Wednesday 25 October 2023

Short Story 2023 Featured Writer, Kalpana Naghnoor

The Fade Aways

Jiggly chards of raspberry jelly have always wowed me. Especially with vanilla ice cream and a mountain snow head of whipped cream. At twenty-seven, I still held on to vivid visions. I collected the takeaway from Corner House, among other things, from the car and took the elevator to the second floor. I used my key to unlock the apartment. It was dark; my husband and in-laws were out attending a wedding, which I chose to skip, and was returning from my parents’. Now three months into marriage, I kept my stuff there. I was like a squirrel. Scurrying back and forth bringing what I needed and taking some back, to store away in my cupboards, in my bedroom, which was still mine to hold and keep. Then return with a treat for me.

My arms were laden, so I didn’t bother reaching for the light switch. Besides there was enough light streaming in from the streetlamps through the windows, the curtains left undrawn. I weaved my way through the living room and was about to enter my bedroom, when I was yanked around, ‘You must die!’ his hands grabbed my neck. I let go the things to free my hands, to wrench his, away from my throat. I was terrified, he looked crazy! Like in a trance. ‘I want to kill you, because your aura is vile!’ The man is six feet two inches tall, thin, with muscle power. I’m five feet six inches but petrified! I was becoming breathless. His palms were constricting my air passage, but my heart was thumping hard like it was defying his tightening hold. Even so, I was losing the battle, he was far too strong, I was drowning in darkness, the death hold firm. The light bulbs flashed. The brightness absorbed my predicament, shock swelled the room, and I heard my father-in-law command, ‘Gaurav! Stop that!’

I heard scuffling as I collapsed to the floor coughing and taking deep breaths. Still shaking I pulled myself up. I saw my tormentor Gaurav; he was pushed away from me. He was now reclined on the single seater in the living room heaving from the struggle. Yet, Gaurav continued to prophesy pointing a finger at me. ‘She is evil, and she carries the devil inside her.’ I don’t ever remember being so numb, in fear, in revulsion, and in disappointment. That was the end of the road for me.

‘Shut up!’ My husband, Anish yelled at his brother having pushed him down.

‘Are you okay?’ He looked concerned. I nodded, at that point angry with him as well, the revulsion I felt for Gaurav was permeating toward them all. They were related, that churned my stomach and that they were family filled me with dread. I saw an askance smile linger on my mother-in-law Vimala’s face, she likes me tortured. Now was her moment. She was happy to see me like a petrified sparrow in a fearful hold. I have heard her goad Gaurav against me, and the pothead loves his mother. Together they eat heaps of poha every morning, mounds of rice with dal every afternoon, and stacks of chapati in the night. They don’t care if Anish, or Mr. Vishnu Rao, which would be my father-in-law, had any to eat at all. Me, she viciously starved. But they, kept to their ritualistic routine. It was repetitive like a rusty production line of a neglected factory, grinding on laboriously. The preparation noises, sickening. The onerous blitz of the blender, claggy clang of vessels, repetitive smells of food, the drag of chairs at the dining table. They kept to it every day, mothering and smothering each other. They lived an inward life, seeking nothing more in a day, than that routine, that it was nauseating. Except for the odd wedding that Mr. Vishnu Rao insisted Vimala attend. But Gaurav abstained, he was too much into yoga for social interactions a clairvoyant he claimed himself to be. The truth was, he was a wastrel.

Gaurav was still in that fallen, reclined position. Unable to lift himself. He was drunk from the foul of his breath, stoned from the glaze in his eyes. The cylindrical knot atop his head looked wooded and unwashed, like an exclamation of faith. ‘She is evil, carrying an evil child and I destroyed it.’

