I stand at the edge of the cliff; slowly savoring the briny sea air- the air is fecund with the characteristic screech of seagulls; they fly over the top of my head, a mass of snowy euphony- I am thankful for company. The will live but won’t let live ocean winds challenge my balance- yet I stand erect and unperturbed; chin held high, long wavy hair rippling in all directions; some slapping the face or blinding the eye- I taste noodles of them in my mouth and spit them out. My flimsy dress clings on to dear life accentuating my slenderness- I vaguely wonder if this seems provocative to the passers-by, I look around; nobody seems to notice. Absorbed in their own noisy trivia, people are just not interested in other people anymore. This revelation sets me free but not without a twang of resentment. What does that make me- a loner or a wannabe social animal? I don’t know/ can’t say. As the anti-depressants begin to take effect, my spirit soar a minute- I am engulfed by a delicious drowsiness as I waft towards the ocean. I lie on abdomen, my heads resting on the soft white sands- for a jiffy it turns into my mother’s lap and I regress into a little child- a wave hits my cheek and I am on the white sands again; no longer a child but a child woman of twenty-four, experiencing what I privately acknowledge as late adolescence. Why didn’t its turmoils and tribulations arrive and exit at the appropriate pimples and teeth braces age; instead of eating me now? Am I nature’s freak or what?
I arch my vertebrae into a serpentine posture before pulling myself to the feet. It is twilight and I cross the brief area of thicket on my way home. I edge my way through lantana, bulb-like orange buds drooping from trees and amongst multitudinous vegetation which I cannot identify or name. A majestic green-orange serpent coiled around one of the trees, eyes me languidly. The reptile is flanked by luscious plump fruits; either rosy or violet I can’t quite make out in the half-light. The Satan’s smirking face provokes something in me- something like pride or valor. Accepting the unspoken dare, I walk towards the tree gutsily and break a strange forbidden fruit, just inches from the bloody condescending python. I take a lusty bite of the enticing fruit; the flesh is voluptuous. Then depression engulfs me again. ‘You are no Eve’ I tell myself sadly. ‘You are merely Adam’s rib.’
My stomach’s churning- something horrible-by the time I reach home. Lilting strains emanating from within sound discordant; maybe they have always struck an ugly note in my subconscious. But I don’t know/ can’t say. If the news-papers, always conducting polls on everything in this damn universe, were to ask my opinion, my answer to any question at this stage of life is likely to be in the ‘Don’t know/ can’t say’ category. As I already mentioned I am experiencing delayed adolescence. It is killing me, this recent indecisiveness. I wasn’t like this in my teens. I was mature, dead-sure about everything and didn’t use slang….and yeah, I was always good in academics. I faced none of the teenage angst every tabloid or magazine loves writing about. With me it is the reverse. I feel those things now.
The man servant (coincidentally, ‘Ramu Kaka’ as in Hindi movies) takes one look at my contorted bluish-green face, as I stagger in clutching my stomach. He rushes in- I hear conversation fragments ‘Yes Sir, Baby seems terribly sick. We better call the doctor.’ He still calls me ‘Baby’. I feel the unbearable itch to laugh- hysterically. Presently, my renowned father- Guruji the great- emerges from the inner sonic chambers. ‘What is it?, what’s wrong?’, he asks absently, maybe irked at having been interrupted when immersed in the throes of his riyaz. His eyes suddenly focus-apathy turns to concern- concern to panic; undiluted and full-fledged- ‘Pallavi! Oh my God, she’s really bad!’. My eyes blur as I gradually drift into partial unconsciousness. Disembodied voices of students resound- arms shake me desperately, wanting to know- ‘I ate some rose-violet fruit’, I say faintly, ‘at the forest’ I whisper after a pause. A voice sounds grim ‘It seems to have been poisonous. We have to force her to throw up. Hurry. Get a liter of saline water.’ Somebody with solid common sense. ‘Saline water?!!, that wouldn’t be sufficient for nuts’, sneers a pompous Smart Alec. ‘She needs a stomach wash and has to be kept under observation at the I.C.U. We need to rush her to the hospital. Time and tide wait for none’-he stresses each syllable slowly and deliberately as though speaking to a group of retards. Confused voices murmur. Then comes an uncomfortable yet reassuring feeling of being lifted physically like a baby. The ambulance sirens urgency. Mr. I –know- all had been right after all.
