Existential Happiness

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She watched him as he lay sprawled on the couch, his muted snore being the only sound in the room. No judgment, she thought to herself. He’s here, and that’s all there is.

A few minutes later, his sleep-weary eyes opened and carefully averted her. She did them a favor by looking away and pretending to be busy.

“You’re very busy?!”, he called out to her a couple of hours later as she wiped the kitchen counter top for the 5th time. She needn’t have done so, it was already clean. But she was nervous and wanted to keep at something so that she could forget how much she wanted to sit by his side.

She let out a nervous giggle (“ugh. Do you realize how stupid you sound right now?”, the alter-ego admonished) and said “Not really, just finishing up here”. She walked over to the couch, and sat down gingerly a couple of feet away from him, smoothing her skirt as she sat. He was typing away at his laptop, his eyes focused on the screen and didn’t look up.

She watched him, enveloped in a soft halo of golden light that filtered in through the lace-curtains, and breathed in his essence: his masculine energy, his smell, his lazy physique and his easy dominance of the environment.

Tranquil beingness. That was how she would describe him.

She willed the image of him to be imprinted in her mind. For those days when life became too much for her. She would take out that picture of him in her mind then, and let these feelings bloom in her heart.

It wasn’t “love”, was it?

Love implied a right of possession. She didn’t want to possess. She wanted to let him be. Be in his element and be HIM. Because that’s what she marveled at. That’s what caused her to feel what she felt. Gratitude. Yes, that’s what it was.

Almost on cue, he looked up and their eyes met. She felt a ripple of fear inside – she hoped her eyes hadn’t betrayed her. He was saying something, narrating a story and the ripple died out. It was fine. She carefully matched the tone of his voice and it was then, just a conversation between friends. No other implication.

Her alter-ego grinned evilly.

In the after, there was a moment. She picked up the cushion that had been nestling close to him, and caressed her face with it, taking in the scent of his presence that was gone by then.

“Existential happiness”, she told herself. Happiness in that which exists.

* * *

Just if anyone is wondering, yes, this is inspired from real life :). And also this song (not the visuals, just the words and the singing):

A tale of two women

Update:
BlogJunta found this post worthy of an Editor’s Choice mention :). Here’s what they’ve graciously given me:

BlogJunta - An ode to the Blogosphere

Lakshmi, 34, is educated. The youngest of three children, she’s studied upto 10th (her family is poor, but her dad believed in educating all his children, and has managed to provide them with a basic education. As is the practice in their community, Lakshmi got married to her cousin when she was 15. Today, she has two kids, a girl aged 14 and a boy aged 9 – both are studying.

Lakshmi works for a living, as a cook, earning about Rs. 5000 per month. Her husband works at a factory, and earns the same. He gives her Rs. 1500 a month, for expenses at home (spending 2000 for himself, and giving his mother the rest) + her son’s education. He refuses to give her a rupee extra for the daughter because he never wanted the child in the first place – he says she’ll be nothing but a burden. When the daughter was 4 months old, he told Lakshmi he’d kill her. Lakshmi threatened to kill him if he did anything of the sort and he backed off. She’s managed to keep her daughter safe since then, but he refuses to look at or talk to the child – and objects to any of his money being used for bringing up the child.

He loves his son though and insisted that he be sent to an English medium school (even if the fees is prohibitive for a family with their kind of income). To cope with the home expenses (given that her husband’s contribution is meagre), Lakshmi is taking on as much work as possible. She gets up at 4 am, starts work at 5, and finishes at 9.30 pm, and sleeps at 11.00 (after finishing work at home).

This month hasn’t begun so well for her – as is with most months. Her employers pay her during the first few days of the month, and her husband’s been making life hell for her, for the past 10 days – since he’s been eyeing her salary. Today she has had yet another fight with him and has been crying, because he’s asking for more money, as dowry. For the past 19 years, he’s been accusing her and her family of cheating him out of what’s due to him and his family.

Lakshmi’s father isn’t alive, and her only brother doesn’t care enough to negotiate with her husband (or take action against him).