I wasn’t pregnant, what was Gaurav talking about? Four pairs of eyes trained on me. ‘What?’ I asked them. ‘You believe that? I’m not even pregnant. You know that, right?’ I asked Anish. He nodded but came toward me and urged me to sit down. I was puzzled and followed his gaze to my jeans and there I had bled! My jeans were blacker at the crotch and below, it wasn’t the stain of jelly! The moment I saw the blood raw and wet, I began to feel the contraction, a spasm seared through me. I took in deep breaths and let the pain pass. I picked up my car keys walked out and took the elevator to the basement and drove to the gynaecologist a family friend, Dr. Sita Batia. She took me in and did an immediate dilation and curettage (D&C). In a container she had the embryonic pieces of what would have been my child. The nursing home must dispose such things in a particular way, as mandated by the health department, not with the usual medical waste. I was eyeing the container in the operation theatre when I came around. ‘Don’t see it,’ the doctor cautioned.

‘Want to,’ I begged. The doctor hesitated, but she knew I needed closure, she nodded. The nurse brought the bowl to me. In it was a tiny piece of flesh, hardly a spoonful, and it looked mucosal. I could make nothing of it, except that it looked pinkish, white in parts. The rest of it looked like menstrual blood clots. I cried holding the bowl close to my heart. The doctor let me grieve and vent. The nursing staff took the bowl away and shifted me to a room in the ward of the nursing home. ‘Lalitha and Sundar are here,’ the doctor said and left.

Harrowed, I looked at my parents, giving them a weak smile. ‘Tara why didn’t you come to us?’ Mom looked hurt. Tears streamed from her eyes. ‘We could’ve been with you…’ Mom stopped crying and looked mortified. ‘What are those marks around your neck?’

‘Lalitha,’ Father consoled, but tears tipped from his eyes as well. Right now, they both felt helpless, and so they hugged me. We cried together. They stayed with me the night and took me home to their place the following morning. The doctor had a very serious conversation with them before she let me go. It seemed like they were going to wait it out. Wait what out I was not sure. I was relieved to be home, at parents’ and Anish too seemed to prefer it that way, he said so on the phone and he would come by later after work.

‘Here,’ Mom brought me a bowl of jelly, cream, and ice cream. ‘Why did you not tell us?’

‘Tell you what?’ I looked at Mom, she looked perplexed by my question.

‘That you were pregnant.’

‘I didn’t know at all! That mad Gaurav said I must die. And the next thing, he was choking me. I was in shock and struggling. The trauma may have aborted the baby. Until then I did not know!’

‘Gaurav! That son of a bitch!’ Mom looked away. She went to stare out of the window, the Gulmohar was in bloom. It seemed like Mom saw more red than there were blossoms. ‘Leave him!’ she said from where she stood, referring to Anish. I nodded watching the jelly melt like my womb had the previous night.


For some reason Anish did not come home as promised. Perhaps he and his father may have been worried over the consequences that may await them. They may have lawyered-up before they came. Or they may have spent that time with Gaurav and warned him never to repeat what he had done. All those ‘mays’ meant they were worried that Gaurav had done enough harm for police intervention. Vimala was a stupid woman. The gravity of the situation will not have hit her, she would have gloated. It will have been her moment of pleasure to see how vulnerable the entire family was. That her bidding was strong. Her son Gaurav could reduce anything she wanted destroyed to nothing!

That’s the thing, I did not know why she wanted to destroy me, or what I had with Anish as a wife. If she heard me laugh the previous night, she’d punish me the next morning. Insinuating I had sex with her son far too often, like I was a wanton wench demanding of him too much. I felt ashamed and she tortured me for that. She starved me every day until nightfall, until Anish came home. My first and last meal of the day was dinner, I was allowed water. Anish knew but did nothing about it. ‘Should I fight with my mother?’ Was his counter.

‘No certainly not!’ I would withdraw but never mentioned it to my parents, I knew it would break their heart. I prayed as time went by things will begin to ease. I never imagined such things would happen to me or any women in the twenty-first century! So, earlier when I got back to work after a month of marriage, I was jubilant. I could eat! I would stop at the patisserie Lavonne and pick my treats and be on my way. I and Ridhima, my childhood friend, we started a boutique together, Ridhara Weaves, it’s been two years since. Ours is export-oriented, desi bridal wear for US clients, some sales happened here in the city too. I loved my business, it was engrossing, and it came without tension, except for the deadlines.

