Saturday, April 23, 2005

Gold Earrings

Anuradha looked in the mirror for the umpteenth time, checking her reflection, admiring the gold earrings that moved like a pendulum. Admiring them catch rays and throw back golden needles of light defiantly, as if challenging the brightness of the sun, hastening to prove that their brightness was far more superior to the sun. After all, they were evacuated from the deeps bowels of the earth where they lay cushioned for ages, unlike the sun, abandoned in the bottomless space like an orphan. She smiled indulgently at the grasp of her geography and the way she could combine it with her English to come out with an effective comparison. She wondered whether her English teacher would be proud of her or would she compare her earrings with her own diamond ones and feel bad that Anuradha’s sparkled more than hers. Solitaires….that’s what the children in her class called them…..she rolled the word slowly in her mouth…SO….LI….TEAR… and liked the way the syllables danced on her tongue.

As the factory gong hooted shrilly, she suddenly realized that she was getting late for her school. “Amma give me the tiffin box…I am getting late.” Her mother quickly came out with her lunch box and handed it to her, wiping her wet hands with the end of her paalu. “Amma!” she exclaimed in exasperation, her hand squarely on her hips, “How many times have I told you to use an apron? It looks so L.S. Amma!”
“Low Society!”

“How many times have I told you – WILL YOU STOP COMPARING ME WITH THE MOTHERS OF YOUR FRINEDS?” Seeing her daughter recoil at the increased pitch of her voice, Seeta softened her tone and added, “Beta, we are not as rich as those friends of yours. You must understand that. You are a big girl now.”

“Just twelve years Amma. Not even a day more and you start treating me like a twenty year old.”

“Ok….my baby…”
“Stop calling me baby!”
Laughing Seeta replied, “So a big girl then...? I have to go to office now. We will celebrate your birthday once I return home. OK? And take care of those earrings….I had to work hard to buy them as your birthday present.” Hesitantly she murmured, “Don’t announce about the birthday in your class…….” She thought of the birthday party her friends would expect and the money that it would cost. She knew that with her meager earnings as a domestic help, she could never afford a birthday party.

The world around her had abruptly collapsed when Avinash, her computer programmer husband took to drinking on regular basis. The hands that once danced on the keyboard like a pianist now clutched the bottle of whisky or rum as if it were elixir. Then he started wearing dark goggles to work, to cover his blood–red eyes, the aftermath of a booze filled night. Before long he was physically abusive to Seeta and she had to opt out their marriage with no alimony in lieu of a mess free divorce and the sole custody of their daughter.
Seeta didn’t want Anuradha to ever face the kind of life that she was facing. She wanted her only child to be well settled, happily married and financially sound. She wanted her to go in the best school, wear good clothes and keep up the façade of a good standard of living so that she could grow up to be like the Memsahibs and Madams in whose houses Seeta worked. She knew that education would also guarantee a good husband and a respectable job. Seeta knew that a education alone was a ticket to a good job. She herself was a graduate in Arts but her poor performance in her final exams ensured that she didn’t get a job according to her degree. So Seeta silently & reluctantly took up a job as a domestic help in the plush area of Malabar Hill where the demand for domestic help was more than the demand. She told her relatives and Anuradha that she worked as a secretary to a businessman. This ensured that her existence still got noticed. She fervently prayed to Lord Balaji for Anuradha to score good marks and be like her Madams and get married to rich men like her Sahabs. Still, she could barely make the ends meet with Anvesha’s rising school fees, computer fees and so on….and suddenly Anvesha dropped a bombshell…