I feel myself rollercoaster through phenyl- reeking corridors on a wheel-chair. Hospital personnel keep calling my name. ‘Pallavi, try and keep your eyes open. Good. Try and remain awake.’ Much to my embarassment;the nurses (all female, thankfully) strip me down to zilch and push my arms through some elephant-eared tent that goes by the name of hospital gown- tubes are ordered to be ‘swallowed’ through the nostrils- an acutely unpleasant experience- stuff’s purged out. So the stomach-wash is complete. Common hospital rules do not allow any common people inside. But Guruji, being who he is, is made an exception ‘What’s the problem, child-why did you eat that?’ he asks. I guiltily look at the patient on the next bed of the I.C.U; frantically trying to swallow what could be his last breaths of air. His family must be waiting outside, their hearts aching to see him- but eyes of staff are fixed only on me, the lionized maestro’s only daughter. ‘Pallavi’, this time his tone is peremptory, ‘why did you eat that?’. I gaze at the sinuous coils of intra-veinous drip surrounding my arm . And try explaining about the supercilious viper.
Golden tresses reveries weave of
embrace the white virgin pillow.
Sleepy drool soothing sweet
stream from lips, meander to bed-spread….
Bedspread imprinted with green rushes-
thus watered, turn lush and rich.
Lashes silver flutter in unease
as night unleashes frightening mares…..
galloping blitzkrieg, thundering hooves;
stamping, cracking my pretty clavicle.
I wake to the sound of my own cry.
Peepers shut once more
concealing universe beneath-
a cosmos of odd jigsaws;
visual, kinesthetic and even olfactory!
I breathe in Arabian perfume;
tantalizing!- across breezy nights….
Our orbs meet, part in a shot
I return to harpsichord
with a slow deliberation.
Lily fingers play frenzied
Honey-sweet strains fill the air
The heart flutters
with butterfly emotions
I steal another fleeting glance
am stupefied to behold horror
in those soulful eyes
My clothes are drenched
with rich life-blood
of bleeding fingers
I have played long and strong
in blissful oblivion
of madness or devotion.
The spell breaks and the inevitable mundane heavily descends. He introduces himself as Ayaz, my new neighbour- jumps off his terrace and comes over to mine- chivalrously rips the rim of his kurta and bandages my injured hand. He offers; somewhat awkwardly, to take me to the physician for aTetvac; the strings could have been rusted. I insist I’ll be alright and leave abruptly in some confusion.
Is what we behold a standard world? Is what we behold a world of effect? Are people we see what they actually are? Are people we see an extension of our own inner poetry? Does that make Ayaz a run-of the mill young man or my fairy-tale? I try living a lie for a while; like what I assume a good practical girl would do. Ayaz is an ordinary guy- nothing mystic about him. A software professional. A dutiful son, devoted to his parents. A good Samaritan, helpful to neighbours. That’s all there is to it all. Period.
Characteristic romance soon takes over as I recall (or imagine?) the lissome fluidity of movement as Ayaz jumped his terrace and came over to mine….the softness of his surma-lined eyes as he bandaged my hand with concentration (and concern?)…..his lips quivering with some emotion when he saw I was hurt…….
Crimson splashed day-break devours
insomniac conflict of numerous nights
‘Standard world’ crumbles to fairy-dust….
from its ashes arise ‘The world of effect’-
an entrancing utopia-mirific, dazzling!
I shield my eyes against its brilliant light,
open them gingerly, view a prince
Presume I am a hourie in paradise
Love- in this game of seek and hide
I turn the mischievous-guilty voyeur
Parting curtain-barricades, I see unseen
Lady-like propriety I fail to abide
‘Peeping Tina!’ I chide myself
bullied by priggy super-ego
Yet can’t but behold his every move
Fragment, analyze and even mirror them…..