After that horrific incident I stayed at parents’ and returned to work a week later. Perhaps it was the engaging aspect of my work that kept me calm, I’m not sure. Despite this extreme hatred from his mother and brother, I found it in me to love Anish. But my mind would often stray to the fact that Gaurav had tried to kill me. He had killed the child in my womb. My love for Anish was somewhat fading.

‘It won’t happen again! I promise!’ Anish was very emphatic, apologetic, earnest, and regretful. This was a month and two weeks after the incident when he and his father had the courage to come and visit me. Mr. Vishnu Rao said nothing. His head hung in shame. He offered no apology, he made no promises, he let his son, Anish do the talking to convince me, and my concerned father who needed those reassurances. Also, to my resilient mother, whose expression said, I’m waiting for a slip up. She did not serve tea or coffee, with biscuits as she normally did. Instead, she spread the photos of the strangulation marks on my neck on the accent table. She had, had the snapshots enlarged, it looked awful even to me. She was pumped up like a dragon to breathe fire and burn the Raos to ashes.

I’m not sure what it was, the incident which aborted my baby, or that Mom’s anxieties grew because of it. Or Mom was ill. She had said nothing to us. But she died four months later, refusing in those months to let me return to my in-laws’. Anish would come and stay the weekends, with us. Mr. Vishnu Rao too agreed to the arrangement. He was to give us one of his properties which will fall vacant soon from tenancy. He had already gifted it to Anish.

The marks on my neck disappeared, but the D&C interfered with the cycle of my menarche, the stains appeared at will. Dr. Batia began treating me for it, there was some improvement, but it did not completely resolve. She ran multiple tests and yet nothing was the matter with me, and yet the spotting happened. ‘Now is not the time to dwell on that. Get on with your work and this will settle.’ The doctor promised. Like she said in six months the spotting stopped.

It was four months since, mother passed, and eight months since I returned home. Father was alone and I felt I should stay with him a while. Besides the apartment which Mr. Rao had gifted Anish was yet occupied. The tenants had requested a year’s extension and that did not seem so bad under the circumstances. So, there was another eight months before I would move out of my parents’. Sure, my mom had died, but was still alive to me in so many ways so, parents’.

Father surprised me, he recovered from mother’s death rather well. He immersed himself in work, he was the CEO of Impact Solutions, the job came with a fat pay and fantastic perks. He kept a watchful eye on me, caring as a father would.

‘You have three weeks,’ he flapped the printed sheets at me. Then he showed the itinerary. London, Paris, and Rome, starting at the capitals to various places in these countries. It probably was what I needed. Anish was a little surprised that he was not invited, to join.

‘I get only one plus,’ Father explained.

‘You could come if you want, I can get the agent to book for you, I will pay.’

Anish shook his head, he was weary. Dichotomy ruled his life. He was a married man with no wife to go home to. His mother held him ferociously to her bosom, from which he recoiled. His father chose solitude, so Anish had no mentor.


London freed my mind and my pang-filled constricted air passages. One night after the tours as we walked back from a restaurant where we had, had dinner. A woman passed us by, her heels clicking the pavement briskly. She was on the phone, ‘Love was working late…’ She held a six pack, ‘Love will be in, in five, I’m round the corner, felt like beer. Are the children asleep?’ From the brief conversation I overheard; I drew a conclusion. That their marriage was honest and enabling. Perhaps I was correct, perhaps not. But I liked what I had heard and that’s what I wanted, too. The revolting image of Vimala my mother-in-law flashed, she starved me so I would leave or die or what? What kind of twisted logic and meddling was that? I knew Anish knew. His silence was killing me.

