Monday, 15 September 2014

Short Story 2014 Longlist, Jyothsna Phanija

Artiste of Life

The room is growing bigger for accessing the computer table, cold coffee cup that my mother brought,  caps left pens and my occasional wanderings. I started typing quickly clicking all the results for the task Sonali gave. who invents these crazy  games? I have to list seven books that influenced me and keep it for my Facebook status.  What a challenge. Sonali will be waiting for my list. She would have already written the comments that she will make after reading my list. Yes, here is a fancy title. Let me copy it. I really don’t like this game. Who reads books? It would have been about films. Anyway, the risk is everywhere. If it is films, they will ask about classical films, films made out of books, anyway the difficult task is still there. I have to list those books with the taglines, saying why I like them. I  searched for the plot of the book, navigated plot, characters, setting, references. “this mystery novel is a landmark in twentieth century fiction, not allowing for a romantic dialogue or sentimental feelings” I read on. Perfect. I will  change the contents for my status.” “I like this novel for its mystic romanticization, sentimentalization of words and dialogue” I typed.  “Arijith, you are genius.” I appreciated myself. I need this to deal with people like Sonali. Now, Sonali will think how romantic I am  in finding love in this horror story.

 Sonali is becoming tougher these days. It’s becoming impossible to handle her. She is like an art film, I am no longer interested to watch. I met her at my friend Sandhya’s wedding. She brought a nice manual book for Sandhya. “One hundred ways to love your spouse” That was the title. She would have thought I am the only weakest person in the group, she came forward and talked to me for sometime about her research on diasporic women’s fiction. I really don’t know much about this. We had that formality of expressing love to each other in short time. Days were passing, I came to know more about Sonali. She came to my life long time  after Saumya’s disappearance,  it was the perfect timing I thought. But, these days, I am resolving to my old self, gloomy and disinterested. She fights with me often for not picking her on time, for not wishing first on her birthday, for asking about the curry her mother prepared which she doesn’t know till she reaches the dining table, for not liking her facebook profile picture, for changing my watsup statuses, for using her pen without her permission, for not giving her my email password, for not reviewing her poetry, for not remembering her friend’s names and their professions, and for not signing virtually the petitions she feels that they change the world. She is a literature student, I am a mechanical engineer. “you are mechanical at everything” she complaints. I am often told by her to appreciate her way of being kind to people, should compliment when she waits fifteen minutes for the arrival of the bus, should buy a gift when she reaches her home alone late night from an award ceremony.

I just gazed at the picture of a leading model in the weekly family magazine. She looks sensuous as a carved butterfly on a fabric. I  saw Sonali approaching me, her new perfume whisking in the air, her blue stockings radiating the stars, she holding her wallet  tightly. I just turned the page to the otherside, Sonali will make a big issue if I gaze at an attractive model. She often calls me “flirt” when I talk with her friends about local politics, government postponing exams without any consent from the students, high prices of the vegetables and all the other miseries I know. She is not interested in these simple problems. She decodes the complexity of world’s great threats.

We started eating sandwich, watching others. Sonali’s friend came and they were involved in an intimate conversation that I have no way of not listening to it. “is that you made that controversial statement?” her friend asked. “Yes. Did you forget that incident? I couldn’t tolerate such things happening in the world. Being conscious of international politics, how could I tolerate such forceful evictions?” her friend nodded. “but, be careful. Too much into virtual space, making controversial statements will be threatening too.” “I know. But, my sensitive heart doesn’t allow me to be silent about the helplessness of certain people” Sonali stopped adjusting her hair for a while. Her friend gazed at Sonali’s new hair cut, the matching footwear she was wearing. Her friend left,  Sonali and I were talking intimately than ever. Sonali was browsing something in her phone. “what happened dear?” “look, Professor. Paul Chandra is angry for my statements and he needs an explanation. See Arijith, don’t we have the freedom to speak? How can I be silent about the video that shows how that minister is involved in corruption?” her face became red. “don’t worry dear. You are not the only person in this world to look after these things.” I said knowing she won’t listen me. “I need some rest to tackle this stress. Will catch up tomorrow.” “see you then. Love you” I leaned forward to hug her. “love you” she said in her usual authoritative voice.
    
“There is an exam to be written for the blind students” “would you come?” she texted me, I was busy reading my sister Lasya’s  results for Masters degree in a central University. Her results are not there. They may appear next week.  “Not sure.” I  replied after sometime. She would have been angry for replying late.  “but, it’s a great opportunity to help them.” She replied. “to help the visually challenged? Just by writing one exam?” “True. Make some time tomorrow for this.” She pleaded. The days were passing, I am  growing unhappy with Sonali. It is difficult for this month. Mum’s surgery date is approaching. Dad’s medicine too should be changed. It is getting  difficult to have them with me in this small house with my salary. Most of it  we are paying as an interest to the debts my father took. I really don’t know where my life is going.
    
Sonali has given me twenty missed calls. Could be something important. “Sonali, is everything fine?” “no Arijith. It’s very important. I should meet you immediately” “what happened” I wanted to be composed. “You know my friend Ashima? She blocked me in her phone, social networks and everywhere. She doesn’t like to stay with me and be involved in trouble.” She cried. “to talk to me is such a threat to their reputation?” she cried again. I have nothing to say much. My world is small as I have bigger problems needed my attention.
    
