LEATHER IS THICKER THAN SKIN

She sat in a rickshaw and gave the address of Rake’s shop to the driver. The shop was cluttered with leather, smelling like the hide out of some animal, a perfect burial ground. Rake almost fell off his chair. “Can I sit down?” she smiled, he nodded ascent. She looked at the belts on the hangers above his head, brief cases on the right side, and purses on the left. The floor was covered with a dusty carpet, the shop was also semi dark. He was nervous, “Were you passing by? You forgot it was my shop?” He wanted to know her pretext or excuse. She was blank “It was just recklessness; I met a dying man, who once rescued me. I can’t do a thing for him, I wanted to die. That is why I am here” He looked through her “You love this man, who is he?” Now that he knew it can’t be sexual love, he seemed mildly interested; those invisible antennae did not bristle.

Madhu saw the same creamy, lacy curtains here, like in his house. This impulsive action would absolve him, as though she had been a hoax when she said no, like the Mills and Boon heroine, why had it not occurred to her, it was too late for regrets. Isn’t it why it was called regret, an emotion felt long after the error, which could not rectify damage? She was once naked with him, she had even slapped him, a sort of license to behave at her worst was prevalent. The freedom of knowing that here was one human being whom she could never love, nor respect, liberated her. He was surrounded by dead skin, polished and shining to be sold, she hated him. She shuddered, this hate was binding. With him she felt like an enraged animal, a bitch. “He was my pediatrician, a good friend, philosopher and guide. He is dying of cancer” He felt so proud talking to a doctor, about diseases, as though he was an intellectual, she could see that.

May be he sensed the condescension in her assessing appraisal; he shifted to a topic which brought her down to his plane “I thought you were scared of me, you hated me, so why are you treating me like a friend?” “The worst is over, isn’t it? What can you do worse than what you have already done? So I figured there was really nothing to be scared of. Instead of my imaginary husband who will listen to all this and love me, I keep thinking of you, and that bloody evening, I want to stop thinking of that” He seemed enormously satisfied by this confession, there was an involuntary smile on his lips “ Then baby it makes two of us, why don’t you spill the words meant for such occasions, just tell me you love me, like a good girl, come on” She hated that smugness, he was such a fool, he never could guess what it was for her, she was merely one of his sexual encounters.

She imagined his thoughts which would run like “I slept with a virgin once, she was an actress. She looked hot, but cold bitch man; she kept on harping on that first time which happened because she was stoned. But she was smart, she would talk like a book, I swear”. She switched in to a masculine, silly, sing song voice and said all that she thought he would say. He looked aghast for a second, then he burst out laughing “ No sweetie , I would never say such things” She was cynical, he needed peer approval, he would have related each of his sexual adventure to some one or many, he needed to be treated like a stud by his friends. “God, you should have seen her boobs, they were huge man” He would want the whole crowd to strip her, just to prove how good it was. Lust was a public entertainment of the locker rooms, this man before her reveled in that. He would never be possessive of her self –respect. She made it so bloody convenient, he would not value it.

He did not know a girl who neither gave him the chase, nor yielded; he did not understand this game. Blithering idiot did not realize that it was not a game, it was life.  She felt disgusted with herself to be spending her time with him, she got up to go, he held her wrist “I even proposed to you, what else a man can do to prove a woman he loves her?” She was unable to talk, she wanted to say ‘Rape her first, ensure that you are the first, then propose’ she tried to pull off his grip feeling panicky, he let go.She was exasperated “ I hate myself when I am with you Rake, I feel like an insecure shrew, a prude, a nag. You bring out my worst; this is not at all my real self. I would be living someone else’s life if I lived with you. I don’t think sex is all that important; we are not animals to be in heat always. There is so much more to me than my cunt, any female can give you that, so why me? If that is all you appreciate in a woman” she was horrified to have used the language from Harold Robbins, she hated him.

 

DEFEATED FATHER

They switched on the Television again, Jagannath was still trailing.

Madhu reassured her mother and sisters as she ate chapattis, and yellow dhal. But her mother who was usually intuitive, seemed tense. Madhu was shocked to learn that Nanjappa’s candidate had three thousand votes, if he had not been fielded her dad would have been plus by thousand eight fifty votes. Then the votes of villages which Nitish had predicted to shape her father’s victory were being counted. But they did not change any number, whatever happened , Madhu could not fathom, there was an announcement saying Jagannath was defeated by Shulappa with a margin of thousand two hundred votes. No one knew who this Shulappa was. Congress had swept the polls in that elections, Jagannath was an exception, by his defeat.

