By Apoorva Sripathi
Late evening. The vast sky suddenly darkens, streetlights gleam a faintly and your surroundings are glowing a pale orange. A short thunderstorm follows a loud cracking sound — the streets are wet with rainwater. You dance with your girlfriends barefoot, snatch umbrellas playfully from couples and make fun of policemen.
Somewhere, a little far away, your boyfriend, a charming rogue, dances with his buddies at Egmore railway station. Tired, you reach home and climb onto your romantic diwan-like bed and open the windows with a flourish — your hair flies about while you laze around on Egyptian cotton sheets (with a thread count of a 1,000 at least)…
It’s 2017. You and the guy you’re seeing (no labels please) have the most romantic time journeying on public transport in a metro. You fall in love via trains, converse on buses, quarrel in autos, have romantic moments on bikes. You then move in together into an old couple’s house that is done up in stately or modern wood furniture, a heavy oak swing, four-poster beds, teak chest of drawers, red kalamkari cutrains, an old Jeep that’s parked in the driveway. There are always flying curtains, aerial bedsheets, rebellious clothes lines. Your life is full of drapery. You win the landlords over by singing, who, by the way, never ask you if you are vegetarian.
When you leave your fabulous interiors for the glorious exteriors you’re a snowdust-speckled dancer, dark chocolate wavy hair flying in the wind, and your gleaming porcelain face turns to the camera in pleasant awe, you are always in awe of the landscape and the landscape is always in awe of you. Whether flushed pink or not your face is always turned skyward because you are a child of nature. You are a child of nature in Tirunelveli, Baramullah, Sri Lanka or even on Marine Drive.
Your charms take many forms — boisterous, playful, sultry, erudite, standoffish, sensible, goat-herding. You’re notoriously playful at first, which may deceive people about your goat-like stubbornness. So you cavort freely in the rain, chase the men you want, jump into their balconies at night, meet their boyfriends outside their gates, have endless conversations in buses and trains, wink at them and mouth ‘I love you’ at traffic signals, get married in secret…
But you’re seldom acquiescing. When you run into your lovers’ arms it is like Bambi over a log of wood but you are not a deer caught in the headlights. You’re not a damsel in distress waiting to be swooped into the strong arms of your lover and placed behind him on a dashing white horse and whisked away to paradise. You flippantly reject romantic proposals all the time — because your life’s purpose can’t be thwarted quite that easily.
You’re your own woman. Whether it’s in your married home trying to feed a stray cat, dining with your mother’s second husband at a restaurant, stealthily trying cigarettes with friends, having sex with a guy in your hostel room, waiting alone at the steps of the registrar’s office to get married, trying to secure your husband’s release from terrorists, marrying a Hindu man and leaving your Muslim family behind, taking on upper caste men in the village following your father’s death.
You’re wide-eyed, staring at your man in a bright canary yellow cotton sari with a thin black border and a childlike face summed up with a big red pottu. You sport long raggedy curls and turquoise shirts and sequin dresses that talk about the decade’s colourful expressiveness. In the vintage-y grunge-y 90s, you had free-flowing sensuous white shirts and navy blue high-waisted jeans, oversized shirts and black tights, long skirts and puffy shirts. You also have office-wear starchy cotton saris and borrowed shirts from the husband. Sometimes, rarely, you have a bottle green number which you pair with a striking red lipstick (MAC’s Russian Red?). Lately, you’ve had John Lennon sunglasses, hot yoga pants, long anarkalis that shimmer in the Mumbai heat. Did you perhaps show us a glimpse last week of a rich velvet green kurta with gilded embellishments?
It was as if you picked through the flotsam and jetsam of pieces from your wardrobe and made something beautiful no one would’ve ever have thought of.
You have a complex and close relationship with your father that goes on to shape your relationship with your boyfriend and husband. Either your father is absent, he is poised and understanding, authoritarian, gruff and loveable, revered, a mentor or you loved him, then hated him and went back to loving him again.
Your mother is mostly present — she’s strict and businesslike, asking you to stay away from trouble and just mirror her life by marrying safely, having two children (or more) and lead a middle-class life that is rarely spoken about.
You’re an Anjali, Indira, Anu, Neela, Chitra, Roja, Kalpana, Pushpavalli, Meghna, Shakti, Shaila Banu, Meera, Tara — names that weren’t really heard much of in that decade, nevertheless, savoury delicious names that rolled off people’s tongues and on to newborn baby girls.
Your heart is full of burdens. You love him but you don’t know how to express it and your wonder if he loves you back; if he would ever say it out loud.
Meanwhile you worry about passing in economics and biology.
And about money and train schedules.