My metamorphosis into Mrs. Zeba Ayaz, dream-like to the point of seeming hallucinogenic, is in progression; intrinsic reason for which is either love or the long-nurtured yearning to escape my famous father’s eclipse or a smug gratification in contradicting His Majesty. I don’t know/ can’t say. Maybe it is the pre-mentioned 20+ neat craving for personal identity, which is by the way, becoming quite a nuisance. It offers peculiar solace, this legitimate rebellion against Guruji- I can also proudly claim to be a rebel with a cause. Guruji has always pretended to be secular.
Why, he used to be all admiration for the Sufi times when the lines between religions were a blur; with the Pandits singing sufiana style and the Ustads rendition of Hindu bhajans. He has been a patron of the quawali and khayal- forms of musical synthesis introduced by the Mughals. He swears by Mirza Ghalib and the different possibilities of Tashree in Ghalib’s poetry. The so-called secular Guruji disappointed with my Nikah with a Mohammedan. I have always known with certainty that he has always been an orthodox Hindu at heart- the hypocritical man!
I know he can sense my rebuff, even though he continues to be affectionate towards me and civil towards Ayaz. I seem desperately intent on shedding my old skin (or was that also Guruji’s?) and on regenerating a new one as soon as possible. I insist on observing the purdah even though Ayaz’s family- easy-going and all embracing- do not consider it compulsory. Still, it is out of my choice. I become an ace at whipping up and devouring kebabs; especially when Guruji’s come to visit- I have been brought up to be a vegetarian and now I am coolly eating meat! There is only resignation in his eyes now; a kind of stoic acceptance- I become a little plump with contentment.
Earlier, all invitations used to be addressed to Pandit Jaydev (Yeah, that’s Guruji’s esteemed name) and family- as if one girl could be family all by herself! It is music to the eyes (really, what an expression!) to now see invitations addressed to Mr. Ayaz and Mrs. ZEBA AYAZ!!! I finally have a name!
For the briefest period, as ephemeral as the life-span of early morning dew, I am happy to the point of delirium. The moments spent with Ayaz, my in-laws….pure bliss. After the muezzin’s noon call, we would pray and then eat together-Ammajan, Babaji and I. I would snooze the hot lazy noons away with the drone of winds in my ears and would swallow contentedly in slumber. Then I would dream of lush desert roses, mirages, a whole magical city of minarets- would feel the Arabian nights come to life.
It was early evening once when Ayaz had returned from work and my in-laws had indulgently parceled us off outdoors. The 5 p.m sun was deliciously warm on my face and neck. It felt like butter melting away on a piece of coarse toast or a sensuous tongue.
I had gone sans burqa for once, draped in a pink sari- I was acutely aware of the pink crepe, light as a fairy fluttering around me in the gentle breeze. It was fun, the way the rickshaw stumbled over pot-holes cleansed by fresh rain. The reeling scent of wet-earth and the realization of Ayaz’s benign presence beside me had me happy- I mean, really really happy.
I beheld the mosque from the rickshaw. So beauteous- green and white minarets amidst the lush green foliage, set like a painting against the azure-sunny skies. My pink crepe suddenly became the curtains of the windows of the minarets. The pink-green- white blended to perfection. All I had left were my awed silver lashed eyes and the reassuring pressure of Ayaz’s fingers on mine.
All of us at home are sunny with smiles. We are talking of adorable little incidents. Babaji and Ammajan narrate quaint stories of their childhood, their marriage, Ayaz’s childhood and his naughty ways. Amma says she would love to see childhood unfold in front of her eyes again. Clearly, she’s hinting at a junior Ayaz or Zeba. I blush deep carmine. Ayaz murmurs something under his breath; he is as embarrassed as I am or even more. We are a picture of a content family and, as I mentioned, all smiles until mine dims a little- topic veers to Guruji- remains transfixed there- queries about him begin- at what time does he wake? For how long does he do his riyaz? How many disciples does he have? How many concerts does he perform in a year? How much does he tour? Which are his favorite cities?
