Mr Shyamalan came back from office at around seven in the evening; a tad later than his usual. In his late forties, he was quite famous in Fosterganj for his condescending demeanor. Though he carried his own stereotypes, he liked to showcase the world that he is a rational person. “Only a fool craves to be caged in the system of marriage” is what he used to proudly announce, having lost any hope for a possibility of marriage. So his house, the last building in the main lane of Fosterganj, was left to the care of Ramu, Mr Shyamalan’s help. Ramu took care of anything and everything that Mr Shyamalan or his house demanded. The evening hours on this particular day passed by like usual and Ramu left the house after leaving Mr Shyamalan a jug of water next to his bed post his dinner. Mr Shyamalan settled down in his bed and tuned into Vividh Bharati station in his age old Radio that he had received in ancestral property along with the house. In the times of modernity, you can say that Mr Shyamalan’s house was a world of its own that still resembled the old days of simple things. In fact the only new thing that he had bought for the house was the Air Conditioner for his bedroom the previous winter as last summer in Fosterganj was unbearable, even for Mr Shyamalan. “Thud”. Mr shyamalan was woken up suddenly by the sound of something falling all of a sudden as he was about to fall asleep. He thought he heard it coming from the living room. But finding everything at their own places neatly, he came to his bed surprised. “Maybe it was a dream.” And as he was about to settle down again in his bed, he heard something moving in the bushes next to his window. Being the last building in the lane, the plots next to his window were mostly left unattended and it looked like a mini forest with its wild creepers and bushes. Mr Shyamaln never used to sleep with his window open. He sensed something was wrong. He opened the window gathering some courage. Switching on the flashlight, he tried to inspect the bushes that his old eyes allowed him. The sound of crickets was filling up the air. ” Strange”, he thought as a sense of fear crawled in his head. He got reminded of the gossip in the market, of Mr Mehta seeing a ghost a couple of days ago. He closed the window as fast as he could. His show of rationality left him instantly in the face of something unfamiliar as the air felt colder all of a sudden. He hurried back to his bed and sat there under his quilt with wide open eyes for some time. “Plop”. His heightened senses made this sound appear as something sudden, which was loud enough to break his trance as his body started to shiver. He gathered the last ounce of courage to check his bathroom. Nothing there as well, as the taps were tightly closed and the floor was dry. He came back to his bed. “Plop, plop”. It seized his body with a sudden horror; his skin hair started bristling out of fear. He felt heavy as if he had lost control of the motor functions of his body. He sat still in his bed frightened to the core as he could hear his own heart beats even amidst the noisy crickets. “Thud”. The sound of it was not as loud as it appeared to Mr Shyamalan. The shock of a sudden sound was severe enough to push his heart pumping to the roof. Suddenly he was no more an atheist, as he started fervently praying every God he could possibly remember. Maybe his prayers were answered as nothing unusual happened for sometime allowing him to fall asleep. Ramu came the following morning at his usual timing. “Oh, the rats. I have to do something about them”, he murmured seeing Saheb’s book lying on the floor in the living room. He came to wake Mr Shyamalan with his morning tea. Mr Shyamalan sat a bit puzzled in his bed as the whole incident from the night before felt like a dream. As he was about to sip from his cup he heard, “Plop… Plop…” The daylight and the presence of Ramu in the house gave him enough courage to open the window again. He looked around. “Plop…” He looked up as the water drop gathered again at the AC outlet to fall. Sighing a long breath of relief, he was back in his characteristic condescending mode. Grandly he walked back to his bed and started sipping his tea. “Saheb…” Mr Shyamalan looked up to find Ramu standing at the door. “What is it?” “Saheb, I need some money.” “What for”, Mr Shyamalan raised his eyebrows looking in Ramu’s direction. “I had wished upon giving two coconuts at Jagmata temple if my son’s health improved…” Mr Shyamalan cut Ramu in between. “Ramu… how many times do I have to tell you! Gods and ghosts exist only in your head.”
Lakshmi woke up 30 mins earlier than her usual i.e. five in the morning. And why not! It’s a special day in her life, after all. Raaju, her husband, had demanded for ‘Fish Korma’ to be prepared last night. Maybe it is the first time he demanded for something specific to eat in their one year long marriage. Rather maybe it was the first time they had a real conversation because of ‘Fish Korma’. Her shy nature in reflection to the typical indignant nature of Raaju, resulted in her spending most of her time in household chores. But, when Raaju demanded for a particular delicacy to be prepared, Lakshmi knew it was her chance to bridge the gap between them. After all, she had been trained well in the domestic dynamics by her mother. She understood very well that the route to a man’s heart goes through his tummy.
The day for Raaju started as usual. He left for the Tehsildar office i.e. the corner building in Banram village, sharp at nine. He was a man of bigoted principles and didn’t like even the slightest of deviation from his daily routine. All hours of his day had their specific purpose assigned to them. Lakshmi dialed up Chhoti Maasi, as soon as Raaju left for office. Choti Maasi was renowned in the Sahu family circle for possessing the best hands for food. Lakshmi noted down the steps involved in it cautiously as directed by Maasi, double checking them so that nothing was missed out.