There was a stunned silence. Everyone seemed to talk at once, “My god how can this be? Is it true, is he defeated?” Then they saw Jagannath shaking hands of Shulappa, and the victory procession of Shulappa with his workers in an open jeep, the posters of her father’s picture smiling on some walls. Shanthala and Mandakini began to cry. Meenu started to suck her lower lip, looking pathetically sad. Madhu called the office, no one answered. She timidly asked “Shall I call, Tunga aunty, I know she is staying with her sister in Sringar” Mother nodded. The sister picked up the phone, she said that Tunga had not come home as yet; she was scared to talk to Shanthala, like talking to a bereaved family, which is not at peace with its grief, as yet.

Nitish called again, he explained “It was the RJP’s underhand tactic madam, you know we had both assembly and parliament elections this time, they convinced the illiterates of the two villages, that they should stamp two symbols in each of the ballot paper given to them, so every ballot sheet had one mark over the hand (symbol of Congress) and some other symbol also, so they were technically invalid votes. Eight thousand votes went invalid madam, no use of recounting sir said, forget it. The election agent and electoral officers were also bought, our own representatives in the counting booth were working against us, the party had won, and they did not want him to win. The leader of the dissidents Nanjappa had bought the election duty officers. It was only cheating, not a straight victory, sir laughed saying all is fair in war and love, it was unfair madam, it was totally unfair”

Now Madhu was also crying, one ballot paper ought to carry only one vote, they were tricked in to voting two, and their loyalties were defined with her father. They appeared disloyal, but they were themselves tricked, they did not know. The cheap strategy if you can’t convince, then confuse had worked. Nitish was also crying “Those villagers cried holding your father’s feet, he was so graceful. That Nanjappa, purchased three thousand votes madam, when your father asked them how you can allow yourselves to be purchased, they said we have families sir, like sir has no family. They jeered him for not being corrupt , who asked you not to make money, you could have made money and distributed to us also, then we would have been with you” Madhu could not listen to more of this.

There were no Robin Hoods in the modern world, people hoarded money for personal power, and they distributed pennies. Madhu retold most of this to Shanthala, who was inconsolable, “ He died for that city, he called it his fortress, I am sure all his followers were hatching eggs , while RJP was teaching the voters to cast invalid votes, what will we do, he better come back tonight” . Her father called , Madhu gave the phone to her mother, Shanthala sobbed “ I want you to come back , tonight, you should not be staying in that disloyal city for one more minute, For all your time away from us, ruining your health, for your honesty, we don’t even have our own house, that site, which is cleared only now is all that we have, and they reward you like this, god is sleeping , he has closed his eyes” Madhu took the phone , Jagannath was calm though he sounded tired “ Listen, they were not disloyal, they were foolishly innocent, each of that ballot sheet had my symbol, they loved me, they were misled. There is nothing personal about this defeat, your mother should not be alleging the party workers, that is unfair, they are equally disappointed”. Madhu controlled her tears “ Ok . Appa, please come back tonight we also love you”. He gruffly said yes and put the phone down.

QUESTIONS ARE LONELY

Her pediatrician was also her father’s good friend, so she went looking for him in his clinic. The clinic looked smaller to her adult eyes, it wore a deserted look. There was another younger doctor working, Dr. Lokanathan came in late. He was somewhat emaciated. He smiled at Madhu, she expected him to talk. Silence was ominous, austere like a cadaver making her nervous. She was familiar with an ebullient rapid chatter, like the quick breeze of a sunny afternoon from him, a sort of defeated; look as though words belonged to another world, confused her. There was an air of long standing silence here. The room appeared hollow, ready to echo any sound. There was neither accuse, nor guilt in his silence, like the silence after the climax chase of a motion picture, the silence of finality. The floor of the room was like a parched river bed of sand , when the river is dried, in that invisible river had drowned the baby cries, cooing, and occasional laughter of a convalescent baby.His assistant explained, Dr. Lokanathan was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer two years ago and his voice box was operated out. Madhu gaped, as though she could see a voice, as though it had a body separate from the doctor, recalling the resounding voice hypnotizing suggesting her to breathe out, to expire. Why would he lose that miracle, this was like deafness of a musician, how to make music which the maestro could not hear himself? Dr. Lokanathan gestured her to come near, when she sat close to him, he whispered, there was greater volume of air movement in his throat “I have learnt to speak in this esophageal voice, I only need more breath, I don’t need those cords” His eyes shone like those of an eagle, pitch black, like coals with hidden fire, defiant like those of an insolent adolescent, cupped by the halo of gray hair. His son’s photograph was lone without company on the wall. There were some withered jasmine flowers on the photo. Like the droppings of a binding vine after the flying out of the sparrows.