The muscles around my face tighten. Guruji; with his demi-God like status, with his mass hypnotic appeal, has even polarized my family towards him. I rush into my room and bang the door with a thud.
After many a solitary moment’s reflection, I decide I have erred. It was unfair on my part to display such rage, in front of my husband and parents-in-law in such an unbecoming manner. They are very nice people and it was wrong on my part to hurt them. A tenet in Islam, by Ahmed on human relations, believes that “to hold good thoughts (about another person) is a part of a well conducted worship”. I should also try and emulate these noble people. Only the other day, my father-in- law was quoting an adage on good character by Mu’ watta, Ahmed-“ I have been sent to perfect good character.” As the essence of this simple yet sublime quotation is absorbed by my being , my heart is overwhelmed with remorse. I open the door. My in-laws have retired for the night. I guess I will have to offer belated apologies in the morning. Ayaz is nowhere to be seen- maybe he is on the terrace. I should say sorry to him as well. As I climb the spiral rigmarole I hear notes…..familiar…..disturbing. I turn to ice. Ayaz is thoroughly immersed in one of Guruji’s resonant, sonorous pieces emanating from his mini tape-recorder. Guruji’s had his sweet vendetta. He has eclipsed my new life; has captivated my husband. Something inside snaps. I switch off the music abruptly- Ayaz looks at me; puzzled- then I seize the cassette and smash it on the ground with all the might of my repressed anger. Ayaz’s bewildered- agonized face is reflected in the numerous pieces of broken plastic. I ask for a divorce. He is stunned. The commotion has brought his parents to the terrace. They coax me to cool down and have a re-think over a four month period. My face is a hard mask.
The next day Ayaz and I visit the Shariat Panchayat. Both of us take a friend each, as a witness (one for each party). Ayaz utters ‘Talaq’ three times. It is over.
I am still entitled to stay in their house as Muslims don’t throw divorcees on the street; but I decide to live on with the cause of all my misery- Guruji. There is no escape from his shadow any way; so why try to run? The sojourn’s only till next door. I come out with bag and baggage and an acquaintance enquires about Guruji’s health and welfare. And what about my health and welfare? Nobody on earth’s concerned. After all nobody’s mine. And I am nobody. I am just Adam’s rib.
For what Goddamn purpose
was I ever sent
to the garden of Eden modern;
when to metamorphose to Eve
was never meant to be?
An obscure piece of bone-
that’s all I am doomed to be.
To be Adam’s rib lifelong
The thought’s painful to bear
Sans name I survive
Oh! Destiny’s so unfair
Ayaz leaves a few days later; quietly to some country in the Middle-east, taking his parents along. Apparently, he has landed a better job there. As the vibrating sound of their flight zooming overhead reaches me, I feel a peculiar ache in the heart.
My neck’s too fragile
my head’s weight to bear
My neck’s too fragile
for heady complications-cares
Neck’s dainty femininity droops
under head’s masculine dictates
I lie alone
with no body to share
My soul lies likewise
My soul-mate’s nowhere
I clutch the hot-water bottle
like a babe to my bosom;
the imaginary creation
of a lonesome mind.
My bosom’s too fragile
for the heart’s heaviness to bear
My bosom’s too fragile
For heart’s sorrow to take.
It has been two years since and I am still living under Guruji’s roof. I cannot bear to look at the house next door; the house of love and laughter, now so desolate. I have become my former slender self. And post the poisonous fruit episode, I have become frailer.
Guruji says he can’t see me waste away like this and insists that I have to make a conscious effort to distract myself. He suggests that I play with him in a concert that is coming up in a fortnight. I try, err, get experimental, wax and wane adventure, fiddle- both literally and metaphorically- the violin, cello, harpsichord, lute, and instruments of percussion. I command my musical style to coil around and complement the theme Guruji’s to be performing on D-day; quite like a dutiful creeper that wraps itself around the chosen trunk and enhances its allure and ecological complexity in the process. On the much awaited day Guruji has a mild ache in the left arm. Leech like organizers (who are after my blood) do not consent concert post-ponement- a hesitant, minnowy me is pushed into unknown waters; never mind if I can swim or not. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration if I admit that this was the fateful day rejection and alienation, that I was no stranger to even before, slapped me with the most vicious hate imaginable. No more than ten music aficionados had turned up for pathetic Pallavi’s concert, out of which five left mid-way. So unfair; considering that was when I had begun to warm up, gathering momentum and getting ready to reach the pinnacle of my rhythmic self-actualization. I wish they had waited to witness, no, share the magical moment I took flight with mind’s wings. But like the legendary Icarus, being too close to the brilliant sun proved expensive- my wings melted and I fell to earth with a resounding thud.
