The Curious Case of Missing Jaangiris

My dearest nephew turns 12 on 15-December. To make him feel special, I have written a teeny-weeny story in which he is the protagonist. Hey! Because he is my nephew and I love him. 🙂

The Curious Case of Missing Jaangiris

For Calvin, who loved Shravan with all his heart

The jaangiris are missing; six jaangiris which Thatha bought for Deepavali are missing. Ammamey is confused, Thatha is equally perplexed. When Thatha went to his bedroom to change and when Ammamey was on a call, the jaangiris seem to have disappeared from the kitchen. Nobody entered the house after the jaangiris arrived. The mystery causes immense distress; Thatha and Ammamey know that only one person can solve it.

That’s a boy.

And that’s Shravan.

He arrives in a blink of an eye. Just like most children, Shravan loves solving a good mystery.

No! He doesn’t bring his magnifying glasses or a pen or a notepad. He believes in relying on his sharp brain and sharper memory. At least, that’s what he thinks. But his mother would have expected him to make good use of some tools. Anyway, Shravan is here.

Shravan gathers his family in the drawing room. Ammamey, Thatha, Thichi, Calvin, and Anu present themselves for a quick round of investigation. Thatha and Ammamey sit in the divan, Thichi, Calvin, and Anu sit at their feet, while Shravan drags a chair from the dining table and perches at the edge of it. It is a serious investigation and he does seem serious. Calvin and Anu are not allowed to lick him or play with him. The canine suspects have to follow his rules — sit straight, look into Shravan’s eyes, don’t kill the ants, don’t chew your paws, don’t be distracted, and focus.

Ammamey, Thatha, did you eat the jaangiris?” asks Shravan in a tone that means business.

They say no in unison. “But Ammamey, you are diabetic. What if you wanted to savour a couple of jaangiris secretly?” On any other day, Ammamey would have chided Shravan for asking such a presumptuous question, but not today. The missing jaangiris have to be found. “Kondhey! Ammamey would never do such a thing. Believe me!”

So, Shravan removes Thatha and Ammamey from the list of suspects. Thichi arrived after Shravan came to investigate. Who else could have eaten the jaangiris? Shravan is sure that a stranger didn’t enter the house. It must certainly be somebody from the family. And then, it dawns on him. The canine suspects avert their gaze as Shravan turns more theories in his head. The black dog and the brown dog wish they could be relieved from the investigation which might turn intense. But Shravan loves a good mystery. He is determined to untie the knots.

He asks Ammamey, Thatha, and Thichi to leave the drawing room. They wait in their bedroom with bated breath. Oh no! What is Shravan going to do to the canine suspects!

Shravan gets up from the chair, kneels down against Calvin and Anu, who are now pretending to be asleep. That’s a sign, Shravan reckons. They are trying to act innocent. If they were not guilty, they could have faced Shravan. Calvin tries to snore, Anu opens her eyes to see if Shravan is still around. Of course, he is there, sitting in front of them, with an answer that just surfaced.

The little detective lifts Calvin’s lips… BAM! There is a tiny piece of jaangiri on Calvin’s gums. He turns Calvin’s face, opens his mouth, and finds more remnants there. Anu now washes Shravan’s face by licking him over and over again, as though she is pleading him to let her go. “Sit Anu Boo! I am not going to hurt you.” She obeys his command. And there! A very small piece of jaangiri on her thin brown lips too.

The case is now closed.

Shravan asks Thatha, Ammamey, and Thichi to join them.

“I am now ready to share my observations with you all and close the case,” begins Shravan, with a trace of pride in his tone. He can be proud all right. He has solved the case. “So! When Thatha was in his bedroom and when Ammamey was on a call, our great friends Calvin and Anu teamed up, entered the kitchen, and wolfed down the jaangiris. You may see the evidence in their mouths,” he lifts Calvin’s lips again. Thatha and Ammamey shoot an accusatory glance at their dogs, but Shravan says it’s not their fault.

