids do when they sing, ‘He has the whole world in his hands, he’s got the whole wide world in his hands.’ Perhaps this was a bit much now. I can’t be weird, juvenile and demented all together at the same time.

    So, the Mumbai Mirror was flung aside, which landed squarely on the DVD player. Neat. Sometimes, one must take a moment to marvel the handiworks of wrath.

    “You thought the Universe was unfolding the last two times, didn’t you? What happened?”

    A good point.

    “Nothing happened. I made a mistake,” I replied calmly.

    The Mumbai Mirror is the exact size of the DVD player. The things you never notice.

    “What if there is nothing when the Universe unfolds – except maybe pregnant sparrows?”

    Another very good point.

    “We’ll have to wait and see”, I replied with appropriate gravitas.

    “What if there’s no Universe?”

    Ma was on a roll here. I should have read that essay by Russell. I believe that someone had asked him this – of course, someone more amenable to reason than an irate mother.

    “Are we still talking about the boy?”, my father interjected, hoping to continue what is annoyingly becoming his favorite topic.

    “Yes,” Ma snapped. It can’t be easy being the only non-strange person in the family.

    We went to my room. Ma closed the door and switched on the AC. This would take a while. She sat down opposite me and asked me why I was so closed to the idea of her introducing me to someone.

    It took me some time to gather my thoughts. I didn’t want to come across as flim-flam, but I guess I had taken care of that risk long back.

    And then, calm and collected, I made my move.

    To me, my life partner will be like my most cherished book. And my most prized books have come into my life unsought.

    I was sixteen when I was really close to a pen friend. He was suffering from osteoporosis. Apart from mailing each other, we occasionally talked over the phone. Around that time, I was going through the motions as a suburban girl in a ‘town’ college. Every day, I came across ways to ease my discomfiture. Learning these wiles was fun. You came in to class early and left late so people didn’t get a chance to see you walk. You went to the library during break and sat near the Anthropology periodicals where nobody ever went. You talked only when spoken to. That sort of thing. I was telling this to my friend when he stopped me and said that I wouldn’t be the same person once I graduated.

    I disagreed. Sixteen is when you staunchly hold on to a sense of self even if it isn’t really there. So the grip is tighter.

    Later, I went to the library to get some books.

    I got some comics and was distractedly pulling out other books from the shelves and putting them back. In my head, I was still talking to my friend. I had no idea what books I had selected.

    When I reached home, among the usual suspects, I found this novel, ‘Just the way we were.’ It was by a rather unknown author and ordinarily, I would not have chosen such a story. But the title sort of spoke to me. That story about two sisters, growing up and parting ways, was so close to what I was thinking. All this from a book I had picked up without actually picking it out.

    Something similar happened in my very first year in college. One rainy afternoon, I had fallen asleep in the library. The librarian woke me up when the library was closing down. I was leaving the hall when I happened to look at the book, ‘Dandelion Wine’ by Ray Bradbury on the center table. It was such a splendid title! I touched the spine of the book and just felt that this would be important. But the library was shutting down and I couldn’t issue the book then.

    I came back the next day and couldn’t find it. This library had another level with long corridors of shelves. I went through one dusty shelf after another and nothing. According to the librarian’s records, there was only one book of short stories by that author. Nothing else.

    I studied in that college for five years. I was a member of two external libraries and didn’t find the book there. I went to so many book fairs but no, there was no ‘Dandelion Wine.’

    I graduated and worked in four jobs. Nearly eight years after that day in the library, in my fifth job, I met Jaygee. On first instance, she and I didn’t have much in common. But then we worked together and she told me that she’d gone to school with one of my best pals in college. Somehow, in her, I used to get the feeling that she was my link to something out there. Like I’d be thinking about some restaurant in town and she’d have visited it the night before.

    One day, I came across this link to on-line literature that I forwarded to all my friends. In the evening, when Jaygee and I were having coffee, she told me that the link was good.

    “It has some interesting books. Salman Rushdie too,” she informed.

    I agreed, longingly eyeing a brownie.

    Then she told me that the site had links to works by other authors she hadn’t heard of.

    “Some interesting titles,” she continued. “There was a nice one..Dandelion..something.”

    In so many years after graduating from college, I had never once given the book another thought. Yet, at that moment, I knew that was the book we were talking about.

    “Was it ‘Dandelion wine’? By Ray Bradbury?”, I almost shrieked. I cannot say what I felt then. To have lost something you never had and find it so astonishingly. I still feel a little chill when I think about it.

    “Yes”, she replied nonchalantly. “It’s on the site you forwarded.”

    That moment, I had gone back to the library and found the book on the table. It was still my first year in college, it was still raining and dark and cloudy outside. I wake up to the musty smell of a closed, cluttered room. But now, I have the book.

