Reading the stories of so many Indian women, I am reminded of this, my only heirloom. I want to tell too, of my hidden memories. My Dida’s house, the noise, the open sewers, the eternal mangy cat with her multi-hued descendants. The ceaseless summer war between cat and human, mosquito and human. The long afternoons after the lovingly prepared meal, the smell of the bus station, the market’s discarded rotting food and always the flies buzzing, as if to remind us there is something else, another species more desperate and persistent than ouselves.
Since infanthood these noises and smells. The afternoon heat bringing our blood to a boil, the power-cuts, the grafitti, the red sickle like an unfinished question mark amid so much poverty.
Here, the distance of empire and geography, my own unchosen but present desires seperate me far more than oceans from my land. A land which I was made ashamed of by others, and which today, in a sad irony, might be ashamed of me. And thus, we make our own circle of desire and fear.
My Dida’s house saw so many dreams deferrred, so many roads not taken, so many wombs and hearts burning with unclaimed victories. In those early days, I explored like a fearful, cunning Columbus— every dust ball, every crack in the gray concrete veranda. I still remember the bathroom, the barred window like a small sadistic ornament through which the drivers of the 8B bus could be seen, drinking strong tea and spitting paan juice like macabre avant-garde painters.
I saw men wilt and shrivel like sad dried flowers, betrayed by a politics they did not choose, by a patriarchy which hung loosely like an ill fitting dhoti. In the women’s faces, I saw a thousand resentments (like the faces of prisoners in solitary confinement, who envy the crowded regimentation of those still locked up, but yet more free).
And after the slow afternoon tea, the sweets bought specially, the women’s talk (so often described as gossip) soared into the sudden, coming dusk. My world was always one of communicative women, harsh-voiced or sweet, and silent men appearing like fullstops at the end of hurried sentences.
Dida = Grandmother, colloquial.
Paan = preparation with betel leaf and nut, delicious and addictive! produces a red spit.
Dhoti = men’s lower garment in traditional Bengal. More formal than a Lungi.