Shravan scratches Calvin’s ears as he concludes, “Thatha, you should not have left jaangiris in the kitchen. Calvin and Anu were tempted, and to their surprise, they had access to the food that they were not supposed to eat. Ammamey, you could have put a lid on the container. Now that they have guzzled the jaangiris, I suggest that you shouldn’t give them supper. And most importantly, you both should keep such food away from them. Keep all our snacks on the dining table. Now the case is closed.”

Thatha and Ammamey are visibly glad and relieved, and Ammamey pulls Shravan into a tight embrace and showers him with hundreds and hundreds of kisses. Shravan is embarrassed. But he would never say no to love, he would never forget to share more love, and he would never leave a mystery go unresolved.

Thatha, please buy more jaangiris. We all want to taste it too!” Thatha steps out right away. “Please wear your shirt before you leave, Thatha,” Shravan runs after him, holding his shirt; the sound of laughter fills their hearts, and Calvin and Anu run their tongues around their lips, slip into a peaceful slumber, and dream of jaangiris.

Glossary:
Ammamey – Maternal Grandmother
Jaangiri – An Indian sweet
Kondhey – Child
Thatha – Grandfather
Thichi – Aunt (Mother’s younger sister)

Advertisements

Relax

Relax

Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat—
the one you never really liked—will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours. Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up—drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice—one white, one black—scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.

— Ellen Bass
Poem from here.

18423744_10155415462833944_7341428766508948306_n
Image from here.

TW: Swear words

That man fucks me in my dream,
he laughs at me while he zips his trousers.

This man fucks my head,
I wish he would laugh at me,
instead of taunting me with his silence.

That woman hurls an advice at me,
it is a blunt knife that tears through my skin.

This woman dreams for me,
there is a prophecy that I would stay fallen.

Their faces break into smiles,
Their words turn into hopes,
Their barbs sharpen their claws,
Their love fans my inferno.

I am your Surpanakha,
I am your Soorapadman,
mutilate my nose,
sever my heads,
before I become a djinn,
siphon off my soul.

I am a puppy who eats her feces,
I am a serpent who devours her other end,
I am a worm,
crawling, leaving traces of blood.

Give me that mug of coffee,
no milk,
no sugar,
Dark, dark, dark.

Uncle M is in Jail

Uncle M is in jail.

He said his wife was a marigold, his marigold. “She will never wilt so long as I love her,” he winked at her. Aunty M dropped her cards and said she had won. Uncle M’s ego was bruised. After all, he taught us the complex rules of Shanghai. He could have just recited a poem on his marigold, but Aunty M’s unwavering focus was on her cards. When the game was over, Uncle M removed his cards which he had hid under his thighs and flung them on all of us. Like a mad man who had just won a lottery. I shrieked. “We didn’t know you were trying to cheat…” I picked up Aunty M’s cards to validate her victory. Aunty M, with her intent gaze on her husband, smiled and smiled. “Are you hurt? I should have allowed you to win!” she said. I did not hear her words.

Uncle M is in jail.

aa2cd00111c3fff308a1fc923031464c--vintage-illustrations-design-illustrations
Image from here.

“Why do you press your petticoats, aunty? Nobody can see it,” I smirked. Aunty M left her tiny, dark hand in a bowl of water, collected and sprinkled some water on her petticoat. “But I can see, Deepu!” She laughed. It was the hearty laughter of a woman who was in love with her husband, who loved him, warts and all, who basked in their domestic bliss, and who also trained herself to hide the black holes in her marriage. It was never the laughter of a woman who mourned her unborn child.

Uncle M is in jail.

