Except tangentially...

I can't recall her face , never knew her name . She stayed two houses away and used to spend a lot of time on the terrace which was level with my dining room window. Every morning when I opened the kitchen window I would see her , ,putting out clothes to dry ,shaking out the washing , with the peculiar strong flap which women give to wet clothes to get the creases out . She had long wavy hair which she used to dry sitting on a ledge dividing the two halves of the terrace. Earlier , just after her marriage she used to wear sarees , later on a very modest nightie or a dressing gown .

On Saturday and Sunday mornings , my younger daughter and I would normally sit at the table , she with her studies , I keeping her company.Soon our eyes would stray to the windows and beyond , to the hot blue sky if it was summer , the gathering grey clouds massing in the dull northeastern sky if it was the monsoons . In weather as now, the sky a vivid turqouise , so bright with huge cloud puffs of white , it hurt your eyes , in winter , the dull golden gleam of a winter sunshine and the biting North wind . The palm tree , home to the huge eagle at night a dirty green against all that splendour and the masses of trees , the shades of green varying according to the seasons

Invariably we would see her , short , a little dumpy , hair long and loose down to her waist , putting out clothes to dry , feeding the pigeons , throwing out a handful of grains , sometimes spinning around on her feet , hair flying , so that the golden grains flew in all directions - a great mass of birds wheeling in the sky , flying down to rest on the terrace of her house and the one between theirs and ours - so many colours - dull metallic grey , with splodges of a hot ashy pink , white ones with pale grey patterns , pale beige beauties , - cooing and billing madly as they tumbled on to the terrace ..

Tani would wave sometimes , from the verandah and she would laugh back and wave - happy girl - not very beautiful but with a certain wholesomeness that made you feel a degree of comfort - made you think of a clean , bright house , good food smells , cosy rooms , a happy grinning husband and two children, maybe a mortgage on a flat under construction in Tollygunge .

Of course she had none of these - shared a damp , dank , indifferent house with a blowsy irritable mother in law , a spinster sister in law and most important , a retarded and mad husband with a foghorn voice , a scooter and a helmet perched awry on his head ,who also incidentally held down a job somewhere , but was nevertheless, relentlessly insane .

I met her last during the Pujas . In winter I heard she had been taken to the asylum , raving and tearing her clothes off . She came back after a month and fed her birds .

There was a subdued poignancy in her movements which even Tani noticed . She did not fling the grains , strewed them quietly on the terrace , dried innumerable clothes and went away .

One day I saw her with a bundle of the helmeted madman's clothes , waking up the junkie who slept on the dhobi's cart and give it to him.

She disappeared again probably for another round of treatment . When she came back she was fiercely rebellious- wore her husband's shirt and one day cut off her long glorious hair into short uneven spikes , pinned on flashy dangling earrings and heaps of junky bangles on her wrists .

I would often see her at Lords crossing in the morning on my way to office , decked up in a shiny short kameez and salwar, slim and spiky haired , arms thin and laden with bangles , earrings dangling against her thin neck almost down to the shoulder blades which jackknifed sideways ,skittery heels , feverishly glinting eyes ringed with kohl , crossing thte road busily , bag on her wrist - now she looked truly fey and very different , as if she was on drugs or on a very very thin rope between reality and wherever she was travelling to in her mind- it was there in the walk, the short busy strides, the muttering , the very deviant clothing so at odds with her usual normal self .

She disappeared suddenly . Later we heard she had committed suicide having drunk about a gallon of pesticide . They took her to hospital and after she died , straight to the crematorium . She was finally free - free of whatever private torments had transformed her from a happy carefree laughing girl to a raving mad woman - free of the circumstances which had imprisoned her in her tragic life and marriage - indeed she was now free of herself .

Her birds kept wheeling around , hungry , settling on the terraces , calling out and then they too disappeared

The door to the terrace stays open all morning , the clothes flap in the breeze . The birds have come back , fewer than before - other people feed them maybe , but they come back to roost on her terrace , the middle house and the nooks and crannies in our old house .

Except tangentially and with reference to the guy in singlet -shorts and a helmet perpetually stuck on his head ,I dont think of her . But once in a while when we check out the skies,and the eagle on the palm tree on weekend mornings , my eyes do stray to the terrace . Sometimes I can feel the ghost of a girl with long hair, flinging grain to the birds but of course the terrace remains empty ...


Sukhaloka said...

WOW, EL. Such a very vivid and poignant description of the kind of thing that happens everyday, to all kinds of people, almost unnoticed.

Thank heaven for that almost.

Rimi said...

This reminds me so completely of me:

"...happy girl - not very beautiful but with a certain wholesomeness that made you feel a degree of comfort."

As I was telling Srin, I'm not a happy girl most of the time, but few people can tell the difference.

It's very heartless to perhaps love the writing and be detached from the plight of it's subject, but then I'm callous that way.

Parama ekta chilekothar scene achhe na? Jekhane Parama'r ek pishike aatke rakha hoto? Mone pore gelo.

Sonnjea said...

It's a heartbreaking story, and when I see people who fit her description, I always wonder what circumstances would it take for me to go down that road? Would I crack sooner, or is there some force in my psyche that would keep me sane longer?

And, of course, I hope I never have to find out.

Arthur Quiller Couch said...

"not with a bang but a whimper".

Glad I found your blog. Even though you're almost permanently wistful. Or perhaps because.

Unknown said...

Suki - Yes it very everyday and we never noticed she was not there until the maid told us
Rimi- Havent seen paroma . But you come across as a very secure person
Sonnjea - I have often wondered myself - a person reaches a kind of madness which numbs all senses before they actually take the plunge
AQ Couch - Thanks kind sir - I am not permanently wistful- I am always deeply depressed .

Anonymous said...

You write beautifully.

Lahari Chatterji said...

I had noticed the lady a few times but did not know that she fed the birds.
It is all very sad ofcourse.