Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Mehendi Memories- completed

Droplets of sweat caress my brow, speckled with creamy white chandan*. Black sequins adorn the wine red lehenga*, sparkling in the inky fluid night. The mehendi* annoys me as it circles and flowers my hands and I remember..........

We were young once again. Mehendi was mud meandering on my palms. Or so you'd said as you smashed my palms into each other and laughed. Boys can be like that.
I cried.
I couldn't go to Mama's* wedding like that I had said. All the girls had beautiful mehendi and I was left with ugly filthy looking hands.

"What if Mehek Mami notices them too?", I asked with fresh tears sliding across my plump cheeks. Was that a look of regret that passed your face? I couldn't tell. 7 year olds can't read faces very well you see. You grabbed the nook of my arm and made me wash my hands.

"Yaheen ruko aur hilna mat. Theek?" *

What is that you were holding on to as you ran back to where I stood in the aangan- a sketch pen?
"Yeh kyun? "* I ask with a frown wondering if the 8 year old you wasn't as smart as I had thought. Maybe Kittu was wrong about you.

"Art M'am says I can draw well. I'll sketch like this" ,you said pointing to Geeta Kaki's**** 100 Bridal mehendi designs page 10 under the Fair & lovely ad. "Then you will have pretty hands too" and you smile.

I look uncertain but you hold my hand and begin without waiting for my answer.

chandan= sandalwood [paste]
lehenga= Indian skirt like flowing long garment worn by girls and women
mehendi = also commonly known as henna [tattoo] in North America
Mama= maternal Uncle
Yaheen ruko aur hilna mat. Theek?= stay right here and don't leave ok?
yeh kyun?= why this?
Kaki= paternal aunt

Mummy smiled when I showed her my new mehendi.

I ran to where Kittu was sitting- swinging her feet perched on the red chairs that had been set up earlier that day. "Pura Thumbs up piyogi?!*", I asked astonished. Mummy didn't allow us to be that lucky. She said we'd waste it but I thought she didn't understand how thirsty you can get when you drink that kind of thanda*. Lucky Kittu, I thought enviously.

"What do you think of this haan?", I said putting my hands under her nose. Kittu said it was bakwaas*. But I didn't care. I didn't have to play with her anymore. So I just stuck out my tongue and ran off picking up my lehenga to not trip over it again.

I found you just in time to see the kids were playing hide -n-seek and that you were the denner*.

"Bhaago!*", we cried in a chorus, giggling as we snuck under tables covered with white tablecloths, chairs and those huge potted plants that lined the corners.

I hid myself behind an enormous pile of marigold garlands. Someone forgot them I think. So I sat behind them, huddled in a corner with knees hugged by my arms and legs drawn close to my chest. I thought I was so smart, as I waited to hear your footsteps.

"Game is over. Kunal was caught first.", he said smiling showing his batteesi*, " but you look like a kid like that", pointing to me.

" Kid?! YOU maybe a kid but not me. Besides, kid is the child of a goat, and my Mummy isn't a goat. Go see for yourself if you want. Kid-ha!", I said indignantly.

"Accha theek hai! Gussa mat ho na. Yeh lo*" and he opened his hand.
"Dairy milk!!"

Then I didn't know I was a 7 year old chocoholic but he had pleased that huge side of me.

I don't remember what stories we made up that night as we tore the petals off the marigolds and made a fragrant heap of red and gold like autumn leaves. But we didn't know what autumn leaves were like then, we were just waiting for my Mama to finally take rounds around the havan*.

"Was the panditji* late", we wondered. "Whatever else could be taking so long?", you said and then told me the story of a curious girl stuck in the strange world of talking rabbits and cards.

pura thumbs up piyogi?!= you get to drink the entire bottle of Thumbs Up, an Indian cola?!

thanda= cool drink in this context
bakwaas= nonsense; rubbish
denner= Indian equivalent of 'It' in the game of Tag

bhaago= run!
batteesi= literally means 32 but is a Hindi expression for smiling widely and showing all [i.e. 32]teeth
Accha theek hai! Gussa mat ho na. Yeh lo= Alrite! Don't be annoyed with me and take this.
havan = sacrificial fire used in Hindu ceremonies

pandit= Hindu priest. ji used as a suffix when showing respect

I stop looking at my mehendi and come out of my childhood memories. This mehendi which hides you in their colours. This mehendi that started our friendship very many years ago. That introduced a toothy 8 year old dashing boy to a 7 year old wise ass that I was.

This bridal mehendi that adorns my arms.

As the bride and groom are asked to take the phere* around the fire, I stand up. I walk slowly like a shy bride but my head is bowed for it is whirling with memories.

"I wrote to you two summers ago", I say in my thoughts. "Do you remember?" ............

---Sometimes I wish I didn't feel the way I did about you. That I could just give my heart to someone else.

Someone closer. Someone who isn't at the border. Someone who didn't answer the call to his patriotism.

Could you not be like Mohan Chacha* and serve our country with literacy programs or some women upliftment reforms? Or by improving our water resources or their rural availability?

I wish I could have an affair with someone else while you're away. I tried to but I couldn't stop searching for you in every man. Atleast with an affair I wouldn't miss you.

Or look for you in the fields, the terrace, the chowk*, the bazaar.