This evening is so so soothing after a long time. Sonali’s voice is as sweet as the chirping of the evening birds, that need no one’s compliments. She began staring at a woman helped by a wheelchair. She would have been thinking of talking to her. She may ask whether the woman needs something. We were diverted to find our old friends there in the garden. Anjali, Rakesh, Sudha they became common friends to both of us. Sonali was busy in talking to her friend Sudha. “I thought I saw you in Amruth’s wedding” sudha paused for a while. “I didn’t attend that” Sonali is above to say something more. “She didn’t attend. Sonali and I went for Dreams charity organization’s annual event. I was not happy though” I said Sudha observing Sonali’s reddened face. The next day Sonali called me just to have a fight that I didn’t expect. “who are you to say about our visit to Dreams event to my friend? It’s none of your business. How could you be sure of me not attending Amruth’s wedding? Initially you said you were not at all interested to attend my felicitation at Dreams. You are growing jealous of me. You have an evil eye on my popularity that I get for my social service”. She didn’t stop. I just felt my nerves broken. What’s happening? Is this the woman who would take care of my life? I just couldn’t make anything of her words. “girls are so silly. They fight for silly reasons” once I told Lasya. She never accepts it. Our Lasya is one of those sensible women I saw. She is as sensible as my math’s teacher Lakshmi. She was selfless, taught us math’s and other important subjects too without taking money. I saw many people like her in my life, who never fed a meal just for one day as we were very poor to afford it, but made me able to feed myself and my family throughout the life by giving me education. Lasya too one such woman, very much contended with her education. She is strong, but at times very adjusted with people. When she disliked the dress my brother bought when he was getting married, she didn’t say anything. Lasya has bigger dreams that she never inserts them in the eyes of the others.

Today I am really upset with Sonali. She got a call from her mother to accompany to her village to help her ailing grandmother. “I have no time” she said. “I am writing an article on fruit vendors near my office. I will be telling the dark lives they were having at this metropolitan city” she continued. “your mother needs you now.”I said in a soft voice possible. “but you know Arijith, this article is very important for me. I should submit it before this coming Friday. It should appear this Saturday’s news column. Otherwise” I couldn’t hear more than this. “tell me Sonali. What will happen otherwise? Your rival Niru will come with a similar article. So you all want reputation that you can get from papering all the social problems.” I couldn’t control my anger. “you know what”she was above to give some definitions, formulas, or concepts. My anger reached it’s intensity. “for God’s sake, don’t quote any theorist. I am bored of people who talk philosophers, under the illusion of being spokespersons of world’s suffering.” I just thrown the milk glass that the waiter put half an hour ago. “why do you talk so loudly while helping a disabled person crossing the obstacles as if the world should hear what you are doing? Why do you talk to the poor vendors when the world is watching and the rest of the time never look at them?” I just burst out. “stop pretending. Choose some other methods for fame and attention” I just left her there without thinking.
    
I am feeling very low after this breakup. Sonali didn’t make any efforts for our reunion. She is like that. But, after having break up with Saumya too, I didn’t have this much grief. I never saw her, accidentally got connected to her number. Saumya, having the voice of a famous Hollywood singer, who constantly texts me, used to talk to me hours and hours about anything on earth, came so quickly into my life, just like rain inside my heart, left me without any trace. We talked for an year, exchanging the love stories from the books she read, from the films, from our friends and from everywhere from the world. Too many love stories having more or less same plot. The world is so happy I thought. So much of love, so much of happiness, noone  can know anything beyond that. She gave me the history of her family, names of her pets, and one day  I said the most awaited thing, “I love you”. Saumya gave an unusual reply. “I cannot imagine a lover from a friend like you”. I was shocked. I respected her intimate conversations with me in late hours, her likes and dislikes. I was young at that time, even in thoughts, didn’t care much about that jilted friendship. I feel so stupid and silly about that when I think of it now.
    
Lasya returned from her painting class. She is so happy to get admitted into MA history. Our whole family is rejoiced at this. After this tragic end of my relation with Sonali, this is a most precious happiness I got. I know Lasya is a hard working student. My mother used to repeat, how she felt when the doctor tested my sister and said “Cerebral Palsy” and she didn’t even know what that means. My father took care that she gets everything. She topped her class. Dad used to plead the college administration for her admission. But, inclusive education is what people present in academic conferences, not willing to  practice.
   
Sonali used to think that, I am not concerned of the world. Her service attitude made me drawn towards her which she never knew. But, as the time was dripping, her mask under the name of service was getting visible. She never know my home, how it looks like. But, I am sure, she won’t stay here. reality is tough for her to accept.
   
