Archive | July, 2015

Platform Three, Part Two

6 Jul

For Part 1 of this story, go here.

 

Kem chhe, Persis,” he asked gently, his eyes never leaving hers. Persis stopped to breathe deeply. In that breath, she traversed half a lifetime, to a place when, in their early twenties and giddily in love, Lohrasp had expressed his desire and devotion, and she had reciprocated fervently. He was her college friend Hutoxi’s brother, and Persis had amazed her parents, first with her dedication to studying for her B.Com. examinations at Hutoxi’s home and then by the poor percentage she had earned in spite of it. Secure in a moderately-paying job at State Bank, Lohrasp had brought up the issue of marriage with his widowed mother, to be met with hysteria, refusal, and emotional blackmail. ‘That colony girl’, Mrs. Dubash had ranted, was not good enough for her son, and he had no business picking his own life partner without his mother’s approval. Which girl from a decent family went and got herself picked by a boy instead of his family was what she would like to know, and nai jee, didn’t she know these aaj kaal ni chhokriyo with their short-short hair and midi skirts, fasaaoing poor innocent boys from good homes.

Persis had, at first, believed him when he assured her that it was a matter of time before his mother relented and saw her for the loving and beautiful girl she was. “Give her time, darling,” he’d whisper, stroking her hair and the nape of her neck as she buried her face into his chest on the rocks at Scandal Point. She wanted a life with this man who looked at her like the universe melted from around them when they were together. She wanted to wake up to the bob of his Adam’s apple each morning, hear him imitate Elvis and call her Priscilla; she wanted to cook akoori for their children on Sunday mornings and mock-scold him for leaving his shirts hanging on the backs of chairs instead of in the bathroom bucket. What was a little time when there was love to be won? They were young, they would wait.

Mrs. Dubash turned out to be made of sterner stuff than both her only son and his breathlessly waiting lady love anticipated. As Persis rejected many an admirer-with-a-willing-mother, waiting for her man to step up and make an honest woman out of her, Lohrasp battled cold wars, suicide threats and ultimatums from ‘the poor lonely woman who had brought him up as both father and mother’. Over the years, it dawned on Lohrasp that no woman would ever be good enough for him in his mother’s eyes, and she appeared happiest when he was within lilting distance, readily available to consume her elaborate meals and ministrations without a murmur. With his sister now living in America, Lohrasp was left with the sole responsibility of caring for their mother, which made it harder for him to take a heart-over-head decision. Still, Persis waited, but the wait lengthened into shadows and unspoken words and disappointment lingered at corners of her mouth, the weight of unendingness sagging her skin, small joys unnoticed, a slow shut-down of the heart. Then, there was silence.

Two decades later, when she heard from common friends that the old lady’s heart had given way, and, after her death, Lohrasp had shut the house and taken up a position as manager of a dharamshala in a small town near the Gujarat border, the details merely skimmed the surface of her thoughts. She had shut that chapter a long time ago and made peace with the circumstances of her life. Persis was not a woman of vociferous opinion, but she held a firm belief that Lohrasp was the only love of her life.

But now he was standing in front of her, still awaiting a response. “Hello,” she said quickly, in a voice that sounded like somebody else’s, his question left unanswered. They assessed each other, cautiously, then affectionately, letting little smiles slip through the tightness of their mouths. Him: Of medium height and muscular build, with darker skin than she remembered, his clean-shaven face framing a crooked-toothed smile. Her: Short, compact, with still-unlined creamy skin and tired grey eyes, gentle curls resting neatly around her earlobes, her clothes less fashionable than in their youth. Wordlessly, he unlatched the gate and gallantly stepped aside for her to walk through. Closing it behind him, he fell into step with her and they made their way to the beach.

The short stroll of less than a mile felt like a long walk home, with brief forays into unpleasant emotional alleys. Searing their silences were memories, reproaches, disappointments, and a litany of barely awakened what-ifs. With no immediate family left in Bombay once Mrs. Dubash had passed on, Lohrasp sought a change of scene in a bid to put his past behind him. The bitterness that was his mother’s legacy lurked in the corners of their lace-curtained home, and made him want to flee. Putting in his papers for voluntary retirement at the bank, he accepted a position at the Gholvad dharamshala and had been its manager since. He liked the solitude, the passengers who floated through, and grew accustomed to stars and waves for company. He would think of Persis now and then, a dull ache compressing his heart, as he wondered how things could have turned out differently. And now here she was, in the flesh, and his tongue had decided to play hide-and-seek.