Her only solution? Put on a smile and continue to work every minute of the day – so that her children can go to school, and she is able to provide them with an education that can get them employment in the future. When asked about it, she says, “It’s ok. I and my children will survive. The only anger I have is with God.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Maya is turning 31 this year. She’s working in an MNC, and earning much more than guys of her age. Smart, confident and exceptional at what she does – she’s starting to become a subject of envy more than appreciation. She’s begun to see that there are unseen lines she’s not expected to cross, and though her rise to the current position has been meteoric, she’s beginning to think that the onward journey will need more than credentials, experience and capability. However, despite recent run-ins with bosses, she’s willing to try as hard as possible, and navigate around the prejudices – she’s worked hard on her career, and she can’t afford to give it up all now.

At home, Maya has an entirely different terrain to navigate. Her parents are beginning to fret about her marital status and she sees the worry writ large on her mother’s face, day after day. Maya had her chance at 25, to marry a guy she really liked, and who loved her for what she was. But her parents objected to him, and even threatened her with dire consequences. They argued that they could never face their relatives/friends, and would die of shame, if their Brahmin daughter married a non-Brahmin from a different state. Eventually, she decided to concentrate on her job, and let them look for someone “appropriate” once she was truly over him.

That was 3 years ago. After that, its been an endless ordeal: of horoscope-matching, being visited by prospective groom’s parents, sisters or relatives, getting dressed and being subjected to the same questions over and over again, talking to guys on the phone, to even meeting them more than once, so that they could “get to know her better”.

Some of the initial proposals didn’t go through because she thought she wanted to make sure she was marrying someone she could visualize spending the rest of her life with – and the guys she was meeting didn’t fit the bill. However, soon after, the issues weren’t from her side anymore. Her darker skin met with various frowns, and often, mothers or aunts would ask her mother openly whether she was “white” or “wheatish”. Then, they had a problem with her age. “Why exactly is she single even now?”. And then, it was her career. “Will she adjust to my son’s timings, and accompany him in case he travels to a different country? We don’t want a career-oriented girl for him”. The last straw was “At this age, will she conceive?”

Maya has been mulling on a decision for a month now. She’s had it with the emotional abuse and trauma of each visit from a prospective groom’s side (and the corny/wierd guys she gets to meet after surviving such onslaughts) – and she’s beginning to think her mother’s health is degrading because of the intense worry she carries.

She’s going to ask her parents to stop looking for a partner for her. She’s convinced that she’s destined to be single – after all, if you can’t find a companion to share your life, it’s better to be single and independent, right?

Right. She just wishes though, that this thought doesn’t make her feel like her insides were crumbling.

* * * * * * * * * *
P.S. “Women’s Day” is day after tomorrow. While newspapers and tv shows are all waxing eloquent on the topic, I was contemplating a blog – after all, there are things that need to be said, right?
But today, I came across these two stories (these are people I know – names have been changed though), and realized that this is all that needs to be written about.

Poetic Musings

[Prologue: Pls. don’t take the “poetic” part of the title literally. The serious-champions-of-poetry may take it as sacrilege that I dared to declare it this way ;). This is for now, just one of my inspiration-driven-attempts, and something to commemorate today.]

Wordless Music

She sat under the boughs of the tree,
unmoving, almost merging into the landscape.
Poring over a book, absorbing it in,
oblivious of the attention she had captured.

He watched her with guilelessness.
If he had asked himself what arrested his glance,
he would have casually tossed aside the question.
It was nothing, of course. He just knew that he wanted to watch.

She flipped the pages of the book carefully,
almost with a kind of reverence.
He watched as her finger traced the edges of the page,
and wondered how that page felt.

She shifted the position she had been in,
unwrapping her legs from beneath her,
wincing as the pins and needles bored into her,
as she arched out against the tree.

With amusement he wondered why
he perceived music in her movement.
Why he wanted to lend a hand, and pull her into his space.
Experience the melody that was woven around her body.

He was reminded of his violin, and
the strain of its strings against his finger tips.
In his ear, he heard those notes; the divinity that was them.
It was a song that described her. The song that she was.

