Saturday, August 31, 2013

Permission (Micro Fiction)

The young hostess pushed back a tendril, her smile fixed to hide the latent irritation. She hated having guests mill around in her kitchen during serving time, making polite offerings of help, it upset her rhythm of serving the food at the perfect temperature so. In this house, the bowls had to be piping hot and then there was her phobia of leaving a dish forgotten in the family sized refrigerator.  

While she bustled garnishing, sprinkling and finishing up the dishes, her fairer part of the family began dropping their guard, a voice at a time. “What’s that you are sipping Guddi, don’t tell me it is tea in the steel glass!” Guddi drained her glass in a long gulp, rinsing it quickly under the tap, “Actually, Gary has permitted me to enjoy vodka on one condition, I must camouflage it so the family does not know.”

The kitchen lit up with knowing smiles, “I stop trimming my split hair months before this trip home. A false braid does the rest, particularly in the gurudwara,” heads shook a little at the sight of Pinky’s discreetly draped dupatta over the nape of her neck.

Goldie beckoned them close, her voice falling to a hush, “Listen, for your ears only, please do not pass this on. Lovely and her husband are undergoing infertility treatment. It seems Lucky’s sperms are sluggish but no one will talk about it, bad for the male ego you know!”

They turned sharply at the choked sound from Kittie, what was wrong with Montu’s new bride? “I am so sorry, I can’t help remember what happened yesterday.  Mummy Ji had given me some minor repairs to sew and I was rooted with confusion at the presser foot sewing machine, we had a hand wheel model at my parent's. And guess what? Montu pulled the pile from under my arm, banging the door shut with one heel and settled down, to guide the seams under the needle like a perfect pro.”

The women threw back their adorned heads and tittered with glee. “Come on, come on, quit gossiping, we are blessed to have such nice families, let’s get the hungry horde to the table.”

The colorful group filed out carrying the cutlery and serving bowls. They entered the dining area in a respectful and solemn procession, having sagged and shrunk in their bearing, a look of appeasement on their faces, treading thin ice with their indeterminate half smiles.

All was well with their world.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Unfair (Micro Fiction)

Red, green, purple!  Every time Keerat  pulled off one romper and put on the other, her eight month old wiggled and chuckled, chubby hands grabbing at the young mother’s arms as she fretted over the colour that best lightened her dusky baby’s skin tone.

“She looks dark in each of these,” Keerat wiped her brow, straining for impending sounds of departure. Ten minutes at the most and someone would be at her door announcing the car was loaded and ready to roll. A wave of exhaustion washed over the new parent and she plunked down on the settee, defeated with rage.

“Who does she take after? Have you been outdoors a lot with her? You are so fair, she looks nothing like you! People are progressive these days; no one in their right mind would obsess over a fair complexion.  Don’t worry; the next baby may turn out lighter. I think she takes after that aunt of hers; the one in Australia, we hear she is very bright at academics otherwise! Are you using “ubbttan” on her after the daily massage?”

Keerat pulled the rattle gently out of the baby’s busy mouth. She gazed at the diapered mite in wonder, trying to visualize her inside the womb. “Flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood,” her eyes welled up with tears of fury. “How dared they? They had some nerve sticking daggers into her heart! Why would they judge so?”

Her agitated mind pummelled ahead. This twiddling, gurgling bundle on the Dalmatian print counterpane does not hear the slights nor see the distaste on faces yet. A day will come when the barbs will tear into her soul, clouding her mind with self-doubt and confusion. She will never be picked to play the lead role in a school play. No boys will text her constricted notes. There will be the unflattering eyes of sales persons outside trial rooms. What happens to the colours she wants to wear but cannot because, “Blue is your shade, goes very well with your skin?” The well-meaning will go on to console her with, “But you have very nice features! And dark skin is healthy, all said and done, there is more melanin there.”

Keerat sprang up restlessly and punched her mother’s chat id, “Is this late for you Mum?! Why are people so judgmental?”

The luminous screen affirmed in green the typing at the other end, “That is the world Keerat, people will slot you no matter what. If it is not your colour, it will be the thick ankles or prematurely graying hair or an ample behind or the hair tint you happen to be using. People assess so they can feel better.”

“But my defenceless child Ma, my baby who doesn't have the adult’s capacity for resigned acceptance. She needs to hear she is gorgeous!”

“Yes Keerat, hold fast to that. This you can do, you have to get to her before the rest do. She will believe you the most.”

“Mum, I am going to do more. I am going to break this horrible pattern of a colour put down. Be prepared for hurt family feelings!”

“I am with you Keerat, this is only family, she has to face the world soon. Unless we give her a strong core at home where we exercise control, she will crumble and dissolve in the harshness outside.”

“Thanks Ma, love you!”

Keerat threw open the door and walked to the group chafing with impatience under the portico. They turned at her determined gait, “I am sorry but I will not be accompanying you all today!”

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Doomsayer (Micro Fiction)

The tea and samosa could wait, Shirley told herself as she made to tear open the envelope an agitated parent had left on her table. She had ten minutes before the faculty returned from the dining hall to resume the parent teacher sessions. Shirley pushed her glasses back up the nose and held up the pale yellow paper.

Dear Teacher Progressive,
I am sick and tired of your patronizing and judging.  Please stop telling me not to push my kids and take some time off your high horse to learn the difference between nagging and motivating; diminishing and enabling; projecting and nurturing.

