Sunday, January 14, 2007

A Short Story

Ammani posed this scenario on her blog and I thought I'd respond:

She was born in 1940. The second of five children born to Vedaranyam Seshadri and Rajalakshmi ammal. She passed away after a brief illness in November 2006. How will Jagada be remembered?

In newsprint and ashes, someone says at the funeral. It is a voice jaded with cynicism, with the accumulated poisons of a lifetime of defeat, both commonplace and strange in this house of mourning. All day people have been coming and going, offering their placid consolations to the family who nod quietly, mute with grief. A mother has died.

I, too, come in and pay my respects to her son. I worked with Arun a few years ago. We were both architects, employed to collaborate on a project that regularly saw us working late into the night. I was new to the city, alone and untethered, and Arun would often invite me over to have dinner with his family. I remember one evening, in the final days of the project, we were at the office past midnight and the work was refusing to end. Arun suggested we take the blueprints home and work on them after dinner. Tired and hungry, I agreed.

It was Jagada amma who opened the door, her cheek crushed and red from the weight of sleep. As I saw her standing groggily in the doorway, her wrinkled face numb with sleep, I felt a sudden embarassment at my imposition. It's late, I told Arun. We can make an early start in the morning. I smiled at Jagada amma and wished her good night. She smiled back in confusion, speaking to her son out of the corner of her mouth. I turned to walk back to my car and, suddenly, felt a hand fasten around my wrist. It was Jagada amma and she was saying something in Tamil.

"Amma says you have to eat before you go," Arun told me.

"Please tell her I would love to but it's late and we have a lot of work to do. Some other time." I smiled more vigorously trying to compensate for my ineptitude with her kindness.

"She says nothing doing. You have to eat." I felt her fingers grip me harder, the weight of her fragile bones pressing articulately into my wrist.

"Just come, man!" Arun remonstrated. "She won't let go until you've eaten. You want to make me stand here all night or what?"

I gave in and we walked into the house. Jagada amma served us our meal and we ate quietly in the hushed light of the kitchen. Both of us were too tired to speak and by the meal's conclusion had sufficiently fallen into a lethargy that only sleep could cure. There would be no more work that night. I thanked Amma and took my leave.

A few weeks later, as the project came to its uninspiring end, I left the city. I visited Arun before I left, taking flowers for Radhika, his wife, and chocolate for the children. Jagada amma was not there. She had gone to spend some time with her sister in the village. I asked them to convey my regards to her and the talk drifted into other areas.

Now, I am back again, a guest in this home whose people all move about in muffled grief. Arun walks in and out, attending mechanically to the details of the funeral. Radhika is busy in the kitchen, amid a clutter of teacups, and greets me with a tired smile. How are you? she asks and then walks outside to field another guest. The children recognize me and fold noiselessly into my lap like a pair of soft ghosts.

"Do you remember her?" the younger one asks me precociously.

I feel a sudden weight around my wrist, a vivid pressure that wraps itself into my heart.

"Yes," I tell him. "I remember her."

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Midnight Hour

The streetlights are lit with the smoke

from the bars and outside the drunks

chatter counting the stars while somewhere,

in mid-ocean, a sailor fastens his knots,

a bride and a groom giggle shyly like tots.

The policeman he snores, the baker he dreams,

the lonely child he turns over and screams.

And in the quick darkness, as night tumbles

past, the sweepers and spies shuffle home,

done at last.

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