The unheard strains of the music in his mind
reached her ears, or so it seemed.
For she looked up with a start,
and for a moment, he felt her eyes bore right into his soul.

Time stopped still for him,
as his eyes longingly explored the vision that was her face.
Words no longer told him what he felt. There was only the want.
To freeze in time, and never stop looking at her.

What seemed like eternity, was but an instant,
and she had only glanced at him.
Her eyes returned to the pages that had occupied her thoughts.
The pages that he now longed to be.

* * *

This could have been prose, but is a poem.

And oh, what’s today, you ask?

My birthday!! :).

A Cloak of Invisibility

“Make a wish!”, said her friend, as she picked up an eyelash that had nestled comfortably on her cheek and handed it to her. She made a fist, placed the wayward strand on it, closed her eyes, and whispered to herself….”I want a cloak. A cloak of invisibility”. And then blew hard so that the lash would fly away. Away…faraway, carrying her wish with it.

* * *

She stood in the balcony, looking at the many tall buildings that surrounded her apartment. It was a cool night and the breeze felt wonderful, with her curls brushing softly against her cheeks. She would have noticed the moonlight, had her attention not been captured by the golden lights on the street, and in the windows of the apartments.

“I wonder what goes on, behind those windows. How would those homes look? Cosy and inviting, perhaps. There would be a family… a mother, father, and kids. A family that eats together at the dinner table, talking all the while.”, she thought to herself. Her mind conjured up images of children laughing, and a mother who hugged them. Involuntarily, she gave herself a squeeze. As if to embrace the feelings that came out of the pictures in her head and make them a part of herself.

Out of the warmth, came a different kind of an emotion.

A part of her inner self stirred. And she found herself thinking. Of him. Was he in one of those houses that she was looking at now?

An wave of pleasure swept through her… and there were goosebumps on her arms. Just thinking of him could do that to her!, she smiled to herself.

Him. She’d been seeing him for many days now, in the park nearby. He’d come with his dog, and they’d be walking and running in the park. Oblivious to the world around him. He’d have his attention solely focussed on his companion; petting it, chiding and laughing at its peculiarities.

Her attention would be on him. It started off as an innocuous observation – there was something attractive about his face, and his demeanor. His agility. The sight of a grown man with his dog – their companionship was amusing. But after sometime, she realized that she went to the park solely to see him.

To look at him, and to keep looking at him till he left. Her eyes searched him out of the crowd, and could spot him, a mile away. There was a terrible urgency till she could find him. But once she did, she would be at peace. Watching him and moving stealthily behind him. He hadn’t noticed her yet. She was sure of that. The one time he’d looked straight at her face – and her heart whooshed down, till she couldn’t breathe – he turned his face away, never to look at her again.

She grinned to herself, “I might as well have been a ghost”.

Thinking of which, she wondered. What if she could be like a ghost? Someone he couldn’t see, but who could see him?

Invisible.

Invisible by choice. She needed, …an invisibility cloak. Something she could put on herself, whenever she felt like it.

She could walk out right now. It wouldn’t matter that it was late night because no one on the road would be able to see her. She could walk out on the streets, and past those buildings that she was looking at.

If she knew his home, she could walk in and see him. Now.

A shiver went up her spine.

His beautiful face would be next to her. That quality of innocence and vulnerability – she’d be able to see it up close. She could watch him, as he sat comfortably at home. She’d be able to watch him as he saw TV, and as he ate. He’d smile and she’d be able to see how his lips curled and his cheeks dimpled, ever so slightly. She’d be able to watch him go to sleep. And sit by his side, as his eyes closed and his breathing became rhythmic.

She thought of tracing her finger gently, on the bridge of his perfect nose, and feeling his skin under her touch. She imagined he’d have a musky smell about him. She’d watch him…as he slept without a care in the world. Not knowing she existed. Not knowing she was by his side. Loving him for all he was worth.

Yes. That was what she wanted. Freedom to love without being loved back. A cloak of invisibility.

