By Preeti Vangani
Suppose I told you that I had a sudden craving for my neighbour’s aloo masala. Suppose I told you that the first time I ate it in her drawing room, I wouldn’t stop asking for rotis. I would eat triple the capacity of my normal baby belly and burp all night.
Suppose I told my mother to try and make her aloo like my neighbour’s but she couldn’t because we have no idea how they get that flavour — they are from Uttar Pradesh, the way they prepare food is different.
Suppose I told you that I loved casually walking into my neighbour’s house and spending some afternoons there because their drawing room had an air conditioner and ours didn’t. And if I told you how magical it was — that if you brought anything new into that air conditioned room the entire room would smell of it. It would reflect of aloo masala or butter parathas or the two put together swelling up my belly as I swallow with my eyes and nose.
Suppose I told you that I loved walking into that drawing room, lying that I wanted to play or finish my homework, because it had the softest and silkiest red sofa with bolsters that I could bury my tiny elbows into and feel like I was floating on strawberry clouds. Suppose I told you that one day I wandered in just like that, telling my mother I wanted to play with Dia. Suppose I told you that Dia was in fact taking a nap in her own room, and the parrots in her balcony were also sleeping. Suppose I told you that I still wanted to go because I wanted to steal some summer off the soft couch while the air conditioning was on.
Suppose I told you that the only people awake at that hour were Dia’s elder brother and his friend, who also came by to study or play video games, but mostly for the air conditioning.
Suppose I told you that I have a faint memory of the two boys asking me to play a game with them. Suppose nobody had their pants on and taking your pants off was the game. Suppose I laughed and I told them I am a girl can’t you see I am wearing a frock, not pants. Suppose they told me that to be a part of this game I would have to take something off.
Suppose I was too comfortable on the velvety-red sofa and the air conditioning felt so good between my legs. Suppose I wanted to stay longer and the boys slid off their pants up to their knees and started urging that it was my turn now. Suppose I thought it was no big deal and slid down my underwear. Suppose the boys giggled and asked me to show them once, just once, what was underneath. Suppose I lifted my frock and showed them my triangle once. Suppose they said please please, once more, just once more. Suppose I said that I want to go home now or my mum may come home and ring the bell. Suppose they said some more please and asked me to lie down on the soft red couch and have another look. Suppose I do lie down and realise how much easier it is for the air conditioning to caress me between my thighs. Suppose they don’t touch me at all but the brother and his friend swell up my belly as they take a taste with their eyes and nose. And the air conditioned room was filled with the smell of me, my flavour.
Suppose I pull up my underwear and go to the room where the parrots and Dia are sleeping. Suppose the parrots wake up and make angry parrot noises as if accusing me of having done something wrong. Maybe I didn’t do anything wrong and maybe they were just hungry. But then why won’t they eat the food that’s right in front of them in a bowl?
Suppose I tell you that this afternoon repeated itself like Shanti and Swabhimaan. The same basic story in every episode with minor changes in costumes, set up and what Dia was doing at the time.
Suppose I were to tell you that one day I may have casually told mumma about the game I play with Dia’s brother and his friend. Suppose one day my neighbour’s mother rings our bell to give us some aloo masala and both our doors stay open for longer than the time it takes to barter neighbourly love. Suppose there is a mother on either side explaining, over explaining, apologising, being polite, being stern and making promises of never again. And never again it was.
Suppose several years later while the homeopathic doctor is quizzing my mum for her daughter’s finest history, I ask her if this had happened, ever. Suppose she says I must be having a bad dream and I must forget about it. Suppose I told you that the only other memory that they readily acknowledge is of me walking casually into Dia’s house and walking on her mum’s back to rid her of her spinal discomforts. Suppose I told you that at the time, I was seven and my neighbour’s brother, 13.
Suppose, the way they look at things are different.