There were two children on the first floor window of the house at the end of the cul de sac, faces pressed through the gap in the vertical window bars , holding on to a rope with a cloth bag tied at the end . A boy , his face screwed up with trying in vain to look upwards was yelling and untying the bag . They stopped in mid action on seeing the other girl at the head of the road . Her attention was glued to the children because it meant an end to lonely long afternoons and evenings in a strange city . Another older child appeared at the 2 nd floor window to scream out orders to his men and stopped short ,staring at the stranger . In the middle of the afternoon silence , with the children's cries dying out , the Other Girl moved away .
In the apartment at the end house was a long passage which gave away to a terrace with urns of bougainvillea spilling their bounty . Table lamps spilled pools of light - a round table with books and writing material took up a side of the room , its top polished to a dark shine ,deep wicker work chairs with faded covers were placed so that anyone who sat in them could look out on to the terrace .In the summer evenings a heady smell of flowers from the secret walled in garden ,down below , would envelop who ever sat there . Outside ,a precarious wooden ladder stair led to the topmost storey where the pigeons lived wheeling about in a great flutter as they prepared to roost - the coos and murmurs echoing and settling in the evening air - sometimes there was kite flying too .
Best of all was when a bunch of seven year olds sat in the dark ,lamp lit living room and listened to French songs which the master of the house played for them on the record changer . At times , he would break into a song with his rich baritone , eyes and voice tender which as all of us know are mandatory for singing French songs.
Across the road , lived another little girl with a brother who was mentally challenged . A sweet boy he tagged along after his older sister . When he got too energetic , he was tied up and confined to a back room of the first floor where he howled in misery and frustration.Their mother was a chronic depressive and spent most of her time in a darkened room and in a state of great dishabille , hair spilling from a loose topknot, sari end trailing behind her , the hooks on her blouse askew.In moments of lucidity , she taught housewives English . Ruby,curious woman that she was ventured there one day and came back greatly puzzled with a notebook and a Biro , bidden urgently to go again the following day . The little girl was much envied because she had a free run of the mango jam bottle into which she dug liberally every time she had a meal , largely unsupervised.
There were books - special was an illustrated edition of Lamb's Shakespeare . Juliet appeared on a colour plate , in a rich Elizabethan gown with her hair braided with roses and was much wept over . There was also illicit reading for a precocious 7 year old in the form of the Ian Fleming novels to be read curled up on the window seat and dumped behind the sewing machine at the sound of a footfall .
That was also the year when young men were picked off the streets and packed into police vans , a sudden knock at the door and a man begging for shelter in the garden from where he could make a get away and Ruby opening the side door for him to rush through into the garden and climb over the wall.It was also the resumption of Beli's madness when she sat through family conversations and stared blankly at the wall , picked up a pair of sharp scissors and gouged out the insides from a stuffed doll she had given the child .
I don't know why I am writing about all this . For days I have been thinking of an evening when Mou and I curled up on a round plastic chair and listened to that gentleman joining in with the voice on the LP , his face half turned to us , eyes twinkling and voice tender as he sang a snatch in a language neither of us understood - the melody evocative and exciting - the white pigeons sadly depleted on the terrace of the house next door remind me of greater numbers in another time , another place . M with whom I work,went down with an attack of depression and took 6 Trika tablets in one evening .All this happened when I was away to Mumbai last week and was , I thought, the result of a wigging I gave her over some work not delivered on schedule. It could have been a trigger but she assured me was not the reason. This reminded me of Beli , my pishi ( aunt ) who was schizophrenic and ended her life in Lumbini Park, an asylum and therefrom to Mita's mother , all of it jostling in my mind , creating a patchwork quilt of sight, sounds and memories .