People who barge into your room early in the morning while you’re still in bed and sit next to you in that very bed and talk and talk about shit like you have woken up two hours ago right around the time they have, aren’t cool. They keep talking because either your mouth has puffed up so abnormally from the extra amount of sleep you have had that it is hard to read your obvious irritation, or this person just loves you too much and at the heart of hearts, is still a mischief. I usually throw my sheet aside and get up with an angry grunt, but the strength of the grunt has consistently dissipated with time as I have realized that no antic will alleviate the disturbance next morning. In fact there is a better chance of the disturbance aggravating. I tend to sap this anger from a bad wake-up shining shoes. I shine them well beyond their potential, take a shower, eat my breakfast and go to work. But I could not find a shoe to shine this morning. Because I am back home in Calcutta and I do not go to work here. And the din I yearn to shut my ears against is thamma, the quintessential Bengali grandmother.
It’s far past noon and this part of the city is fast asleep. I’m visiting my grandmother after three months. That Bengalis cannot function without the afternoon nap is stuff of legend. And when there is no more napping to be had, they choose not to function anyway. Calcutta has had too much of life, and the city doesn’t give a fuck anymore. She makes for the gate when she hears the car park. It gets so quiet at this time of the day that you can almost hear the car from as far as a kilometer away rolling over the pebbles on the road while it takes that turn. She held me tight as I alighted the car. One could’ve called it a hug if she was a foot taller. But she wasn’t. She smelt of a Pears soap bar, and Boroline Suthol. Taking her head away from my stomach where it rested when she held me tight, she listed her concerns. She had thoroughly studied me from the corner of her eyes as we made our way from the gate to the dining room.
She – “You have lost a lot of weight.”
Me – “You said I put on a lot of weight last time.”
She – “You have become shorter.”
Me – “That’s unlikely.”
She keeps on –“You look odd, have you been doing drugs?”
I keep up –“I don’t do drugs, maybe the odd cigarette.”
She won’t stop –“Cigarettes are worse. Wish you did drugs instead.”
Then there’s a bit of a lull as we make for her room and lie down on her bed, me facing the ceiling and my right hand comfortably sandwiched between the back of my head and the pillow, the other hand toying with the heavily rimmed spectacles she is not presently wearing. Both our legs are folded and crossed now on either side of the bed. Her eyes are fixed on me. The smell of incense hung heavy. It is a part of the ambience she deliberately creates to make the setting look pious enough to promise eternal damnation if one did not heed her words.
The ultimatum – “You have lost a bit of hair and you look old. Cut that beard. And don’t go drinking with that friend you have here.”
The first hour with her, after those months apart, have always been this way, at least for as long as I can remember. Now happiness. Now existential crisis. Now murderous irritation. But the bed is warm, and I lay on the side of the bed where her husband, my dada got himself a much needed shuteye when he was still around. It has been a long time since then. He looked at us from a photo perched on a bureau. This photo must have been taken much before I was tumbled forth into existence and he looked half the age of the person I remember from his last days.
The excitement of being at home after long plateaus with each passing day. But even at its most mundane I would prefer the comfort of grandma’s mutton and bhaat to any ‘mid pleasures and palaces’. Hell I would rather have her tell me I look old and drugged than have my landlady in Delhi say she loves me, any day of the week. That’s home for you, and the love of your own.
Caveat : My landlady is quite presentable and must have been a piece of ass back in the day.
The breeze in the evening, just a touch cooler than the temperature of the day, brings with it the smell of earth, dead leaves and shiuli. If you have grown up in this part of the country back when I did, and ever cared to venture out of your study, you’d know that the breeze smelt the same a couple of decades back. The smell stood the test of time, through all the several events leading to the here and now.
What will be
But she is tinier than I remember her to be, not to mention much older. All that she seems to have retained from her younger body is her ear, big and always on the lookout for information within the four walls and beyond. It would have moved fetching for news if it were any more curious. When I will leave her home in Calcutta until next time, I won’t be able to help but think about our mortality. None of us will live forever and neither will she. I sip on the ginger and lemon tea she has made, much like she does every evening, sitting on a chair in her verandah. The same very place I rushed to after having dropped my school bag and loosened my tie when I came back from school, years ago. The view from this place hasn’t changed. Granted a few trees have been felled here and there, some houses redone and the couple on the balcony in the adjacent house looks older. But you can see the new shoots coming out of the barks, the paint on the newly done houses wear away by rain and time to what it once was and the couple fight as passionately as when they were younger. The difference is hard to tell. Read between the lines and one realizes, that no matter what, the show will go on.