Holidaying in England and France brought me back to near normal, it took my mind of many things, but in Italy I was cured. Its history absorbed me. It was exhilarating, the grandiose of the buildings, the Colosseum an amphitheatre of yore, the sheer magnificence! Of what was, what could be, and what is. What is, was recession in Italy. Still life goes on. There were no innuendos, meanness, except when flying back from Rome. There was one unpleasant incident of racism, but I was not going to let that affect me or my newness. Yes, I was a new person ambushed but remodelled in the way I thought, now shiny and resilient. I wanted to keep that going, I had made up my mind.


The moment we landed in India, that buoyancy was lost to the mundane. Father got back to work that very morning. I was home, at parents’, feeling lost again, I needed to find me back! I was a new burnished person, and this was no time to get lacklustre! I grabbed the gifts I got for Ridhima, headed to Ridhara Weaves. Ridhima was happy and surprised to see me. She loved the local perfume I had picked for her in Paris, the accessories from London, a leather sling bag from Florence. She was more thrilled seeing me aglow.

‘Let’s be happy!’ she said as a directive for the both of us. She has had her fair share of trials, a cheating husband who was happy to consent to a divorce. She hoped to see me married and happy to seek enjoyment in the child I may have and play the auntie role. She had it all worked out. A child did not seem likely now. So, a nought.

Thankfully for us, our business was going well. We had three bridal outfits within the month to deliver but I was beginning to feel unwell. Ridhima was worried, but she ploughed on, while I took some impossible days off. I knew what it was, but mortification overtook me rather than happiness, will I lose this one too? Will this baby too be pronounced evil? Anish visiting me in the weekends had returned me to the old fears I tried ridding myself of. Now what?

‘Now what?’ Ridhima demanded on a day I returned to work, ‘What does that question even mean?’

‘What am I to do? I’m afraid. What if that pothead does something to me again?’ I was anxious.

‘Is that a fear any woman should have? Our parents didn’t raise us to be abused by others!’ Her dramatic views peaked in a tirade. ‘Come on Tara, we’ve seen each other every single day since we’ve started the business. We’ve known each other since we were kids. You know how much shit I’ve been through too in my marriage. Look around, it’s not happening to us alone. Claim your life, you can’t be weak, it’s a bloody choice! Make one!’

That was true, but nobody tried to kill her or nearly so. Make a choice! There was a buzz in my head in the days that followed, and a knot in my stomach that forced me to stay glum.


Ria is one year old now. Busy with so many things, her attention span short and shuffling. She demands one activity after another. Sometimes wanting creative stories, then a quick switch to toys, she feels thrilled that she can walk more steadily. She was finding herself, as I was. Our business picked up, now we were getting five orders of bridal wear a month, which was huge. We were falling into a routine. Two women with bad marriages, we were making dreamy wedding dresses, cynicism was setting in for me. I tried to set that aside. But a dark blotch like cancer was spreading itself. Memories of that day would not fade away it remained vivid in my mind. Two years later when Ria was three years old, I had turned a ghost. I looked gaunt and felt automated, and my only point of survival was Ria.

It was a Saturday afternoon and I had returned from work. Ria was with nanny and once she saw me, she usually would come running to me. But today she was enthralled. Sitting on a pile of linen which we give to the Dhobi every Saturday, and he would return them washed and ironed the following week.

This afternoon, he asked her, ‘What my name?’

‘Narasimha!’ she said, like it was the name of a fearful creature.

‘Correct!’ His deep-set eyes, and a few teeth flashed in happiness. He was old, thin, and bent. From the time he began coming to my parents’ every week to collect the clothes, I have wondered how long this collaboration would last. But it has outlived my doubts in the last twenty years. He is the same with those many teeth, crumpled, is the imagery that comes to my mind, even if he returned perfectly ironed sheets.

‘What meaning my name?’

‘Half man, half lion,’ Ria kibbitzed, enthused by the Dhobi’s indulgence.