They sat among the rocks, pretending neither recalled other similar evenings from a long-ago youth, and reconnected hesitantly. As Lohrasp stumbled over half-regrets, Persis spoke up quietly and without recrimination. Life had moved on, she pointed out, but it hadn’t completed passed them by. It was to be lived, no matter how late the chance was presented, and really, did affection and companionship have an expiry date? As Lohrasp raised his eyes to meet hers, he felt a spark of hope for the first time in decades, and allowed it to ignite a little Bunsen burner in his spirit. There was much to be said, pasts and futures to be discussed and debated, but for now, it would keep. For now, the present was plenty. Finally, he had a passenger who wasn’t just a passerby. And with that knowledge, Lohrasp and Persis made their way back to the dharamshala, where a just-roused group of tea-demanding neighbors were making plans to brighten up the evening.

~The End~

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The Blog That Keeps on Giving / Platform 3

1 Jul

This blog, Wisdom Wears Neon Pyjamas Version 2.0, completes 7 years today. I began blogging on this platform at a time when I didn’t know what I’d be doing the next weekend. Years into the future was not even a consideration. I’ve written about it here, but pardon my middle-aged nostalgia–this little space of mine of the internet, carved out 9 1/2 years ago, has given me the community of a lifetime, and the older this blog and I grow, the less I take this blessing for granted. Even as I type this post, I am excitedly looking forward to meeting one of my earliest blog friends for the first time–9 years after we connected!

So thank you, all of you who show this corner of my world your love and appreciation. So much has changed for me in these past 7 years that it is reassuring to have a constant. These days, I choose to spend long, sunny afternoons snuggled with my Gummy Bear on our vast bed over hammering out a post (you have no idea how many times I’m tempted to write for all of 3 seconds before I go right back to inhaling that baby scent), I spend my days in endless cycles of three-hour blocks, I prefer to sing Five Little Ducks no less than 17 times a day rather than generate fresh content for this space, but I love this blog, I do, for it is the gift that keeps on giving, and I’m so glad to return to it again and again and again.

And now, because I must drop dead in the next 13 minutes if I am to survive tomorrow, without further ado, here is a little present. It’s a story I wrote a couple years ago and held close to my heart. It’s time now to let it go. Enjoy it, and for the sake of continuity–because it’s the third in a series–read Chapters One and Two first.

Adios, my dearies! Until we meet again.

~
Platform Three

Dawn came early to Soonawala Colony one April. Lights were switched on a full hour earlier than Alamai’s 6 am prayers, and sounds of sandwiches being wrapped and bags being zipped echoed across the chipped-tiled corridors. Persis Kerawala stood deep in thought in the middle of the obsessively tidy bedroom she shared with her older sister and lips pursed, tapped them with her forefinger. She went through a mental check-list of items and anxieties, shrugged off whatever was bothering her, and walked into the kitchen to share a cup of choi and a khaari biscuit with Dolat. Ten minutes later, bags zipped, front door locked (and checked thrice), hats on their short wavy hair, the Kerawala sisters were the first ones ready to join the Pardiwallas on the short drive to Bombay Central station. Across the hallway, they could hear Khursheed Madon goading her teenage son Daraius to pack his chappals, lest he roam around like a ghata-ghariya in Gholvad.

“Packed the pora-pao?” called out Sarosh, whose once-fit but now-generous frame was proof of his love for this Parsi breakfast staple. His wife assuaged his fear of going breakfastless on the three-hour train journey, even as Dolat and Persis listening outside smiled and rolled their eyes. As girls growing up in the colony, Sarosh had been their little errand boy, the one who ran down to the corner store to get soda for their father’s evening drink, passed on notes from admirers who wrote forced-rhyming lines to Persis in her younger days, appreciating her grey eyes, marble-like skin, and, although only the boldest mentioned it, her compact, pert figure, draped in the latest cuts from Maganbhai darji’s ‘foreign’ catalogs. It was a mystery to many why Persis had chosen to remain unmarried, because she certainly had her pick of the field at a time when the colony boys were angling to make her their wife.