I think, it was at this moment that my mind also betrayed me. It has turned the enemy within which is the most difficult to oust.
Mind- my biggest asset, but that’s history
I cherish fond memories of its good workings
Enriched with supplies of blood rich;
it whipped motivation, action, availability of feelings-
unfettered heady post-exam euphoria,
adrenaline highs of trophied achievement,
tender-petalled love; damask rose attar scented….
Thus; mind, has turned traitor. It repeatedly mocks me- jibes ‘Adam’s Rib, Adam’s rib, Adam’s rib……’ over and over and over again like a stuck tape-recorder. It becomes Cassandra- prophesizing doom. Cassandra’s prophesies were real but she was doomed never to be believed- but my mind, my Cassandra is an anti-thesis-she falsely prophesies doom that shall never befall. It turns worse when Guruji criticizes me- I am always scared of saying or doing something that may evoke his wrath…he may reduce me to ashes by sheer will of his third eye (the Pisces shaped distinguishing mark on his forehead is his powerful third eye, I have believed ever since I was a child). I know my feelings may be exaggerated or even irrational but I am unable to control this painful neurotic anxiety- a perpetual feeling of being on the edge-I tensely coil like a snake watching out for the predatory hawk that is not even in vicinity. I am hypervigilant like a full-time security guard, for events of negative outcomes that may never occur- the deep recesses of my subconscious, warn me to be alert always, so that I can react with lightening speed lest something untoward actually happens. I get restless, unable to relax and pace up and down…waiting….but for what?….My heart palpitates, my breathing becomes erratic….I develop a serious psychosomatic illness. My hair stats falling and I develop dark circles around the eyes. At times, I am depressed that people around only talk to Guruji; not even having the decency or the consideration to acknowledge me, even if I am standing right beside him. The hurt of it all is too much to bear along with my psychosomatic pains and torturous obsessive thoughts (‘Adam’s Rib’ in particular). I have stopped taking walks with him and do so solitarily, looking past everyone…with sad, glazed eyes I wander; absorbed in my lonely world. I think of Ayaz, Ammajan and Babaji and cry. I even think of my mother whom I’ve never known and weep. I visit a psychologist- referred to by the general physician- a lady with a terse, peremptory manner- still, she seems tolerable the first time around. But after having finished my first session with her, I feel my head’s going to crack; unleashing psychotic madness. I fear I might have a stroke or something and meet my maker (God, not Guruji). I have been a rather private person and suffer for having washed dirty linen in public. Yes, public it was, for there was a whole row of wannabe psychologists taking notes dispassionately of a woman’s agony. The next morning I walk into the clinic with a feeling of foreboding. I am kept waiting for a good two hours before she has me called in. For a few minutes, she doesn’t even acknowledge my presence; seemingly engrossed in case-files. Then she looks up and stares unblinkingly. It is so unnerving. ‘I had been to your concert, your solo performance’ she says. I swallow, then nod. ‘There weren’t very many people were they?’ she continues with a sadistic half-smile. I feel icy goose bumps on my flesh. Then a tirade of insults is poured on poor Pallavi. In the trauma of humiliation, I am unable to catch every word; but the gist of her ‘counseling’ can fairly be labeled offensive by any person in touch with reality. Searing oblique references are made to ‘wastrels born to affluent parents’, to those ‘who have had such a fantastic head start, that they don’t have to work at all to get ahead in life’, then there is something about ‘ego-inflated dim-witted progeny of the famous,’….and so on. I notice she has started addressing me in the vernacular singular. If I remember right, it had not been so the previous day. She had even addressed me with a respectful ‘Madam’. The torrent of jibes finally reach conclusion. She advices me that ‘I must understand my place in the world and humbly accept my limitations.’ I leave thanking her. On my way out one of the psycho. wannabes asks me how my today’s ‘Counseling session’ had gone. ‘It didn’t help’ I admit candidly. ‘ I think Ma’am was a little harsh.’ ‘Tch’ he says nodding his head in sympathy. But the sympathy’s not directed at me, I realize, a moment later. ‘Work pressure, you know’ he says, ‘Madam’s under immense stress. You ought to understand her problems too, alright?!; he tells me severely (like a school principal) before walking off.