    It is so soporifically mind-boggling. When I think that it took eight years to get this job, to find this link, to meet Jaygee who told me about this book. The chances of me finding ‘Dandelion Wine’ this way were so slim. I may have decided to not join this job or not forward this link or Jaygee and I would not have worked together or she may have not talked about the link over coffee. I could have missed my Dandelion Wine over such slender slips. But I was meant to find Dandelion Wine – somewhere, some how.

    I think that I would meet my ‘boy’ like that – quirk of fate, twist of destiny, hiccup of the Universe. Whatever. Through the sharp force of magic. I know this sounds like sodden garble. I know you stop thinking this way when you turn sixteen. The trouble is that’s when I started.

    In the most certain part of my soul, I believe that people, like books, arrive to answer a question. Sure, sometimes you find that the book has some pages missing or it wasn’t what you wanted or maybe you don’t quite understand the language or the print is difficult to read. Or you may get the book simply because it’s on the bestseller’s list and everyone’s reading it. Then you wonder what the big deal was anyway. Sure. That happens. But then, you do find a book that answers the question your soul has asked without you even knowing it. Like that quote, “You’re everything I never knew I always wanted.”

    You don’t coerce the soul to ask a question just because everyone else is asking it at the time. You don’t get a third person to ask it. You don’t push a finger into a bud and force it to blossom because it’s spring and all the other flowers in the valley are happy and fragrant. You wait for the season of your bud. You wait for your book to reach you. Most importantly, you wait for your soul to ask the question.

    And if you never meet someone, it only means that your soul was evolved enough to know all the answers, so it didn’t need anyone else. What really is there, then, to feel bad about?

    This is what I told my mother- no loud voices, no shrill tones, nothing. Thus I stated my whole, soul truth, uncorroborated though it was.

    Ma listened quietly and started folding linen. It is surreal when that happens. Her eyes told me that she now accepted that her daughter was weird yet wonderful. Or maybe I read too much into that. Maybe the eyes only said, “My daughter is weird. End of sentence.”

    Finally, she spoke.

    “So, have you ever come across a book that is so complete and wonderful that…I don’t know, fills you up?”

    There was. This book, truly, made me a person. If my literary life can be divided into two parts, it would be before reading that book and after reading it. That, as far as books go, would be my absolute soul mate.

    “Of course!”, I answered. “Roots by Alex Haley.”

    Ma folded the last bed sheet.

    “You may want to remember that your mother got you that one.”

    I smiled. You know it when you’ve lost the queen.

43 comments:

anumita said...

Excellent post! Your writing is gaining a distinct style, very fresh, and very addictive. Hope dad's getting better. Am caught up with new job and office. Really want to catch up. When can we meet?

ineffably_dumb at yahoo dot com said...

Mukta, if you charged for access to your blog, I'd pay! Someday, I'd like to just serendipitously happen to come across a book written by you.

Though I don't share your view finding a mate, I loved the post. Brilliant stuff.

S said...

Statistically, I believe, the age when one becomes a cynic when it comes to matters of the heart, is 28. You have a few years to go!
Your mom is trying to set you up with good looking guys and you are nixing it? I hear this whole pre-marriage circus is highly amusing. I will probably have to go through it myself soon.
You will meet a lot of Champak Singh Ahluwalias who will ask you "Do you know how to sing? Please sing a song from the movie 'Tridev'" or "My hobbies are watching cricket, eating singhdana-ki-chutney, and playing carrom board. What are your hobbies? Tell na!"
Heheh! Yenjoy!

Anonymous said...

Just splendid ! ... you weave magic through your words...and I really mean it.

Hyde said...

Going by what S says, it is time I become a cynic... What do you know! I am rediscovering cynicism!

Now coming to your post, you ended it beautifully, felt like a suspense novel. But I think you lost the king, not the queen. :-)

vishal said...

Mukta, I would love to marry you just to hear you speak if, (yeah there always is a if), you speak half as beautifully as you write. I herewith ask you to consider me on merit and merit alone ;)
if there is any, in me that is
hehe

GhostOfTomJoad said...

Hi, came to your blog via the lyrics blog. That's Tanita Tikaram lyrics you've posted there! I had to pinch myself to make sure I was reading right because I didn't think anyone else even listens to her still! :-) Anyway, glad I came here - great post, made for great reading. Hope your dad gets fine soon.

shub said...

loved the last line especially :)
hope ur dad's improving

Ash said...

:)
Great punchline ! Hope your dad feels better.

As an aside, I had no idea you were Oriya too! Pleasantly surprised, and absurdly proud, since you're one of my favouirte writers :)

Ameet said...

I put you on my blogroll after reading your last post. With this one I've become a committed fan. It reads like an O'Henry short story (one of my favorite genres) - with a clever twist at the end. Have you published any fiction? Would love to get my hands on it!

(best wishes for your dad - hope he feels better)

puranjoy said...