For the 15-year-old me, Uncle M’s intentions were inscrutable. Did he really want to adopt me? Would my parents give me away? Uncle M arranged his cards in his inimitable style, held those like a fan for a while or like sharp weapons sometimes, wore a lopsided grin, when he made the offer. “No curfew. You can meet your boyfriend anytime. 500 rupees a week, your pocket-money. I can send you to any college. Your wish. Just say yes.” I swam in his enticing words. I arranged my cards over and over again to avoid answering his question. Aunty M maintained her calm demeanour, looking at me from behind her cards. I didn’t want to ridicule myself by accepting his offer. What if it was a joke? I didn’t want to hurt him by saying no. What if they wanted a child? Aunty M passed a plate of bajjis. I pushed a large one into my mouth. I didn’t have to answer.

Uncle M is in jail.

The summer ended. Aunty M pressed and pressed her petticoats, Uncle M made a grand offer to adopt their relative’s child, and life happened.

The newspaper carries his picture today.

Uncle M is in jail.

F is For Forgiveness

“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”

— The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

14333828_10154577114883944_6325631696182089479_n
Image from here.

Hurt announces his arrival with a deafening cacophony of cymbals and trumpets and accordions. He slips into a tuxedo and a pair of winkle-pickers, and swaggers in with an intimidating gait. He sinks into a black leather couch and adjusts his wayfarer, throwing a condescending glance at me. He lights his cigar, crosses his legs, and laughs and laughs and laughs. With his face turned toward the ceiling, he laughs like a mountain.

He stops laughing only to drag a long puff. The room is filled with smoke, my heart with terror. I shudder. But in some way, I am enchanted. This man who breathes fear into me, is cliched and beautiful in his own way.

I am scared. I wail in pain. I am inspired. I loathe him. I adore him. All at the same time.

Have I begun to love my captor? Is that insane?

*****

“What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? …What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?”

— Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

As I wrestle many questions on my adulation for hurt, Forgiveness sits beside me. When did she come? She doesn’t utter a word. She looks at her palms, runs her fingers on the prints, and takes a deep breath.

The room is foggy. Hurt is still around. I hear his roar. But his laughter is slightly muffled.

Forgiveness stops looking at her palms and offers a benevolent smile to no one in particular. Should I receive it? Or will Hurt snatch it from her? Maybe, it doesn’t matter.

The smile is blindingly bright. My eyes struggle to adjust to its luminosity. When I train my eyes on Forgiveness’s smile, Hurt leaves his couch and walks toward me. He removes his glasses; his eyes are bloodshot. Hurt is livid. He doesn’t like his hostage taking the rescuer’s hand.

Now that I have instigated him, will Hurt unleash more violence? Will I be punished for basking in the warmth exuded by a quiet stranger? Hurt doesn’t talk either. He sits next to me.

I gather that Hurt is not angry. He is upset that I am beginning to neglect him. I inch closer to Forgiveness; Hurt moves closer to me. But Forgiveness is just there. Like a banyan tree.

Forgiveness doesn’t turn or look into my eyes. She seems to be in a silent conversation with her own thoughts. Perhaps, she has no thoughts, but silence. White silence.

I am a wee bit uncomfortable between them. Quite like a child who feels stuck between her parents who have fought and who refuse to reconcile.

I have always admired Hurt. But Forgiveness is here now, drawing me towards her inexplicable lightness, calm, and peace. Hurt is my good old friend. Forgiveness is my new sanctuary. Will my old friend move into my new home? For all we know, his ego is too big for that.

Hurt throws tantrums. He rolls on the floor, bawls, and recounts memories of all the days we spent together. When was he this emotional really? I pick him up from the floor. I dust his suit and tell him that I cannot leave him forever. He is flummoxed.

I hold Hurt’s shoulders, look straight into his black ocean of eyes. “Dearest Hurt, what’s life without you? I am, of course, leaving with Forgiveness. But what made you forget your own power? When did I not answer your calls? It’s true that I love Forgiveness more. Forgive me for being brutally honest. But you are inevitable. Your calls are too loud to be ignored. Always remember that I will be at the threshold of Forgiveness’s home when you want to meet me. I will listen to your stories and complaints. I will offer my sympathies. I will stay with you. Sometimes, longer than you can imagine. However, I will always, always go back to Forgiveness. Always!”