This time I am spooked off these people for good. I go to the chemist’s and ask for a mild anti-depressant, which is available over the counter; sans prescription.
I start feeling healthier; the stress related aches and pains subside, but some how happiness- even a minute speck of it seems to have extinguished. I try hard to re-capture what I vaguely remember as the flavour of joy; with zero success. I don’t think I shall play music- ever. I drift …..
The telephone trills ominously. I am shaken out of my stupor. Some self-protective instinct warns me against responding. I don’t quite know why. But I pick the receiver up, anyway. And reality hits me like a lash.
Guruji’s dead- a suspected cardiac arrest in the middle of a concert. His body is shipped home. The rest is a muesli of sympathetic faces…….voices offering condolences……hands pressing mine……hands patting my head……
Guruji…..the so called eclipse has been lifted. Then why am I feeling even more miserable? I have considered Guruji the primary cause of my miseries and failures. Why is the ground beneath my feet quivering suddenly? Silly female that I am, it seems that I cannot even stand on my own feet. Has my favorite scapegoat been a silent pillar of support or what? I don’t know/ can’t say. Was I even minutely justified in blaming him for what could have been my own lack of self-confidence and vision? I don’t know/ can’t say.
All I know is that love is a dead end. My mother I never knew; she had died giving birth to me, Ayaz- well…. left and now, Guruji…….
Nobody’s mine. And I am nobody. Not even ‘Adam’s Rib’ now that Guruji’s dead.
I run into the forest. Sit under a tree and cry for a long time. May be for myself. Maybe for the lost ‘Adam’.
I can’t bear to live in the huge house alone. I sell it . Ramu kaka goes back to the village. I give him a well deserved monthly allowance; pension if you like it, for a life-time of devoted, unselfish help. Guruji has left behind loads of Mammon’s lucre. I can live in the luxury of abundance all life without moving a sinew if I wish.
I want to leave Maya’s bliss; which is the name of the town I live in, by the way. The irony of the name strikes me anew. The concept of bliss itself is Maya- an illusion. But there is still a cord attaching me to it- navel to navel. I cannot contemplate an independent existence, even if I’d want to. I buy myself a cottage and exist.
I remember having eaten the contemporary forbidden fruit. I wish I had died then.
I stand on the edge of the cliff slowly savoring the briny sea air- the air is fecund with the characteristic screech of seagulls; they fly over the top of my head , a mass of snowy cacophony. The will live and won’t let live oceans stretch their arms invitingly. In one liquid movement I take a plunge into the deep corn-flower blue waters below.
I emerge on the other end of the shore, dripping wet and somewhat happy. The physical exertion of swimming such a long distance has brought a healthy flush to my cheeks. The circulation of blood in my body seems to have improved. There seems to be some harmony between my mind-body-soul. My life earlier was just rhythm alienated from the graceful movement of life. I may have a long way to go; but I have begun the quest of bringing rhythm and movement of life in partnership.
I stretch my long arms towards the black jewel-studded skies and sway my hips ; trying to synchronize my movements to the beats of the universe. At this illuminating movement, the purpose of life dawns. To come to think of it, it had always been there but I had failed to recognize it- until now. I have always dreamed in verses, played , walked, talked, lived and breathed poetry- both joyous and melancholy. Now, I am to bring it to life.
I go home and change into dry clothes. I locate a grand golden-bound book with smooth velvety pages. Then I pick up the pen to write…..
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