The ceiling fan was heavy, yellowing at the edges, the money plant behind the Venetian blinds, did not seem to be fresh. She infused her voice with an artificial optimism, talked about her education and her confusion over the choices of study for PG, seemingly unaffected by his disease. He would not take pity from her; she needed to believe in his invincibility, as much as he did. The strong  hands which massaged her flanks that tired morning, of childhood with a gentle force lay limp on his lap. Flute was indeed a bundle of holes, pain silenced even the scream, he could not groan or whimper. He was unable to even say that he was unable. Questions echoed. ‘Why’ had no answer .Science, like the confession box of a grilled chamber in the corner of a prayer hall, had speckles of light, like the gauze of a wound it could be looked through, it explained the progress of the disease, described all the pains dryly like a morbid dictionary, it justified the pain, final solution was in the cytotoxic drugs and the coffin of natural killer cells.

The net of tennis court outside his clinic seemed new, she noticed. He was in the game, though not counted for the scores. That was how little ones were treated in a serious game. When she got up to go, he also rose from his chair; she hugged him, like in her childhood. She was made to realize that faith was not blind when she had come here several years ago. Science was her faith now, facts were inescapable. His once strong muscular body, was flaccid like a flat punching bag, she felt his defenses were gone. She stood firmly, despite his bigger height, she was aware that he needed her to hold him.  His chin was above her head , he whispered “ You  reminded me of my son, blind in devotion and emotion, so clear sighted in science” She knew that her gender did not prejudice his inner sympathy towards her person, since he met her as a child. Therefore he knew to smooth the ruffled wings of that child, holding her like how a flower holds it’s own petals or mother holds her baby, a silent gentle grip urging her to extend beyond her limits, to grow. Even to outgrow him. He distanced her, holding her shoulders, tearing away from that embrace, looking at her limpid eyes he touched her chin “Putting you to sleep was my privilege, I promise to dream of you dancing before I sleep, think of me when you pray, will you?” She nodded. But she was not going to pray, she was too angry for that. Blood on the bed sheets, her father’s poems, doctors silence, she did not want a questioning mind. Questions were so lonely, she was tired.

MIRROR MIRROR ON THE WALL

Madhu drifted like a cloud, filled with unshed water, humoring the faces, familiar because of their appearances on screen. Layers of pancake, pan stick on the faces, shimmering eye shadows, sculpted sovereign noses, all colors of lipstick clad smiles. The foreign perfumes mingling with Indian sweat polluted the air infusing suffocation in a well aerated hall. It was a hall full of strangers , most of them were vulnerable, engrossed in their appearances, vying to be the most believably beautiful or handsom.  The vulnerability was in the actor wanting to believe the image as much as the audience. The image of a magical hero who could beat up twenty goons, who could sing , dance and woo a pretty heroine twenty years his junior. It was a place filled with step-mothers asking the “mirror mirror on the wall” question, constantly looking over their backs, lest someone new usurp their throne. The hunger for flesh, in the prying eyes, the invisible ladders hanging in the flattering tongues, the envious whispers when a wealthy producer praised, Madhu braved it , safe in the tag of being new, and the conviction of remaining that. There were rehearsed expressions; famous faces smiled accurate smiles, when the camera turned on them. An occasional itch in the wrong aspect of anatomy or a yawn was the rare traitor of the perfect farce.  Off the screen was also a make believe world, reality was the sole mirror in the wash room.

BREATHING GOD

She had argued with her paediatrician once over the existence of god. He was her friend, “How can you do integral calculus without the assumption of infinity? First you have to assume, only then you can prove.” He would merely smile, but after that she saw an empty photo frame in his clinic, with a bunch of incense sticks, dropping fragrant ash. She had asked him “Who was your mother’s favourite God?” He did not give her an immediate answer. He knew she would have some trick, to play. “Three fourth of this planet has water, it looks blue, so many oceans, cloud has water, well has water, this baby in your clinic has a drop of water in the eye, it can assume any shape, when I need I put it in a bottle to drink, so I put God in a shape, which is familiar to me, like my parents, I did not create them, they created me”