I am sure Forgiveness is listening to our conversation. She doesn’t look at us. I am sure she is paying attention. Hurt listens to me, stifling a sniffle. “Are you sure?” Hurt poses that question weakly as though he is too embarrassed to ask. I smile. “Is there any other way? Do you think it’s possible to abandon you?” I say with no trace of regret in my tone.

Forgiveness now stands up, shuffles her feet. She doesn’t offer a word. She leaves the room. I follow her.

I turn around to see if Hurt is hurt. He wears his wayfarer, slips another cigar in between his lips, and hums a song. I see a lopsided grin on his face. He is not sad. He is certain that I will come back. He is right all the same.

Forgiveness waits for me. I trot toward her, saying without making a sound. “I am ready!”

The Seafarer

The rush is maddening. A man admonishes his child for not folding her hands in the sanctum sanctorum. “Kaiya koopu! Nee onnum periya doulath illa!” he spews words on her head. Instead of gathering my thoughts, I wonder if that child knows what doulath means. It’s hard for me to focus, ask the cosmic dancer to grant my wishes, over the man’s angry voice. I still try.

It’s a busy day at Chidambaram’s Thillai Nataraja Temple. Hundreds and hundreds of women sprint, dart, bolt around the radiant room of Nataraja, muttering prayers under their breath, holding their pallus, dragging their children, holding their hearts, and beseeching the ecstatic performer to be kind to them. Religious marathoners. But where are the men?

As I step out from the sanctum sanctorum, I am lost in a whirlpool of humanity. Like the child who was just rebuked, I stand there soaking in the collective energy exuded by the amblers’s dreams and despairs. I can’t see the sun but the light enters the corridor, as though a weaver unrolls his newly woven spools of silk. I resist the crowd for a quick moment to bask in that warm, tender light. To my surprise, people make their way around me, and continue their walks relentlessly. They are the river, I am the rock, and it feels great to be the rock sometimes.

On my way to the stage of the said dancer, I spotted a Muslim woman in the temple. The little gems on her abaya gleamed; a purple hijab covered her head. Her right hand clutched her footwear, her left hand held her abaya up, and she walked like a monk who was lost in meditation. My friend said that she took that way to reach the street behind the temple.

In that electric, hurried atmosphere, she seemed lonely, crestfallen. I traced her path until she disappeared. A little later, She didn’t seem alone, isolated. In that sea of religion, she sculled her boat quietly, with her undivided attention on the waves which could turn rough and choppy.

I will remember her for her measured steps.

In that enormous ocean, she was a seasoned seafarer.

18664454_10155461114888944_2334403394642315577_n
Image from here.

The Place of True Healing

“Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.”

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

Mrs G’s office is in the corner of the psychiatric clinic. The corner is a metaphor. Maybe. Her patients don’t want to be seen entering her office. They would be called unstable, weak, hypersensitive… more colloquially mental. They would be cornered for feeling things. The little office is strategically tucked in the corner.

The corner: an invisibility cloak for her patients. Her clients. Mrs G is my therapist. In fancy terms, she is a psychotherapist. My shrink.

I look haggard. The antidepressants have begun to work on me. Google tells me that the neurotransmitters are fired up. How do I know what the neurotransmitters do? I want to leave my hand inside my head, remove the brain, and store it in a mason jar for a while. I want to uproot my heart and hand it to my dog. She is my confidante. My heart will be safe with her. What will I do with my body? I carry that into Mrs G’s office with the confidence of a somnambulist.

Even in that dazed, corpse-like state, I search for a wan smile in Mrs G’s impassive face. She looks up from her iPhone; a part of her is still tethered to the phone. “So!” she sighs. The air-conditioner hums. I want to sink in that plastic chair and sleep for a couple of years. I wish that the chair could travel back in time, grant me the power to hold my hands before I wielded an ax and butchered my life.