A door opened upstairs and the sound of luggage being thumped down each step echoed across the corridors. Sanobar and Homyar appeared at the bottom of the stairs, bickering about the pros and cons of leaving the toilet window open. “Chee! Muo vaas-e-vaas aavse!” grumbled Sanobar, whose sensitive nose was perennially at odds with her spouse’s borderline agoraphobia. “Better than getting the house looted,” countered Homyar, who insisted it was only his cautious nature that made him want to shut most access points to rooms, and winked in greeting at the waiting sisters. Shortly after, the Madons—Sarosh, Khursheed and Daraius—emerged from their ground floor flat, the scent of freshly cooked omelets trailing them. Off they went, huddled in the Pardiwallas’ Scorpio, or, “packed like sardines”, like Sanobar liked to giggle. She had schooled at Presentation Convent in the southern hills of Kodaikanal, and never missed an opportunity to toss morsels of nun-crafted similes and proverbs at her friends and neighbors.

At Bombay Central, they joined other folks from the colony, also climbing out of taxis and cars, the men hoisting bags as the women took a head count of the younger children. Daraius kept an eye out for Jamasp Patel’s daughter Sanaeya, while hanging out with Khushroo and Feroz, his college-going—and therefore cool—buddies from building number 12. Once the list of picnickers had been called out and checked off, they hurried to Platform 3 to board the Saurashtra Express. “Roomal mooko, roomal mooko,” advised Silloo Damania, in an attempt to bag all the seats in the completely empty compartment. After much bustling, rearranging of luggage and silencing of whiny children, the group of 25 settled down, and the train gave a lurch and rumbled off to Gholvad—the destination of the annual Soonawala colony picnic.

Just past Dadar, the omelet packets were opened, passed around, their contents devoured in a matter of minutes. By the time, Andheri arrived, Roshan’s freshly made bhakras were being passed around and complimented on between mouthfuls. At Palghar, tender young coconuts, their mouths agape and spilling with sweet water, were passed through window bars, into the hands of waiting children first and their parents afterwards. Boisar brought the scent of fried chilies and crisp, spicy wadas stuffed in chutney-smeared pav, the vendor’s tray emptied by two dozen greedy mouths who smacked their lips and settled down for the remainder of the journey. The train slow-chugged into Gholvad, past sentinel-like banyan trees that gave the place its name, and, wheels screeching, came to a halt. The boisterous group, back to their pre-food coma-induced levels of excitement, tumbled onto the platform, and piled into autorickshaws and trr-trred away toward the blinding mirror of the sea.

Alighting at the Gholvad Dharamshala (for Parsi and Irani Zoroastrians only, announced a faded plaque on a crumbling wall), they lugged their bags up the steps into cool, white rooms with high ceilings and the sounds of pigeons gurgling outside the antique-paned windows. The manager was out, explained the local lad who served as Man Friday, and would be back by tea time. The group didn’t care, as they devoured a lunch of fried fish, prawn curry and rice, and fried papads before settling into their beds for a long siesta. The younger ones gathered on the long, sun-baked verandah for a game of Monopoly, and Persis could hear them giggle and bicker as the afternoon wore on. She sat up in bed with the latest copy of Reader’s Digest, flipping through articles on medical miracles and ordinary heroes. Dolat lay at the other end of the spacious room, gentle snores emanating from beneath the white sheet. The afternoon streamed in through open windows, the sound of the sea coming into shore, the chirp of a solitary bird, the forthright sunlight with no pretences. Feeling restless, Persis got out of bed, stuffed her feet in slippers, and decided to take a walk around the property. Stepping away from the old white bungalow with its red tiled roof, she walked in the orchard that lay sprawled on either side. Low chikoo trees and groves of guava and litchis formed a cool respite from the summer heat and she was grateful for the solitude and shade. Her feet crunched on a carpet of dry leaves and she walked leisurely toward the gate at the other end. Emerging into the sunlight, she saw a fence with a white gate. Beyond that, was the sea.

“It’s low tide right now,” spoke a voice behind her, as her heart lurched and her feet stayed rooted. She slowly turned around to find him watching her calmly, the love of her youth, his boyish crinkled-at-the-corner eyes belying the touches of grey at his temples.

 

To be continued…..