“ I want gold earrings for my birthday Amma, I saw them in Tia’s ears today. I like the way dangle. Amma, but Tia said that we could never afford them. We are too poor to buy them. Is it true Amma? Are we really so poor?”
“Will I never get what I like because we cannot afford anything?”
“Will Tia always laugh at me because she can wear gold earring and I cannot? “
“I don’t wear earrings to school Amma, does that make me inferior?” tears welled up in her beloved Anu’s eyes
“Amma, are u listening?”
“Of course darling. We can afford anything and everything that we want,” the words tumbled out before Seeta could stop them and Seeta regretted the fateful moment as soon as she heard her own voice mouth the promise to her cherished daughter a pair of gold rings. Seeta soon made a mental list of all her employers and considered whom she could ask for an advance on her salary. She however soon discovered that she had already taken a considerable advance on her salary from all her employers for Anuradha’s clothes, school fees, trip money and other expenses. Anuradha did help the problem by continuously reminding her mother of her promise and day dreaming the the llok that Tia would have on her face when Anuradha proudly displayed her earrings. Suddenly Lord Balaji was besieged with pleas to make Anuradha forget her obsession with gold earrings and education, husband took a back seat. She could even promise a Puja in the temple or an extra nariyal knowing fully well that she couldn’t afford it. Seeta wondered whether the Lord would listen to a prayer of an empty handed devotee……..
When Anuradha showed no sign of giving up, Seeta finally hit upon an idea. She decided to but her the imitation ones that cost 10 bucks, she knew that couldn’t retain their golden sheen for long but hell! Who cared? She would buy them for Anu and then tell her that she couldn’t let a person as careless as Anu take it top school. She would lose it. Then they would be hidden in the kitchen cupboard along with Avinash’s photographs, banished to a world that didn’t exist.

Seeta, however had not counted on a childs talent to throw a tantrum with a good measure of emotional blackmail thrown in for additional effect. Seeta had to relent and let Anu wear her earrings to school. It broke her heart to see her daughter gaze adrigly at the cheap jewelry as if they were a priceless treasure. She knew she had pushed her daughter into the deep abyss of falsehood and now there was no redemption for her unless she told the truth. Yet truth it was that she could tell.

As soon as Anu rushed to her school to flaunt her new earrings Seeta was hounded by doubts and fears…
What if her friends found out that it was cheap imitation jewelry that was sold by sweaty ladies in the train and not by jewelers sitting in fancy airconditioned showrooms?
Would a bunch of kids know how to differentiate between fake gold and carat metal?
What if Anu’s friends laughed at her, ridiculed her?
What if Anu found out that her mother was a liar?
What if Anu was ashamed of herself and her mother?
Hundreds of questions with no answers…
How would she tell Anu…her beloved Anu that she had to forgo a two days cup of tea to be able to buy her the earring.. would her daughter find them as worthy as gold?
Would Anu disown her? Just like Avinash? Was she his daughter or hers?
As she anxiously waited for Anu to return each moment was an agony for Seeta…each breath a stab of knife slicing through her heart…caliing her a liar, a cheat and Anu’s small tearful voice saying, “ Amma?” , questioning her integrity, her love. She was about to wipe her the beads of perspiration that rolled down her forehead with her pallu when she remembered that it was an L.S. thing to do. So she let them be.

Anu came home with a tear stained face. Seeta expected the worse as she baced herself for a verbal volley of shots, may be some physical attack too. On the verge of tears again Anu whimpered, “ Amma, I gave away the earrings…”
“you what..?”
“I gave away the earrings Amma, to a beegar. She was holding a small baby in her hands Amma, the baby needed milk Amma. I thought about what you had tld me Amma, that god gives us more than what we need so that we can share it with someone who needs it. But Amma , Tia said that only the real rich people with huge cars can afford something like that and you would beat me for wasting so much money on a measly beggar! Will you beat me Amma?” asked a soobing Anu.

Tears welled in Seeta’s voice as she said, “ no beta you did the right thing. Just don’t do it again Anu. This act of kindness in more than enough to last us a lifetime. What did your friends say when they saw you doing that?”
“Amma, Tia said, “wow! Tou must be real rich!” grinned Anu.
Seeta smiled through her tears and thanked her Lord and wondered if she would save this story for her child wedding, telling everyone present about her daughter and her Lord.

In a deep alley somewhere, a beggar looked at the shining earrings and thanked her Lord who gave her food to her baby so that she didn’t have to sell these earrings. She decided to save them for a rainy day or her baby’s wedding, whichever came first. She would tell her baby about a rich man’s angelic daughter and her Lord.

Two mothers slept peacefully that night.