‘I living in a wall. Scratch and come out.’

‘Which wall? This one?’ In awe Ria pointed to one in the living room.

‘No,’ he shook his head. I living in special wall when bad man come, I scratch, come out and tear him, kill him.’

Ria recoiled, but she laughed happily that she knew a person who could vanquish the evil.

‘Show me how?’ she asked.

The Dhobi did his act, Ria squealed, clapped, and jumped off the mound of linen, which he was now free to bundle-up.

This became their weekly routine. Ria sitting atop the linen and the Dhobi would have to amuse her. First with asking his name, and then show how he would scratch the wall, and come out to catch the bad guys. Ria then would place probable situations before him, and he would enact the solutions to those. Then eventually she would step down and the dhobi would bundle up and leave. It seemed they were happy with the routine. The nanny began serving tea and biscuits to Narasimha and the sessions got longer. His eager performance and Ria’s interest in them, it became nanny’s Saturday fun time too.

I would hear crazy stories like once he was summoned out of the wall and asked to deliver a letter. He had to carry a flaming torch, made from a long wooden stick and a cloth doused in kerosene. Using this torch, he had run through the dark of the forest. There a medic with magical powers crossed his path. An altercation happened between them, and Narasimha was frozen into a statue by the medic. Narasimha laughed slapping his thigh, ‘A wall of curse, can I not scratch and come out?’

Ria threw her head back and laughed. Thus grew their friendship and Ria was writing fantasy fiction at the age of four, simple two liners. The old dhobi came and went, he was getting slower but his narration stunning and energetic. Here was a dhobi taking relief from these stories, much as these thrilled Ria. I could see that the tea and biscuits were nourishing him with vigour for storytelling. It got me thinking. If I wanted to get rid of that black scar growing within me like cancer. Then I too needed to do something for someone else, to get a little relief or heal.


The bridal wear, our niche product was doing very well. Fauzia is another friend we collaborate with. She lives in the US, she became our travelling seamstress, it is she who will advertise for us and net our customers through social media, and customer reviews. She advertises with desi magazines in the US with her contact details. Prospective brides and their families will email Fauzia with their requirements. She will travel to their city, take the measurements, and send it to us with a sketch. We use a clothes design software. We feed in all the minute details. The software will create the 3D images, we will email those images for approval. Once they approve, we begin with a fifty percent, advance payment. We send the merchandise to them once its ready, and Fauzia will take care of any small alterations. So, business wise we were sorted, emotionally we were not. But Ridhima was the strongest of us, she indulged Ria when she needed diversion. But a lacuna filled me. I was sad all the time, I could not shake off the feeling. This has been ever since my marriage, since Gaurav almost killed me, and since the divorce. The burnished me from the holidays was now corroded. My only happiness was Ria. Anish hardly ever comes to see her perhaps twice a year, and even when he does, he isn’t comfortable around her.

‘Why does daddy not live with us?’

She has more questions. I handle them as best as I can, comfort her with answers I believe to be correct for her emotional quotient. Ria nods like she understands. But a few days later her questions will ensnare me again, taking me down that dark hole. I needed relief. I kept searching for it wherever I went.


Ridhima and I were at the wholesalers, ordering our requirements. We buy expensive materials and in large quantities. The vendors pander to us keeping the other customers waiting until we finish our purchase, because we are returning customers. But when they do the billing, it is done the traditional way; handwritten bills with the help of calculators, it takes a while. In that twenty odd minutes, I usually look around at more material, marking some for a different style for another time. While I was doing that, one day, a group of women entered the shop. I noticed they were all wearing black or white hijabs, looking ballooned and ungainly. They had to gather the folds to seat themselves. They started sifting through materials to buy some. The sequences at the sleeve borders were catching the material shown to them. The shopkeeper was farouche losing patience. Stating this always happens when such women come, they spoil his ware. I studied their hijabs, yes, they did not elicit any reverence. It was hindering them in many ways. At Harrods in London, the women in Hijabs looked stylish. Helping these women would I find relief? A quote from Mahatma Gandhi came to mind, ‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’


‘Hijabs! Where on earth do you get such ideas from?’ Ridhima asked laughing.