The air is thick with educationists spouting fonts of wisdom, Oh I have heard them all: just let your child be happy and stress free; let them follow their hearts; try not to live your dream through them; you could end up embarrassing and alienating them.

Have you any idea dear madam? Do you not smell the violence in the air, the lack of conviction in our leaders’ voices, the horrifying truth that there is no lofty peg the buck stops at? For all my desire to retain a benevolent view of life and mankind, the fact is that I see queues everywhere. I read and hear and feel the system that rewards ill-gotten power and money. Every morning at the bus stop, it feels like I am sending my little one into the war zone. Do you really believe that your polka dotted and star laden bulletin boards camouflage the real world we all inhabit?

Of course there are struggles and more but the most poignant of them all is my fight as a parent to keep faith and hope alive for my kids. I see strange things. My children come back from competitions with stories of favoritism and partiality. I shuddered the day they spoke of having their teacher suspended. I no longer know what to tell them about patriotism, truthfulness, sense of duty.  Anything and everything seems to go. There is that hollowness in the air, a dry throat-ed scratch to sounds of humanity, the public aura is clogged and clouded. A new attribute is being lauded in children: street smartness. Am I being foolish, telling my children to be nice and decent and responsible?

Petrol costs 71/-, the dollar has touched 62/-, hospitals take 20,000/- upfront for simple registration, food is adulterated, public transport unsafe, the land I just bought may have come with a forged deed, the courts are corrupt, schools overloaded, clinics understaffed, airwaves compromised, water and air polluted and you are calling me a doomsayer!!

The only armor in the face of this claustrophobic hostility dear Madam is education, influence, self-sufficiency, marketable skills. It is out of my hands. I cannot but push my kid. It is my moral obligation to equip him/her for survival in the future. So save your harangues on letting the kids be or else, for a day, only for a day, come wear my shoes.

Sincerely yours,
Middle class parent

Shirley looked up at the knock on the door, “May we come in Ma’am?”

She nodded, gesturing the couple towards the chairs. Folding the note carefully, she turned to the parents, “Please guide us Ma’am.  Our child finds it very difficult to get up in time for the school bus. There is too much stress in school. We want to spare him this daily hustle and bustle. What is your opinion on home schooling?!” 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Change (Micro Fiction)

Mandeep did not flinch. Her daughter’s eyes flashed brilliantly with the light of angered betrayal. “You created my profile on a matrimonial website? Oh God, my friends will never let me live this down!”

“What are the odds bete, them finding you there or caring one way or the other? You are my child, too precious not to cover all the bases over!” her mother looked on calmly at the daughter’s puckered face, “Eeew Ma, its creepy, the whole idea!”

The two sat in bristling silence, their coffee mugs growing cold. “Look Mum, this is not something I have slotted into my life’s blueprint yet.” Mandeep nodded her head sagely, “I know and I am not about to force you into anything. Just trust that these things take time and if we are going to go the traditional way, there is something called the window of opportunity.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, if you had met someone at school!” Mandeep’s voice dipped.

“Hey,” the young voice went up a notch, “You told me to avoid entanglements in college! Focus on learning and growing was the theme song, remember?!”

The mother drew a long breath, “I still think there is a time for everything in life. It is just that the variables are so many with strangers, it frightens me!"

“Didn’t you and Papa meet through a newspaper ad?” Mandeep smiled wryly at her daughter’s question, responding with a laugh, “We’d be considered crazy in some cultures. Look how we jump into ‘till death do us part’ arrangements with people we had no idea existed until then.”

“They would call it certified lunacy Mum. What a tradition, entering nuptials believing we are ordained to do so over seven lives with that one specific person. What did Beeji call it? Sanjog ? Destiny?!”

Mandeep gathered the cold mugs, “Let me heat these up on the range, I don’t enjoy the taste of micro-ovened fluid!”

The daughter followed her maternal into their spacious and clean
kitchen. They stood over the steaming pan, the rain falling rhythmically outside, a perfect score for their whirlwind thoughts. Mandeep poured the last dreg and turned to her daughter, “Hear me out, all right. Patiently! This is not a belief I started out with but I choose to hold it today that marriage is foundational, the canon in fact of family life in society. I can’t imagine an ordered social structure without these islands of commitment. It is in fact what distinguished our species, something that is intrinsically good and long term, quite the antithesis of instant gratification.”

“It is a social contract mother!”

“Oh no, it is way beyond that and the wedding planners, believe you me. Our scriptures have called it a sacrament; a lifelong relationship within which the two partners get to evolve spiritually."

“You mean be real soul mates?”

“Not in the Archies cards and Valentine way, no. In fact, I am not sure one would want to marry a well-fitting glove or a Siamese twin or a band aid or even a mirror image. Soul mate in real terms translates into someone you do your soul’s work with!” Mandeep answered with the firmness of retrospective wisdom.

“Hmmm……so what has changed since?” the young voice took on an impatient edge.

“Your great grandmother was married off at 12 years of age; she bore her first son at fourteen; your grandmother never got to meet your grandfather, he sent his college friends as spies to check her out! Your Dad made sure we got to spend a decent amount of time together before tying the knot but this was only after our formal engagement. And here we are having this candid conversation on the metaphysics, epistemology and ethics of that thing called matrimony…if that isn’t change!”