Thursday, March 24, 2005


He sat in front of the TV, legs resting on the coffee table, one hand gently encircling the coffee mug; the other, subconsciously toying with the remote. He was swapping channels mindlessly, not even bothering to glance at the random images flitting across the screen. His wife looked at him and thought, “Men! They never know what they want!”

His mind was somewhere else. His mind was on her. He wondered what it was, that attracted him to her. He loved the way she brushed aside the occasional wisp of hair that disturbed her concentration, oblivious to that fact that, she looked beautiful when she did that. He loved that she was unaware of her beauty and its effect on him. That was what made her more beautiful in his eyes. A pleasant shiver of anticipation tingled down his spine as he thought of her, running towards the rickshaw, unmindful of the stares of the people around her, hair flying, pallu tucked in the saree, partially covering her beautiful waist. A bead of perspiration shining on her nose [when she concentrated on the task ahead], competing with the diamond that perched on there. Was that the moment he fell in love with her? He was behaving like a teenager experiencing puppy love,he thought. “I am a much married man with two children!” he gently chided himself. He smiled at his own folly.

His wife watched the flitting expressions on his face from the corner of the room. She didn’t fail to notice his smile that lingered a bit too long to go unnoticed. She was noticing the changes that were taking place……..

“Yes, I have changed” he admitted to himself. He was finding it difficult to avoid her gaze. She must have guesses that something was amiss the way he looked at her, devouring her every nuance with his gaze. He had stopped observing discretion about it. He openly gazed at her now a days …….. It would not be long before She confronted him with all this.

“Should he tell Her?” he wondered…, she would laugh... call him a fool. She was a married woman she would tell him, with kids; and no time for a flimsy thing called love. House loans, her son’s exams, were her priority right now. Many years ago they both had confessed to each other that they didn’t believe in romantic notions of love. For her, security and trust were more important. For him, his parents approval mattered the most….they had left the discussion at that …not wanting to reveal each other further.

The coffee mug lay empty, lounging horizontally on the coffee table, staining the cross-stitched table cloth.

His wife was intently observing him. She never had illusions about their marriage. She knew her husband didn’t love her in the conventional way. Their was an arranged marriage and his parents approved of her. Her parents were also happy with the match. Things had seemed to progress smoothly for all these years. They had settled into a comfort zone of their of their own .However, she now felt threatened. She had known that something was bothering him and had tried broaching the subject; but her husband seemed to draw further away from her, retreating into his own private world., not wanting to share his fears, his insecurities…

He liked the way She sensed his moods, the way She supported him silently, letting him know She was aware that he was disturbed…but never pestering him about the whys and hows of his disturbances. She showed that she was his ally by just being there. He knew he could share his feelings, his fears, his insecurities with her.She was his friend… his ally.

His wife felt like a trespasser. Day by day her husband was getting further apart from her. Cocooning himself with his thoughts. She was sure that there was the proverbial other woman in his life. His wife decided that she couldn’t be insulted like this any more. She would leave the house tomorrow … there would be no more explanations.... she would ask for none.

He knew he had to tell her soon. He had to confess that he had fallen in love with her. She wouldn’t be expecting such a shock, but then he would tell her that he was as shocked by this revelation as she. He didn’t know when and how it happened.
He wouldn’t be able to hide it anymore from her. He had to confess. He would confess it tomorrow. He imagined her reaction when he confessed his love for her. When would tell her that he was sure that no one could understand him better that her. He imagined the amused expressions her eyes would have, as she would brush aside the errant wisp of hair… intently listening to his explanation. Her eyes shining, competing with glistening diamond on her nose… Tomorrow, he would explain….

“There would be no more explanations!” his wife thought, with an air of finality. Tomorrow she would tell her husband that she planned to leave him. The reason ? she didn’t love him . she didn’t want to give him a chance to scorn her, hurt her anymore, humiliate her. A chance to reject her by saying he loved someone. NO. she would tell him that all was over between them. Once their’s son’s exam was over, they were free to separate and lead independent lives…..

“Tomorrow” he thought

“Tomorrow it would be” his wife sighed, brushing aside an errant wisp of her hair . her eyes were shining with tears, competing with the glistening diamond on her nose.