The next time she visited him she saw his dead son’s photograph on the wall. When he first met her in his clinic, she thought she was dying.  The summer left her with breathless lungs, a mouth that would gasp. The respiratory system did not want to expire, the carbon dioxide was being retained, and she was anxious, unable to sleep, walk, and talk, a thin frame, two small fleshy outgrowths from a spiny body. Two big pools of fear, contained in black rings, the kitten purred furiously in her chest, everyone heard her cries, even through a silent mouth. That was when he had smiled at her, after listening to her mother’s righteous indignant complaints against God, who was not healing her child. He asked her “Who created god?” Madhu was surprised, god created us, is this man nuts? He saw the small flush of the believer’s child “I think your mother and many mothers like her created god” Madhu liked him in that minute. It was a sweet idea, it made god human, some one who could obey her, listen to her, some one she could scold. Then he looked in to her eyes, said, “See my eyes, are as big as yours, my nose is only a little longer” she relaxed. He explained, breathing is both a voluntary and involuntary activity, you don’t want to be at the mercy of your body, you can control it through the mind.

He gave the analogy of cycle riding, at first you have to think about the riding , later it becomes automatic, now we relearn to breathe, with that he started to command her to breathe in slowly deeply, breathe out slowly deeply, he kept massaging her back, he kept on at it for what seemed to be an eternity. Somewhere her lungs started to obey him, respiratory rate, slowed down, a kind of tired sleep of a child, inviting the angels to reenter her body ensued, and she slept for hours in his clinic. Her parents were overjoyed, Madhu slowly learnt to control her breathing, she trusted, him as a friend, philosopher, sleeping pill, compass needle. He had given her a god, when she most needed him.

PERFECT GODDESS OF FURY

After a year of pleasant summer in Malnad, Madhu was terrorised to see her maternal cousin come after her to paternal grand parents house “I think you are gorgeous” he beamed at Tunga, who giggled with pleasure.Madhu stared at his eyes they moved all over her body undressing her in his gaze, emanating sexual energy.She approached Dhanu “ I don’t know how this can be done, but I want him out of this house by evening”

He asked her one question “What about your mother?” Madhu replied “ I can handle that” later  he had kept his word. But he was disturbed, and then at night he had invited her to play a game of chess with him, snapping at her repeatedly, He wanted her to be aggressive, wanted her to beat him. His attitude was patronizing, but his game was not.She kept losing, he had chided “ I thought you were smart you don’t even think when you are upset” Then she had concentrated on the game, decided to give back his game to him and beaten him by a pawn.He had insisted that she play on behalf of the white King.He was elated with her victory, more than she was , it was crucial for him to know that there was a battle in her blood, her mind could strategise and destroy an enemy.Then he heated water with the fire wood , so that she could have a bath, and go with him to the local Marikamba temple.He had taken her till then to only ruined temples built centuries ago, the Gods there had been deserted, some were damaged with a cut nose, or arm, or leg or thumb. It was custom to create a mark of imperfection to a perfect idol. But damaged God was still a God.But there was no worship offered to a damaged god, it was considered to be unlucky.

Though he meant well, the visit to the perfect temple, and meeting that undamaged goddess of fury, had damaged Madhu with a silent force of the need to spell her innocence. That bath made her look for dirt in the nook and corners of her body; they were young, and merely budding. Now she wanted to behead some jasmines, with their tender stalks, and wide spreading fragrance.

3 DAY – QUOTE CHALLENGE

This is the final quote of  3 rd day challenge , nominated by Dheeraj Dave  My Pain My Property . I thank Dheeraj Dave for the nomination. Thank you Dheeraj for all your support .

“Better to have beasts that let themselves be killed than men who run away ” -Jean -Paul -Sartre.. 

I liked this quote because in times of real distress , less educated men , those who were known for their aggression have come to my rescue , and somehow this explained the beauty and the beast to me , sometimes all you need is someone who shows up , stands up and says I am here……they may be aggressive , yet more human than those who think and decide it is a dangerous situation and they are there for coffee table conversations when it is safe.

If hatred strikes you , if you get accused , thrown to the lions , you can expect one of the two reactions from people who know you some of them will join in the kill , the others will discreetly pretend to know nothing , so you can go right on seeing them and hearing them and talking to them . That second category , discreet and tactful are your friends- Milan Kundera 

Perhaps Sartre meant that better to have beasts as your friends than the second category.

My nominations are 

Lovey

3an 1

anisou luz