I had this habit of waking up once or twice in the middle of the night to switch on the television and watching some tele-marketing humans selling toiletries in the wee hours when most people are sleeping and only some, like me, are awake. I was alone, far away from my mother but she was always with me; if I had even the slightest doubt, there would be a beep on her phone.
Unlike most mothers, Amma was tech savvy. A phone call to her in the morning, sometimes a video call, if the Internet at home behaved well, made my day. Still wide awake after all the housework, she would give me a virtual hug. It’s the absence of this reliable attachment which makes me emotionally lonely. I am around people; I am still alone.
Dreaming about talking to her from my box apartment in the West, I wake up to realise it is not the American bed I have been sleeping in for the past 16 years.
I am in our Indian bed, the one we would get made from Arif Bhai, the local mattress maker every few years. I loved watching him beating the cotton and filling the chequered cotton cloth, pinching and pushing to finally see a 4 by 6 gadda, a bed.
Everyone had their wish. Amma wanted a harder one for her back. Baba wanted the semi-hard one. As I grew older, I loved the softer one where you could just dive in. The gadda used to be an important gift during marriages. Amma brought four with her when she was married, which lasted for ten years. Along with the gadda, came the rajaai. I was so fond of mother’s saree and the smell of old worn out ones that I took one of her handmade quilts to the US.
Still sleeping in Shishuasana, I reminisce about her, looking at her black and white photograph now in the morning light. Beside the frame are old Hindi music CDs. The hundred-songs-in-one MP3 CD which Amma loved collecting. The ones she used to ask Baba to get from the highway dhaba every time he was on a road trip. The same ones that truck drivers played to stay awake on long nights, thinking about their loved ones.
I wonder what she was thinking when she was humming these old songs.
Perhaps like the truck driver, she too had some hidden feelings that submerged with the song like a sinking ship. Perhaps she was lost in thoughts like the painted lady looking beautiful amid pink and yellow flowers in the background.
This is the kind of music you love hearing that makes you happy and dance with joy. The same music that makes you morose about life. The same music that creates lasting memories. My mother would watch me sing loudly, creating a shrill behind the closed windows, playing along with me.
I spent most of my younger years opening doors to some stimulating experiences with my mother in a small town enveloped with rustiness. Now, it’s not her voice or the loud music anymore but a mind that is occupied with a series of pages filled with contradicting emotions, conditioning myself to run away from everything human and non-human that displeases me.
I need to use the toilet again and this time it was in front of me. I have my doubts about what this one will look like. I have this quirk of clicking good bathroom pictures. In all my office travels, the bathroom in luxurious hotels excited me the most. I used to look forward to clicking a picture of a spick and span toilet with attached bath.
Some people have a habit of taking pictures of a neatly made bed. I have that too.
The bed that looks perfect when you enter a hotel room. And the next morning, the bed has another story to tell. Of the couple who made aggressive love for the first time. Or the traveller on duty who sleeps straight, arms on his chest on one side, leaving the other side untouched. Or the young girl on an office tour jumping into a five-star bed. Owning it.
Last night when I slept on this bed, covered with small purple flowers, untouched, without a single wrinkle, it looked lonely. As if no one had slept in it for a while, and it was longing quietly for someone to touch it. I am staring at the bed and then staring at the bathroom. Dragging myself, I open the door to enter a space we all call ours.
Not as bad I imagined it would be. The bathroom needs a little overhaul. The pipes have rusted. The tiles are those trendy vintage-looking ones. I finish and use the flush which is empty. The switch is in the backyard for the municipal and the borewell water. I find it and switch it on for the water to fill in the tank that sits on top of the house, in the shape of a football. Sitting on the steps of a pale off-white netted door overlooking a backyard, I am craving for a daily dose of morning chai, and only one mild cigarette. This Indianness does not change.
Excerpted with permission from Mapping Love, Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, Rupa Publications.
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