At First Sight

The noon sun bore down with full force, the tarred ground glistening like steel in its wake. Warm beads of sweat slithered down her back, and she grimaced. What made it worse was sitting inside the cloistering environment of the school bus, especially one that had been parked in full view of the sun for hours perhaps. She almost felt giddy, thinking of the one hour impending journey.

The bus was parked at the side of the school ground. Sitting near the driver’s seat, she watched as the kids from kindergarten piled inside. There was much jostling and animated conversation amongst them. A couple of them came and sat next to her, looking at her with a mixture of suspicion and awe. She attempted a half-smile. Their expressions did not change much except that the suspicion probably increased.

She turned to look outside, at the ground. Her eyes fell on the huge white structure in the middle of the ground, the imposing structure’s brightness blinding her. Looking at it brought memories, of days past, and for a few moments she was lost in them, tiny frowns appearing on her perspiring forehead.

It was as if a cloud had cleared suddenly, because out of nowhere, her vision was caught by a movement. And a boy appeared as her eyes focused on the emerging form. He was tall, and … if her mind had been able to articulate just one word that would describe him that instant, it would have been: majestic.

His hair spotted tints of orange from the sunlight filtering through it, and little wisps of them moved as the wind went past them, flicking the edges gently. His walk had a lilt; athletic and supple, it was like his body was made for movement, even as all he was doing was walking across the ground. He wore the school uniform: white shirt and blue pants. Even from where she was sitting, she could make out that he was tall, for his age. He wasn’t wearing the customary tie; later she would reflect on it and think that it indicated perhaps, a streak of rebellion? His collar was open, and though his shirt was tucked, for her, he didn’t look like a school boy.  No, not yet a man, but not a child either.

As she watched him, a child of 7 or 8 ran into his tracks. He stopped for a brief moment, to avoid a potential clash. The child was inches away from him. His hand went to the younger one’s head, and with a brush of affection, the edges of his lips curved upwards and broke out into a grin. Within a second, his frame moved out of the child’s way, and he resumed his walk even as he turned for a brief instant to watch the child who was on his way.

She watched as if in a trance, unable to pull her eyes away as the tabloid unfolded in front of her. And even as she watched, the frame of another bus moved into her line of vision, and he was out of sight.

Her eyes continued staring at the spot she’d seen him last. A few seconds later, she pulled her eyes away and her consciousness returned to her environment – the heat, the babble of the kids nearby and the background cacophony of the school ground. The heat was so thick that it was almost like the air had stopped moving, and one could cut chunks out of the humidity, but she didn’t notice it anymore. Her thoughts went back to the boy.

It was weird, she reflected. That was probably the first time someone had captured her thought process so completely. Like the earth had stopped, the breath had been flushed out of her lungs and every pore on her body stood still, focused entirely on that one person.

Years later she would read about happenings like that, but for those moments, her chaste mind fumbled, unable to comprehend. She wondered how it was possible that despite the sweltering heat, one person could appear so unaffected by it. Hadn’t she seen the air move around him? Wind in his hair, and dust swirling around his feet? She smiled to herself …  ridiculous!

The sound of the bus starting jerked her out of her reverie. She felt a slow warm sensation around her cheeks. Sighing, she shook her head. Trying to get herself out of the thoughts that had occupied her mind for the last…5 minutes? Had it been only that much?

As the driver of the bus put the machine into first gear, she wondered to herself. Would she get to see him again?

Bygone Innocence

(c) Rajesh Vee

It was 5.30 P.M and the sun was beginning to set. I could feel the anticipation rising…my anxious eyes searching to connect with the other pair, that belonged in a face that evoked so much love in my heart.

She was washing her feet and hands passively; if she sensed my urgency there was definitely no indication of it. After much diligence in making sure her anklets were rid of any specks of dirt, she motioned for me to do the same. I hurriedly went into the bathroom, splashing water over my feet and quickly rubbing my hands in the steady stream of the tap.