‘We can do a few and see how it goes, whoever is making them is doing a lousy job. Come on these women need to feel good wearing what they must and want to.’

‘Design only one, Hijabs are not in our portfolio!’ Ridhima was emphatic. ‘We’ll put it up on the mannequin and set it at the window. Let’s see.’ Ridhima was amused she chomped on the samosa she so loved and drowned it with tea from Chai Point.

It was amazing how the one Hijab sold in less than thirty minutes after we displayed it on the mannequin.

‘Wow! That sold without any promotional effort!’ Ridhima was surprised.

‘It’s the power of observation!’ I was in the mood to gloat. ‘We have the need of the hour!’

‘I’ll give it to you, Ms. cliche!’, Ridhima laughed, knowing my zone, and thinking we may have hit upon something.


Ria got her Saturday noon show with our Dhobi Narasimha, who used his name to conjure many fantastical stories. I began doing the same with Hijabs. I did not border on fantastical, but fancy looking ones within the set boundaries. Lending them a look which did not say they were mere hijabs. We made them to look like textured long coats, soft but which held shape. We made sure it streamlined the figure yet covered the body, in modesty. The veils were detachable. We sequenced them in places that would not catch other material. We made elegant Hijabs, and I could see women who wore them were gaining confidence. They could walk into a store not looking like they were shrouded by tradition, instead evolved in it.

I was also drawing from Narasimha’s imagined demons and devils. It translated for me into real life situational hazards. He narrated a demon had spun a girl with long-long tresses on to a windmill. Narasimha had to run up the stairs and tie a rope around his waist. He slung from a window, to catch and save the girl from the blades. So, we made hijabs that were functional, they could be safely worn while riding the two-wheeler, not catching the wheel spokes. The veils had 180-degree visibility. Even so why a windmill? I wondered.


‘Once I wash clothes for king, Raja Govindarajalu.’ Dhobi said.

‘Govindarajalu.’ Ria repeated making sure she had the name right.

‘Yes! Raja Govindarajalu, order beautiful sari for his queen. The queen wore sari when Raja touring city, listening to people problems. Suddenly the clouds come, and rain. The queen’s sari wet, and colour disappear! Mantri quickly taking king and queen into house near and bring fresh clothes from palace. Raja Govindarajalu very angry. He order Mantri to bring merchant who sold Raja sari. The next day, merchant was drag to king Darbar. The merchant saying, he duped by man who make sari.’

‘Bring sari maker to me, Raja Govindarajalu demand!’ Narasimha narrated, pounding an imaginary sceptre to the floor.

I could see Ria’s head jerk back in reaction and her eyes grow round with curiosity.

‘I cannot Raja, the man die. Say merchant.’

‘How?’ Ria asked.

‘Yes,’ nodded Narasimha. ‘The Raja did not think it truth. He ask whole kingdom, the peoples say that sari maker die. The Raja sad, Rani sad. Who can make sari proper? He ask. The Mantri say Dhobi Narasimha he live in wall, I will call him and ask. They call me, I scratch the wall went to Raja. I take the sari and pray. Goddess Saraswati come and give me one colour. She tell, wash sari properly, then mix colour in water. Dip sari and it become beautiful. I bend down touch goddess feet, I look up, goddess gone.

‘Vanished?’ Ria asked.

‘Yes, that word,’ he said, ‘Vanish.’

I smiled thinking how much they were teaching each other in the process of these Saturday afternoon conversations. Narasimha’s English had vastly improved, even if he had prided himself proficient before.

‘After vanish,’ I did what goddess say. I wash sari three times, take water in bucket, add colour and water look red. I put sari inside bucket and take out, sari colour is gold. Gems on sari ruby, diamond. Queen happy, king happy, I happy.’