And the preparation for the delicacy began. Diligently following all the steps as directed by Maasi, step by step, the ‘Fish Korma’ was finally ready. The aroma of it filled up the air of the whole house. Lakshmi was quite proud of what she was able to achieve. Afterall being the youngest, she never cooked at home. And it’s only once her marriage was fixed, she was exposed to daily routines of household chores by her mother. “Is there anything special cooking today, Ma?”, her father-in-law asked with a smile. Lakshmi chuckled and went running inside her room, waiting for Raaju to come for lunch, lost in her own world. It was indeed a happy day for Lakshmi.
Raaju came back sharp at 13 05 hrs. Seeing him Lakshmi smiled. “It smells good”, Raaju said while maintaining his stoic expression. She was excited herself to showcase what she was able to accomplish and went inside the kitchen to serve him the food.
As soon as she entered the kitchen, she was bewildered to find a cat next to the kadhai having ‘Fish Korma’ in it. She jumped inside after it to shoo it away but the cat was swift enough to take a piece of fish and flee out via the window of the kitchen. She started shivering in horror as she got reminded of the last instance when the lunch was delayed and the way Raaju’s wrath was showered upon her for days. “It’s necessary to keep the women of the house disciplined” is what he had said when his mother had tried to intervene. She stood there confused, lost in her thoughts. She certainly didn’t want the beating again. “Why is it taking so long!”, Raaju shouted from the veranda. It shook Lakshmi from her seizure and brought her back to life. And she started serving the food but the ‘Fish korma’ as if she had gone on auto-pilot mode; serving it the best way possible. “Where is ‘Fish Korma’?”Raaju raised his voice puzzled seeing his thali missing it. “It’s… it’s…” Her father-in-law cut in before Lakshmi could confess. “Keep your temper in check Raaju. Bahu, you go Ma. Bring it.” Lakshmi nodded and went inside the kitchen. Having no other option left, she asked Lord Shiva for his forgiveness for this one time, before serving the ‘Fish Korma’ to Raaju garnished with coriander leaves.
The rest of the day passed by in a fizzy for Lakshmi. The household chores kept her busy. Raaju came back from office at seven as usual. But, he had brought a gift for Lakshmi this time; a red shawl. Looking at Lakshmi he smiled and said, “How about Paneer Kofta tomorrow?”
I never went to school. Maybe because my birth parents were more caring for their hard earned family reputation than my well-being. So, I won’t be able to tell genetically, how different I am from the rest of you. You may say I am not alone… True. But, how many of you have a friend like me? You can take your time to recollect. But, that won’t take much of your time. Would it? As we don’t pass down as someone whom you easily forget. You must have seen us at toll booths or railway platforms in our colourful sarees or to celebrate childbirth at someone’s residence. We give blessings in exchange of money and we are loudmouths. But, at least we feel free, staying true to our instincts. I tell you, this world continues to amaze me. How come on one side you absolutely celebrate diversity, uniqueness, art and creativity. And on the other, you tend to blindly loathe my kind for being different than you. For being miniscule, shouldn’t we be celebrated? In some parallel we must be treated like angels. Huh! I don’t know why I am, the way I am. Maybe because my mother was able to lift the stone while she carried me inside her: the revered stone of some Baba long forgotten; as a sign of one carrying a boy inside her, when I was always meant to be a girl. You’ll never understand me perhaps. Cause this world is yet to allow me to understand myself. Years of forced identity led to expulsions one day, separating me from my family only to give me a new one of my kind. And I continue to survive. Though I would have liked it to be different. I would love to walk on the streets without any vile comment or wild long stares coming in my direction for a change. I would love someone to come and talk to me instead of the usual transactions for trading my flesh. I would… I would… I wonder, would you treat me the same in your dreams, where there is no conception of layered society, no bias for or against any gender and above all no eyes to judge your actions… I would love to be treated as another human for a change.
Has this ever happened to you? You wake up in the morning like any other day and all of a sudden you realize nothing around you including yourself makes any sense. Your face seems to carry a smile that’s not your own; your day is consumed by some work that seems mundane and forced; your etiquette constantly struggling to cope up with the contrast chatters in your head that continue to tirelessly mock you for what you have become. This does happen to me from time to time. Sometimes it’s my clothes, sometimes it’s my skin… sometimes it’s my reflection in the mirror giving me impressions of an alien world where I continue to exist. It’s always something or other, trying really hard to be me. I wonder how it would be to LIVE for a change than to continue to exist. Free from all dos and don’ts, from all expectations, from all rituals and customs. Animals get to live life freely, true to their innate nature. Ain’t they? A dog continues to be a pack member, while a cat continues to be a solitary animal. They don’t trade their basic traits for the sake of getting better acceptability. Guess, that’s why I don’t see as many suicidal animals as many suicidal human beings around me. First and foremost, they continue to fight to survive, no matter the circumstance, which is something I wish to experience again. Why can’t we be just us! Is it that difficult? Maybe yes or maybe no. But, I won’t get to know. Cause I simply flew all my life wherever, in whatever skin life took me in. Without raising any questions. Guess, ‘not raising questions’ has now become my only faithful trait as an independent individual. And, I have grown old now. My childhood seems hazy and alien; like some old movie that I remember only in bits and pieces. And in my last days, close to my end of the line, if someone asks me to give a title to the story of my life, it would be, “A cat who is still trying to be a dog.”