I rushed back to the living room to find her she was deftly oiling a wick. In a few moments, a lamp was lit, and the Gods were smiling through the yellow flame. She folded her hands and stood in silence, deep in prayer; I didn’t want to be a spoilsport so I stood in obedience, next to her, with my eyes closed. I heard the anklets walk past and looked at her, taking the lamp in her hands, reciting “deepam” and going out of the house to the thulasi thara, liting the lamp there too. Folding my hands, and taking a few resigned breaths, I stood leaning at the door frame.

She turned to look at me, with a twinkle in her eyes, and said, “so shall we go?” Furiously nodding, I walked towards her. She said “Ask mummy first. If she doesn’t agree, that’ll be a problem”. 

“I asked her already! She was okay about it”.

“Ask her again. I don’t want to get into trouble!”

*Grunt*…. “Mummmmyyyyyyy” …

I hopped behind her on the narrow pathways leading to the house behind ours. I could hear her in front of me asking “Chechi, shall we pick the leaves?” – and then consent being given after a few friendly exchanges . We were soon at the thick bushes, plucking tiny dark green leaves one by one, putting them into a cover. Soon, we had what we thought was a substantial amount.

Back home, she placed the cover containing the leaves next to the grinder. It must have been 6.30 because the power went off. I let out a wail; waiting for more time was unthinkable. She grinned, went inside a room and came out holding a lamp. The lamp was placed beside the grinder, and as I watched her shadow on the wall as it loomed large, she stood, splashing water on the surface of the stone and proceeding to mash the leaves into fine green paste. I sat on the ledge, swinging my legs, engrossed in our (seemingly philosophical) chatter.

The paste was transferred to a shallow steel vessel, that was placed on the dining room table. A few minutes later, the room was engulfed in light and I rushed to pull a chair and seat myself next to the table. She emerged with a triangular cone in her hands, made out of coarse cloth. I spooned the paste into it… we tied the ends of the cone so that it wouldn’t be squished out from the wrong end.

We took turns, peering with deep concentration at our hands as we tried to etch out complicated designs. Or atleast I did. She was always satisfied with the simplest thing she could make – a big blob in the center, and then the tips of her fingers covered  with the paste. And if there was still more, dots all around the circle in the center. After about fifteen minutes of concentration, I had an exuberant smile on my face. The glob in the center of the hand was shaped like those mango designs that you found in saris those days. And the dots were not random but emerging out in a pattern onto my wrist.

She was excited for a moment and then wistful. “Oh! that is lovely! I wish I had done something sensible instead of this!”

I proudly held up my palm for exhibition, my smile indicating an achievement much more significant that merely a decipherable pattern of mehendi on my hands. I said to her, “Doesn’t matter. Will make it for you tomorrow. I love your pattern of dots too!”. She must have been satisfied with my reply, because she proceeded to stow away the cone.

Dinner was funny. Our left hands were stuck out carefully, many inches away from us, and we attempted to gobble our food quickly, taking care not to move our left hands too much. Soon, It was time to sleep. She said “we’d better sleep with it, otherwise the color won’t be that red tomorrow”. I looked at her in doubt.

After a fraction of a second, mulling on that statement of profound importance, I went over to my mother. “Mummy, can I sleep without washing the mylanji off my hands?” (mylanji being the malayalam word for mehendi). The nod came after a frown, and then a resigned sigh.

The next day morning, I woke as a deep and quaint smell wafted into my nostrils. My sleepy eyes opened to see a red blur in front of me… I heard an eager whisper “Go, get up and wash your hand! I want to see how red the color is!”

In a blink, I was up. I looked at her hand eagerly – the deep brown-red getting a stamp of approval in my mind as soon as I saw it clearly. I ran to the bathroom and held my hand under a tap, picking at the fragments of dried mehendi rapidly to uncover the rich color underneath.

The smile of satisfaction was unbeatable 🙂

P.S. Many years later, one night, 9.00 P.M. it was. I was crouched on the bed, poring over something in detail, the concentration in my mind visible on my forehead. It was her hand outstretched in front of me, and the mehendi cone was in my hand this time. I had stuck to my promise, as I had done so many times before… my design was being etched out on her hand. The next day was to be the day she got married.