Wow. Really a great post. Actually I was thinking along the same lines as Ameet. So really nothing new to add there. By the way, what is the link that you forwarded to your friends? I know we are not friends, but can you consider sending the link to one of your fans?
Get-well-soon wishes for your father.

Sheece said...

wow!!!
it was beautiful the way u drove ur point and recommended a book all in one post.

Shruthi said...

Wonderfully written, as usual! Every word, every line, speaks volumes.
A silent wish from me for your dad to get better.
Roots by Alex Haley? Totally agree with you on this. One fantastic book.

Anonymous said...

here is hoping that your dad gets better, and your mum gets relaxed.

you are a good writer. (just an intellectual curiosity - do you know that you are good?) and i agree with you and i agree with your mum. and just love the way you write!!

if you write a book (i hope for a short story collection - what do you say?) please let the blog readers know!!

doubtinggaurav said...

Ma'am,

You are way too meta...


Regards

neha said...

hi mukta,
just made blog links (or is it called blog roll), and added a link to your blog, please let me know if you mind.

Krishna said...

Beautiful! This gave me more pleasure than anything I read recently. Thank you!

chitra said...

Touching one, Mukta !!

ajyrds said...

Hi Mukta,

Nothing new to add but that your writing is amazing. Do consider to write a book. And hey, after reading this post, i'd definitely want to check out Roots.

Keep posting,
Ajay

RT said...

Mothers, I tell ya..:-)
Lovely post! And an equally lovely mum..:)
I guess both father and daughter have their own 'merits' to talk about and poor mum for that. :-)
Best wishes to him and hope he gets well soon.
And you are bloggrolled!..:-)
Keep writing such gems..

Suryakant said...

Wat the hell !!! Are u some writer or smthing :O :O U rock man....

Ashish said...

phew! took too much efforts!
moms are hardest to convince!

got some ideas for my future endeavors ;)

judith said...

A vwell-written, well-told, elegantly finished story.

ankan said...

excellent piece Mukta....

talking of 'merit', your writing should do the trick. :(

Nonentity said...

if this post were a little girl. she'd get a gold medal. :) girl, you are blossoming ... like a bright-red, thick, fleshy gulmohar flower, spreading .. opening to the sky. such pure, flowing expression. :))))

lets author a book together. you write ... i'll take the credit ... hahahahahaha!!!! :)

Anonymous said...

stuff and nonsense..(just to be the lone voice of dissent) :)

j/k. Great post. I have a half read copy of Roots that someone gave me, I should prolly finish it. Hope & pray your Papa feels better soon.

-the 2nd mistake

tablemannered said...

truly lovely post

New Dik On The Blog said...

Guess even Mukta surprised herself with the quality of that post. Hence no responses from her side ;-)

Mukta said...

Hi anumita,

How are ya? Am in pune now. Will get in touch with you when I'm in Mumbai next. :-)

Hi ineffably,

Please don't let the free access come in the way of you sending money. That's only a technicality that can easily be rectified. However, I think you'll be the only paying patron. :-)

Hi S,

Well, according to Cosmo, the cynicism hits around 20. Oh, I can sing songs from Tridev, but guys don't look for stuff like that.:-)

Hey anon,

Thank you!

Hallo Hyde,

How are you? Well, if I thought I lost the queen and not the king, then I'd be a cynic, right? :-D

Hello Vishal,

My friend here wants you to send me your picture. :-) (The smiley is her idea too.) But you should know this - I come across better on the blog. (My friend agrees.)

Hi ghost,

Actually, I don't listen to her so much. I just loved that line, 'You're a twist in my sobriety.' My pal gave me a couple of her numbers. So, that was that.

Hi Shub,

Thanks.

hI ASH,

yOU go to Orissa often? I haven't been there for a long time.

Hi Ameet,

Thanks a lot! It feels sort of prestigious to be blogrolled by people I haven't worked with. :-)

Hi puran,

Actually I have forgotten where I saved the link. Will send it to you as soon as I find it.

Again, friend is getting impatient. Will respond to all the others later.

Anonymous said...

Hello Mukta,
I love the book "Roots" too. Did you see the TV series as well? It is beautifully made. I am wondering if you are here in the US ??? That was a nifty write up. I enjoyed it very much. I hope your Papa is doing better now and I hope you find your beau in the not-too-distant future.

why said...

mukta,
i don't know you and yet i know you. that is the triumph of your writing... blessings on you. (and i'm not even Religious!)

yesha

Mukta said...

Hi Sheece!

Good to hear from you after so long! How are you? Where are you? Whatcha upto?

Hi Shruthi,

Thanks a lot! Have you read any others by Alex Haley? I haven't. I want to though.

Hi anonymous,

Well, sometimes I'm happy with what I've written and some other times I'm not. So, I guess I swing from competent to good, I suppose. Of course, in my job, sometimes I write awfully but am trying to improve now.