Ria smiled climbing down from the mound of linen and Narasimha rose slowly. He tied the linen into a bundle and carried it over his shoulder and onto his cycle. He began pushing the cycle up the road. These incidents leave me with a pang, I’m not sure why. I have always liked Dhobi, more now as a storyteller, he was my daughter’s playmate, come Saturday. His role was morphing as an inspirer for Ria. She saw him as a strong brilliant entity, I saw him as a frail human being, making ends meet. I began compensating him in many ways circumspectly. But a sadness remained with me, like a child who fears, a parent may die one day. I was like that, clinging on to Narasimha he looked so old and delicate, I hoped he wouldn’t die anytime soon. Not because Ria’s fantastical story time would end or I would not have a Dhobi, none of that. Narasimha was the story himself, I wanted more chapters of him as did Ria. It was him we were relating to as was nanny, she was now packing him some dinner to take home.


‘Why are we adding stones to the Hijabs?’ Ridhima asked and I narrated the sari story to her, and she laughed. But the baubles made a difference and the Hijabs sold quicker. It seemed to attract a certain crowd, who were making a style statement.

‘What, are we going to take designing advice from a dhobi now?’ Ridhima asked amused.

‘He does the washing for many. I think they caution him. Instruct him on how to take care of the material. Explain why that cloth or dress is precious, or about the zardozi work on it. So, subconsciously he probably knows what people look for in clothes. It comes out in his narration.’

‘My dhobi makes my clothes fade.’ Ridhima said.

‘Mine too, why do you think I give only linen now.’

‘He’s old na?’ Ridhima asked.

‘He’s looked old to me from the day I first saw him many years ago. But he still comes to collect clothes, he cannot ride the cycle anymore he pushes it. Thankfully, the dhobi-ghat is not far from my parents’, but he likes to plough on, not the type who wants sympathy.’


The following Saturday Narasimha did not come. ‘Mommy why has Dhobi not come?’

‘Not sure sweetie,’ I looked toward the road.

‘What about the linens he took?’ Nanny asked.

‘That’s not important.’ I said, and felt choked, and she looked confused. Ria skipped off to play with her princess set. At least one of us was strong. Two Saturdays passed, and the dread I had been nursing was growing itself mammoth.

Narasimha returned the fourth Saturday, ‘Fever, cold,’ he said. I heaved with relief. Nanny made him ginger tea and he had it with hot toast. Then with a nasal twang began another narration, while Ria sat on the mound of linen. Her reactions had grown from being surprised to expected plots, yet the animated storytelling excited her.

I was relieved he was back. I went into my room to collect money from the cupboard. To hand him the monthly because that’s how he wanted to be paid. A stack of clothes loosely piled, came down on me. The very stack Dhobi Narasimha had once faded with heavy bleach. I had put them away, to be used as glad rags on lazy days. A pair of black jeans too had fallen over my head. The colour now was slate and worn in places. I smiled because these were in vogue now, boho in style. I slipped into them. It was a little lose, which was perfect. I pulled on a pink T, grabbed the cash, paid Narasimha, and went for a walk down my lane. Like a thunderbolt it hit me! These were the very same jeans! The reason I had stored them away. Dammit! The realisation hook-punched me. The flashes came on hard, Gaurav, his death hold, my baby in a steel bowl, my parents traumatised and one dead. Memories don’t just tail off, they come back so vivid! I was hyperventilating. Calm down! I told myself, taking quick steps, then running. Who was not without sufferance? I deliberated. My father, Ridhima, Narasimha old and fragile with stories to amuse Ria. I was now panting, I stopped, to draw in air. I was bent with exhaustion, I looked at the jeans I was wearing, those very jeans! The pair from that fateful day. Yet, I’m safe. I tell myself. I straighten up, spent yet calm. I realise, more than clothes it’s how you wear your emotions. There are no fade aways.

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