“How are things, Deepika?” Mrs G knows thousands of intimate details about my life that I don’t ever want to run into her at a public restroom or at cinemas. In my head, Mrs G is confined in that claustrophobic office that’s big enough to accommodate two adults who sit against each other with a tiny, useless table between them, and small enough to not allow another person inside. It’s so small that if I stretch my hands, I can touch the wall behind Mrs G and the doors behind me. It’s the smallest room I have ever seen. I would never know why Mrs G has installed a table. Despite appearing like a rational therapist, she is a victim of futile norms.

She is unlike other therapists I have seen in movies. Mrs G runs her hands on her stiff, artfully draped cotton saree when she says I have to be proud of myself. She pushes her gold-framed glasses further up on her nose when she says I have a whole life ahead of me. She turns her wrist-watch when she declares that I don’t need a partner and that I am adequate by myself. The gesture of touching her watch is the sign. Time is up. I must leave. Now I know why she has placed a table. Her words land on the table and just sit there. Like spirits which are not malevolent. They don’t cross her side of the table to reach me.

My intention is to play ping-pong with her, but she seems to like Squash; I am not her opponent.

I rummage in my rucksack, fish out a 500-hundred rupee note, and take it across the table. She collects it reluctantly. Perhaps, she knows I wouldn’t return. Perhaps, she knows that she doesn’t deserve that money.

Mrs G is like my aunts, only with multiple degrees in Psychology. She is also a reluctant feminist. She mouths motivation without conviction. She listens, not to listen, but to know the embarrassing stories of my life, and to offer threadbare solutions. She is as curious as my aunts, only to choose the salvageable pieces like a rag-picker. Maybe, before going to bed, Mrs G might laugh with her husband, “Gosh! This last client ate my brains today. She loves listening to herself. Pah! So much for that 500!” Maybe, she relates my stories to her other patients. I mean, clients. Maybe, she would run into me in a temple and she wouldn’t recognise me at all.

She is also like my friends; friends, who are tired of my deplorable self. So I often sense an air of resignation around her. I hear unsaid words, “Could you stop taking yourself seriously? Walk out of those biting shoes, self-importance!”

Mrs G is not your proverbial freudian therapist nor your Shah Rukh Khan in Dear Zindagi. No faux leather couch. No Persian carpet. No bicycle rides. I can’t hold her hands and stroll on the Goan beaches. I can’t even lean back in her office. She forces me to sit straight quite like her approach toward my problems. She doesn’t ask me to build a bridge with my parents. She doesn’t observe that everything went wrong because of my twisted childhood. She listens to the ticking of her watch, responds to messages on her phone while I deal with the tears snaking down my cheeks, and she smiles like it’s the hardest thing to do.

2061245-PPNXYCSV-7
kintsukuroi (Image from here)

The real therapy happens elsewhere: In the shower, in my books, in my writing, in my father’s face that catches the morning sun as he lies supine in the divan, in my mother’s sakkara pongal, in my sister’s laughter, in my boyfriend’s hug, in my nephew’s letters, in my dog’s paws, in my dark, excruciating, lonely nights, in the bushy-tailed squirrel who dines by my window, in the mangy mutt who receives me when I return home, in the glorious sunsets, in the stories I overhear, in the silly memes my friends share, in films, in random act of kindness, in lifting others, in the scars on my calves, in the moments I forgive myself, in the moments which are lost forever, in the moments which retrieve my brain from the mason jar, my heart from my dog, and piece them together. Gently. Lovingly.

“The place of true healing is a fierce place. It’s a giant place. It’s a place of monstrous beauty and endless dark and glimmering light.”

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

 

The Dog-ooder

My doubts are beginning to take concrete shapes; my dog is a do-gooder. Do you remember Radio Mama (played by Visu) from Penmani Aval Kanmani?

