I heard her before I saw her. A loud, hoarse voice screaming expletives that would make a sailor blush. If you knew the busy street my parents’ home is on, you would be awed by the power of her lungs. She is crass, she is angry, and simply known as the not-so-friendly neighborhood crazy.
Back in the day when my parents were teenagers, hanging out with their ‘gang’ of 30 and going for summer swims to the Golwala pool, Daisy B. was a stunning young thing in her early twenties, with permed hair, immaculate make-up and outfits to die for. The boys wanted her and the girls wanted to be her. And admirers never left her vicinity. Dressed to the nines and aware of her power over the opposite sex, she led a life of promiscuous abandon, going through several lovers, brazenly flaunting her sugar daddies and breaking homes and marriages with nary a care. Talk of how men’s brains would turn to putty at a mere glance from her and how she could get any man to do her bidding abounded and provided the neighbors with much fodder for gossip.
Of course, for the old families who continue to live in our neighborhood (mine included), it was all her fault and no good was going to come of a used girl who refused to settle. She’s lucky to be Parsi, Jeroo said, rolling her eyes heavenward at her own fabulous fortune, or else she’d have been arranged-marriaged off, like those Hindoos do all the time. Would’ve done her good, retorted Tehmina, to have a husband keep her in check, quite forgetting that her own Edulji wouldn’t venture any such thing with his opinionated wife. In a community of eccentric people, aberrations are more easily overlooked and Daisy B. went about her wild life without samaj, biradri or similar Hindi film constructs pointing their accusing fingers at her existence.
A generation grew up. And then another. And one evening in the year 2010, a loud, hoarse voice, screaming expletives that would make a sailor blush, rose above the roar of rush-hour traffic and floated into my fourth-floor bedroom. There she was, a now-wrinkled woman with golden-brown curls, suggestively gesticulating toward her nether regions and screaming bloody murder at a man she accused of looking at her. I retreated from my balcony, shaken by the hysteria in her voice, and tried to focus on other things. A week later, there was that voice again, railing against a world that was out to group-fornicate with her.
The episodes began occurring with alarming frequency and she would rant and rave and verbally target anybody on the street, regardless of age or gender. I (and half my zip code) was informed that I have ‘false boobsies’ while on my way to a workout. A passerby was almost beaten up because a group of men on the street believed she had been genuinely molested. People would stop and stare. Some men would scurry past, afraid to be implicated for merely being on the road home. Some would yell back. Most would just be stunned into silence by the lady in the frilly nightgown, who bought Coke and bread from the local vendor before turning on him viciously.
Efforts to reach out and help came to nought. Between my mum and I, we tried a social worker, relatives and a trustee of the Bombay Parsee Punchayet, but nobody wanted to get involved. I’m not sure how many of you know that a large part of my education and work experience has been in the mental health field, and it pained me to see someone so direly in need of help. Daisy B. lives alone now, after her mother passed away. Relatives and neighbors claim she was cruel to her and this madness is the cross she has to bear. Nobody is willing to entertain the notion that she may have acted in a harsh manner because of her illness. My cousin who lives in the neighborhood confirms that her behavior has expanded to screaming in buses and glaring at anyone she pleases, all the while going about her daily business. On some days, she is calm, walks quietly down the street, dressed up like the old times. She has no immediate family and nobody who can step in to help. Everybody I spoke with says she’ll only be taken advantage of if we take the matter to the police.
So Daisy B. is left to her own devices and everybody goes back to their own lives after the bi-weekly screams have stopped reverberating and the honking of jostling taxis has taken over the world again. I think of her occasionally, curled up on my ivory couch in California, and pray she is kept from further harm. But for the old families of my erstwhile neighborhood, this episode of karma beats their nightly airing of reality television. And life, twisted bitch, wins hands down against soap-saga fiction.