And no, I won't tell anyone once I write my book. I'll just keep it to myself. hee hee hee!


Hi gaurav,

What in the world does that mean? Although I'm thinking it is perhaps slightly disparaging.

Hi Neha!

Of course I don't mind. Thanks so much!

************

Okay, will write more later.

doubtinggaurav said...

Err,

Disparage? Me ?I am a good boy:-|.

I meant meta as in metaphysical,
metaphysics, metallurgy (ok not that)

In my dictionary this is the epitome of awesomeness.

Regards

Mukta said...

Hey Krishna,

Really? That feels good!

Hello c,

Thank you. :-)

Hi Ajay,

Yes, Roots you must, must read.

Hallo RT,

Yep. Lovely mum! In fact, she had seen the TV series and then she read the book. She then wanted me to read it.

Hallo suryakant,

Rock? I'm the third rock from the surya! he he ha ha ha ha! That was good!

Hello ashish,

Never hurts to try, eh? And as for advice, well, be persuasive or be difficult. That's my new strategy now.

Hey judith,

Lovely name and thank you.

Hi ankan,

Mucho gracias. And no re, writing isn't enough. :-(

Hallo Hallo,

Let's go somewhere nice to eat before that! A good buffet!

Hi second,

Nope. You aren't the lone voice of dissent. I told you about my school friend remember? mAYBE YOU DON'T. wELL, SHe shares your opinion. In fact, if memory serves me right, she said 'Stuff and Nonsense' too. And yes, please read Roots and do tell me.

Hey tablemannered!

Good to hear from you! Thank you. Goh! Your tag IS pretty difficult!

Hello new,

What's happening? And no responses because I'm back in Pune and things are chaotic. :-)

Hey anon,

Nope. I haven't seen the TV series? Who was Kunta Kinte? Nope. Am not in the US. Am in Pune. You in the US? Where?

Hallo why?

That is very very nice of you to say that. And what does Yesha mean? Lovely name.

Hey gaurav,

You know, you seem to know your mind pretty well. So the 'doubting' is only to throw people off, eh? You are too meta as well! hee hee! :-p

DewdropDream said...

Hi!!!
perhaps you're tired of hearing this by now... but that was an amazingly superbly brilliant piece!!!!

Hope your father's better now.

I know that feeling you described regarding finding a book.. and so completely agree with you about finding a soulmate.. i should know... i found one just as i had hoped for. Hpe that happens to you... and soon

Ashish said...

//"And as for advice, well, be persuasive or be difficult. That's my new strategy now."

Aahhh this is a place where I ought to be :D
Actually these days amidst all the silly planning of conning her mom we have been talking things at great lengths - mostly ending up in jokes or weird impractical things, kinda filmy ;)
But I do dig any person with potential advice - guess you are gonna be on the hook now - to help out someone desperate >:)
GOTCHA! *evil grin*

White Magpie said...

Loved the punchline. How appropriate!! Mothers ah!! Misso!!

Varsha said...

AWESOME!!

Mukta said...

Hey dew drop,

Congratulations! :-D

Hi Ashish,

Filmy, eh? I like filmy. *More wicked grin*

Hi White magpie,
Thanks!

Hey Varsha,
Thank you. :-D

jaygee said...

One. That was simply brilliant.
Two. I dint know Dandelion Wine, at that point, meant so much.
Three. I distinctly remember forwarding the link a couple of times after that.
Four. You managed to describe serendipity really well...

and hope all is well at home now. dad's health and urs and all.

Anonymous said...

nice post......books dont age though :-), and second third hand books are more fun to read,i dont think divorcees and widowers wud be the same, find someone nice while he's arnd.

The Eternally Confused... said...

Finally!!! Finally I could manage to trace the origin of this beautiful write-up. This came to me as a mail forward. I laughed out loud, just stopped short of crying, and experienced a whole gamut of emotions… How I wish I could write half as well as you do…. You have captured the sentiments that all the girls in the “marriageable” age face. It’s indeed an amazing way you put it in…

I also wish to thank you for it was you who introduced me to The Roots. An amazing book indeed.

I had put up this article at my blog. I dint know the author then… now that I do, it seems just appropriate that I should give your details in the author section, if not take it off completely. I will await your instructions in this regard… C ya arnd then!

Saumitra said...

hey mukta,
this is more than just a piece of literature...what we call as " straight out of heart"..i hadnt read any such thing for quite some time... and the serendipitous moments of your life are often common place in everyone's lives, if we all could only spot them as you've done,we could actually know what is that we really want...i have been lucky enough to catch a few of my moments in my life..but i think only after reading your blog can i actually begin to fathom their importance and value.. you dont know how much you have helped me..bless you..hope your dad gets well soon.. and your man will be damn lucky...serendipitous should i say.. :)