My dog is the Visu of my neighbourhood.

Anu Boo assumes this position — Isn’t this image reminiscent of Hachiko, the loyal dog from Japan? — several hours a day. When I began to observe her, I turned many theories in my head:

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

She must be looking at those squirrels, who constantly worry over their nuts and who make noises which are bigger than their bodies.

She must be enchanted by the foliage. Oh! My dog is such a Zen-master.

She must be following that lizard which goes pst pst pst when I say things like, “Fuck! Is my bank account going to be this empty for 893 years?”

She must be thinking of her previous life. She could have been a great actress. Maybe, She was Silk Smitha and she now wants to show the world how she died. Ah! The agony! I should help her.

She must be following the clouds, spotting cirrus and cumulus. My dog can name clouds. I am a proud pet-parent.

She must be predicting catastrophes. I must give her that space and peace to receive the prophecy.

I tried playing EB White. Quite vainly. I wrote a few theories to support my belief that my dog is above and beyond this realm.

My dear reader, her heart is not after any of my said theories.

She watches my neighbours. Who are men. Who are single. Who are semi-naked. Thank you for the sympathies. I needed it.

She is often perched on the divan with her intense gaze fixed on their house and activities. For I am unemployed, I wore my fedora, carried my cane, and quietly followed Anu Boo.

Here are my observations:

The men listen to songs like Saththam Illadha Thanimai Keten, Kadhalenum Thervezhudhu… They seem to have bought their speakers from those guys who donate their equipment for festivals celebrated during the month of Aadi.

Their terrace is their garbage yard.

They are the brand ambassadors of Ramraj. (Yes. You are right. Some images scar me for life. Please offer more sympathies. Thank you!)

None of them have girlfriends/boyfriends. (I haven’t seen them yelling into their phones. So.)

They don’t bring girls home. I don’t know if they bring boys. Anu Boo might know.

They grind coconuts every day. Every. Day. Every. Fucking. Day. Their grinder is louder than their speakers.

Their trimmers are noisier than their grinders.

Phew!

plastic-kudam-500x500
Kodam — Image from here.

They kept a kodam in their terrace, when the monsoon set in last month, to collect rainwater and all. (Jayalalithaa is not turning in her grave.) The poor kodam is still there. Beside the kodam, there is a tiny aluminium vessel which Kamal Haasan might have used in Varumayin Niram Sivappu. Remember that scene in which S Ve. Shekar, Dilip, and Kamal Haasan pretended to relish a grand meal when Sridevi visited? I am talking about that.

And, on Saturday nights, they listen to gentle songs like Jingunamani Jingunamani, En Peru Meenaa Kumaari…

Sundays are quiet in their household. Because you know why.

So, that is the story. The part that my do-gooder of a dog plays is Radio Mama, according to my new theory.

Penmani_Aval_Kanmani_
Image from Wikipedia

For she spends significant amount of her waking hours watching them — sometimes secretly, sometime way too obviously — I believe that she is scheming to refine their lives quite like Visu.

What I think my dog would possibly do is:

She might crowdsource to buy earphones, sweatpants, and t-shirts for the boys. She might write to our neighbourhood association about a particular landlord’s negligence in providing water for his tenants. She might write fancy codes, crack the men’s playlists, and include songs composed by Shankar Ganesh. She might invite Trisha to exercise her Swachh Bharat vows in their terrace. When a pup summons, Trisha won’t deny. I know. Anu Boo might play Seeman’s speech to spoil their Saturday fun and she would recruit Baba Ramdev to teach them yoga on Sundays. Perfect! Also, when she is not too busy, she would upload their profiles in Bharat Matrimony.

In about six months, I would have new neighbours. And the story would go on and on…

What is my part in this elaborate drama? Pratap Pothen. *removes her glasses and tosses them on her laptop*