Sonali is not a right choice for me. She is almost like my brother’s wife Payal. My brother used to say, how he has to comfort his wife  when she forgets her morning elliptical somewhere in the home, how she used to call him mail chaunistic when he tried to calm her anger on her servant girl, and how he dislikes our family. I saw her working for  many women’s groups. She was not willing to help my mother when she had first surgery. May be Lasya is right. “Some of these  women who fight for the protection of women against sexual atrocities are the ones who send their fifteen year old servant girls alone with a forty-five year old car drivers to pick a beautiful beautician from the parlor.” She says. I too feel the same. Some of those women may have attendants who wake up early and do things for them. They would have cooks, babysitters, willing mother – in – laws or helping husbands. I often see my mother exhausted with too much of household work. She finds no time to have some rest. Too much of work would have made health deteriorated. My father never used to help her at anything. Even I was not allowed to do anything when any of our relatives or neighbors are watching.
 When doctor said my mother should go for a second surgery, we were into a deep loss. I am still trying money for this. But, my mother insists that, I should get married to have one healthy person at home. Our relatives used to be surprised at our sequence of problems. They cry for watching miseries in movies, laugh at us for our helplessness.
Mum convinced me to judge the bride in this marriage looking ceremony. This ceremony also needed at our slow pace life for a change. I thought of inviting my brother too. but, he will be busy in his own home. I think I should call Sonali and tell about my first official date. She will write a dissertation on Silencing Women’s Desires through Marriage Looking Ceremonies: Violence and Inequality Still Continues.

We had coffee and biscuits and the bride came and sat before us. My mother already told her parents about the condition of our home, how they used to live in our native village, how I got a job here, and how I pleaded them to stay with me, and how the bride is expected to stay with us. I am used to people asking so many questions about our family. They would ask how much is my salary, weather we could win the court case any time, weather we get our home back legally from our selfish uncle who cheated us when we took money from him and paid back, and the gold my mum has. I looked at the girl. She is no art film in disguise. She is a real art film, I am like a jury member of award giving team for art films. She has the most happiest smile I could ever see, her cheeks are the world’s most blushing cheeks. I didn’t yet say anything like  “I love you. You are the most beautiful girl. You have lovely eyes, you have a silky hair like waves of an ocean” but, she smiles in the way that could surpass a hundred fake smiles. She blushes as if I said “I cannot live without you”. Her innocence just contrasts the picture I saw last week with  her profile. Why is she smiling like this? I badly need a cigarette to hold.  Now, my task is to find her smile resembles which actress? She may not be capable of holding a tray. Why do I get these strange feelings? I cannot resist thinking that, she would stir the sugar in the coffee cup just by blinking her eyes. Similarly, she may do all the household works with her gazing eyes. I was getting impatient with her gaze, as sympathetic with our family. I didn’t want to  talk to her. I already have  seen how she sympathetically gazed our Lasya. She is like those several people, who just look at the physical condition of a person, having no time or patient to see beyond that. Her eyes tell everything about her. The elders  insisted that we should talk. She has the most beautiful hands that never saw what washing clothes or dishes, most delicate feet that never sunk into the water, a model like hair that was given all nutrition than her own body. I told my mum, let’s not talk to her anything more.
    
I know mum is angry with me for not marrying, for not getting better job to feed them well, for her own life, for her own body, for her own world. But, we have limited options. It was Lasya’s first day in the University. Her smile, confidence, sensibility just make me intolerant with this world. They use “blind beliefs” “lame excuses” unnecessarily in their usual conversations and talk about disability of language  in conferences. Some of them help the disabled for one day, and think that the world is alive only because of their generosity. No one is willing to have a disabled at home. They want to see them at their colleges, work places, or any other venue but not throughout their lives. I know this is only my own version, but this is the reality for me. Girls like Sonali talk about international refugees, never willing to share my fight in winning the court case against my uncle to get my home back. Tolerating too much of irony is our disease perhaps. I can find so many activists around me, but no girls are there who can help my sister go to the college everyday, who can stay with my mum in the hospital, who can remember to give a small tablet each quarter of meal to my diabetic father. They want me to accompany to the orphanages, they want me to prepare posters for fund raising activities, but they don’t want to stay in this house. mum and Lasya were talking to each other happily as usual about Lasya’s University experiences. The cot, pillows are exhausted with the smell of pain killers, balms, oils, a water bottle near the table looking for it’s regular medicine. Too much of irony, too much of life, too much of mechanization, too much of an art film. I am becoming misanthropic these days. May be I am wrong, but this is what I feel now. Disability is a reality for the disabled, a marketing strategy for some beautiful women and rich men. Poverty is a suffering for the poor, a documentary for the privileged. Discrimination is the world’s worst failure of the world, an opportunity for the exploiters. We need some selfless people who really sacrificed their lives to bring the oppressed come out. But, these days, there are activists in disguise. This is making me intolerant. I just looked up to see what is written in our kitchen wall. Mum would have whitewashed it long time ago, the lines are not visible. I would have become a writer. I would have invented metaphors for my life, the life I see around me. I am no poet to talk about rain at our old house, no film maker to show chandeliers at our ruined dining tables. “come Arijith, have your food soon. We should sleep soon. I have to wake up early tomorrow.” Mum’s voice is like lemon juice in exhaustive winter. It was hard to open the unfastened lid of the crack cream to apply for my mum’s circled cracks. I twisted my fingers, finally the lid is opened for me to find the foam thickened, with too much of living unused for.


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