Chronology eludes me.
Bougainvillea blooming carry crisp end-of-party sadness. Parties at the big villa
of Aunty who summers at Cannes, gifts me tarot cards, takes me seriously.
Big book-case in beige-carpeted room where I’m let alone while the other kids run around, make a mess and tease the dog. Pop in to marvel at my continuing stupidity, say Godzilla’s on TV, Bookworm!
Tables weighed down by dishes to feed fifty, fish with tails pointing up that
grown ups will chew on, say a Bangali ‘Baaah’.
Bougainvillea, the wall where I wait the thirty minutes it takes Ma to say two words to everyone:
“Tata. Aschi.” Time to take the long-drive home.
Bougainvillea bloom in Delhi, and suddenly I’m displaced
to so little control — suddenly I’m 12 again.
I was raised on raised voices and shaky foundations . In 27-storey-buildings built
by faceless men baking in the afternoon Arabian sun. Kitchen-windows looking over lagoon,
looking over us cowering in the corner while Father brandishes the butcher-knife,
passes messages to Ma, like playing at Chinese whispers for weeks, with us kids.
Sundays are for eggshells. Sundays are for silence.
He takes apart my Fleetwood Mac singing tape-recorder, piece by piece
with the determination that made him a Self-Made-Man. Great man my father,
sheltering entire families under his generosity, generations
climbing classes in a matter of months.
I’ve heard he wrote poetry. To Ma before marriage.
Marriages outlast love.
So does home, that realm of private things:
Protection, beatings for your own good, and sacrifice. Secrets hinted at,
and learning that there is a correct way to be —
at thirteen, negotiating the world in grays.
Do you remember the Divorce Game?
Whigfield singing Saturday night and the adults are drunk, dancing
Embarrassing us kids in the Designated Kids room where we play at being oracle —
Someone puts their palms together, someone peers closely,
solemnly declares: Love Marriage.
Truth or Dare and that one devil-child who will go “Choose”
when the pencil points to you. “Pick. Mum or dad”.
Guilt is the first inheritance. Shame is the second.
I am older. I got here as fast as I could. On the way to otherhood,
I summoned all the blood in my veins to expel any trace of heredity
as they carried the bad stuff out to the lungs. In the bath
I prayed my parents back into love, and
breathed out, breathed out, breathed out.
Became un-like. Practised not wanting to kick devotion in the soft belly,
practiced not locking my brother in the balcony when he followed me around,
not passing the parcel – bashing his soft little skull into the wall because
I was stronger.
Practised unclenching my toes naturally tense and changed my handwriting
to be stick and poke like my mother’s.
Childhood is over, she insists now. Thank goodness.
I hear the voices still. From the next room my daak-naam being called for dinner.
Bangalis insist on this intimacy of naming. Formality is not for family,
so to the world we may be Mahaswetha or Amitava
but at home we are Kochu, Boochi, Boltu.
We share the same spit, they said when I squirmed at sharing glasses.
Stories explain themselves to us in our retelling of them. Dress up in meaning.
We grow up, learn to stick the right labels on things. Rip out the roots that
Ma is big on roots. On my last visit, she coerces me visitor to Dakkhineshwar,
like the right prayer might just alter my entire personality back to a geometry she can understand.
The women in my family don’t shrink, they bloat
with absence of acknowledgement, grow fat on leftovers clearing plates,
more pious with every loss.
Perhaps God is the name we made up for injustice.
“Choose wisely”, Ma tells on the telephone. “Enough experimentation”.
At home, the kitchen has been remodeled. At home, are the stacks of books I abandoned
when I escaped, the stuff-toys stuffed into bed-boxes Ma never gave away, and
the diaries I scribbled a soup of events on:
I hate George Bush. I got my period. It is my birthday and they hanged Saddam Hussein– I feel bad.
What’s a Palestine? Aparna likes Nila better. Will we be bombed?
‘Come home’ Ma says. ‘Enough of this estrangement.’
Perhaps home is the name we made up for where the heart is stuck
despite itself and the way it hangs in the balance between
safety and violence.
Home is the car-ride where you say “Fuck off” the first time you decide it’s not your problem,
and are gifted a scar to mark the occasion. Home is where the green curtains flutter
and you can’t help the way your body feels most at home
on its stomach like your mother. Home is where you return
to sleep and sleep and sleep.
Where where you were handed your first pen and taught to write the first words,
learned to think the things that will betray them, years before you unscrewed the cap,
narrowed your eyes into slits to concentrate,
breathed in, breathed, in, breathed in
and wrote the words you open your mouth to utter.
Formerly a molecular biologist and dev-sector didi, Riddhi Dastidar writes, and studies gender/power at Ambedkar University in Delhi. You can find her @gaachburi on Instagram.