I wouldn't have to stop eating halwa* or ras malai* because everytime I try to I'd remember how much you loved sweets and how you're not with us to share them.
How can I have them when I know you can't and you are so fond of them?

I am not faithful because I want to.

I do not wait for you because I want to.

I am faithful and waiting because that is the only way I can now be. Because I am bound by the way I feel for you.

Why must you work with such dedication? Why can you not take leave and come visit us? Mummy says I must write more comforting thoughts to you but I am not at peace so I have nothing comforting to share with you.

Do you not miss us?

Do you remember how we used to play in my aangan* where we first met over my mama's wedding festivities? I like to sit there because I feel us there.

I feel that the four corners of the aangan have bound our childhood in them, p'haps saving them for me to live on while you're away.

Do hurry back for we all miss you so much. Even I do.

Yours, Me ---

.........The harvest was bad and Mummy had been pale. Very Sick. But we didn't know that. Not then.

I wrote to you two summers ago. Do you remember?

phere= also known as Parikrama or Pradakshina or Mangal Fera- The couple circles the sacred fire seven times in the wedding ceremony. This aspect of the ceremony legalizes the marriage according to the Hindu Marriage Act as well custom.Further here

chacha= paternal Uncle
chowk = intersection, public square [Thanks T!]
halwa = Indian sweet
ras malai = Indian sweet
aangan = Indian styled courtyard


The leaves swirled gently to the ground where a girl eyes had shone with delight as her love had twirled her. Where they had learnt ballroom dancing as the 2-in-1 played cassettes from a time that had been forgotten.

In the silence of being 6 corn fields away from civilization.

Where they met up during holidays- the long summer break, the Diwali* long break. When he'd return from the City where he studied engineering- only to join the army after his graduation.

It was his duty he'd said after he'd returned from the banks of Ganga*. And his mother had agreed. For the Rajput* blood ran strongly in her blood too as it had in her husband's.

She hadn't protested. She hadn't known he'd head to the border. Along the lines of those mountains with their unforgiving weather and warm people. Where his father had died as he had led his unit courageously.

And it was from the border, he'd written to her.

Lajjo, her naoon*, had told her that she had seen his mother prepare the Shagun* two sunsets before. She knew he was coming to ask for her hand.

So it was there, where the leaves spun gently through the air, to meet their Fate gracefully, as they kissed the ground, under the tree where they'd danced, and she'd smiled shyly each time he'd read out his passionate poems to her.

Where she had boldly, without a thought, pulled his hands to her waist and taught him to dance and since spent many evenings dancing slowly to the soft music.

Where he'd untie her long silky brown hair and watch it cascade around her shoulders down way below her waist.

Where she'd looked into his eyes and said she wasn't going to wait for him to do it .And then had kissed him.

Under this tree, 6 corn fields away from their havelis*, where they had laughed, cried, studied,read,danced and sang. Dreamt,kissed and loved.

It was here where she had sat waiting. For him.

ganga= river Ganges, considered holy by Hindus. Ashes of the cremated are immersed in its waters as a part of the final rites.
Rajput = a caste of Hindus known for their warriors and courage
Diwali= a major Hindu religious celebration

naoon= a term used in parts of Uttar Pradesh to refer to ladies employed to wash the hair of ladies from affluent families. Naoons, until 2 generations ago, worked mostly for Zamindari families where long hair were the pride of the ladies of the house and are rarely found in big cities today but you might find one in the smaller, less Westernized affluent parts of the state.
shagun=Shagun can be summarized as token presents exchanged by the two families once the alliance has been decided upon
haveli= an enclosed place, a traditional style of Indian residence,with atleast one courtyard but usually around 2-3. Commonly found in the state of Rajasthan but also found in the states of Uttaranchal, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.


There used to be a dreamy girl in our town. Who had awaited eagerly that day, for a soldier to take off his work clothes after months.
She'd waited where he'd told her to be.

There had been a crowd to meet him at the station. The crowds grew more as news of his arrival spread.
Such was the time that soon our town collected to meet the young man with a telling bronze and crisp khakis. Shehad known his mother had wanted them engaged after his arrival.

That night she didn't return home. Or the next.
She died that night. At the ghat* 2 kilometres away from the Shiv mandir*. Draped in a cloth of a never ending wheel.

I died because of him. P'haps Mummy would have said I musn't say that for it would hurt for him to hear it.

But I won't know if she would have because she left suddenly with a faint gasp, a whisper in a hollow tree. A struggling breeze caught in the shuffle of busy feet, lifting a fallen leaf tip for it's brief moment of flight, before it too lies under another sheaf of leaves under a shedding tree. Forgotten, laid to rest.

You were the only one who could cajole her after Baba* died. She didn't go. Not when her arms spindled away. Not when her veins burst and took away her hearing from her right ear. Not when she turned pale and even the midday sun wouldn't warm her.

She too died because of you.

I waited that day and you didn't see me. I didn't come to see you that night either. Not when Geeta Kaki asked me to.
Not when I saw your mother cry as I remained silent after she'd asked me to go, handing me what you hadn't said to me yourself. Folded neatly twice. In the blue ink of a Parker pen.

But that night, on the ghat where the last embers licked mercilessly, I killed myself.

I destroyed all our letters, your poems, telegrams and the books we'd read. I snipped my braids off and flung them into the pure waters of the ghat.

I didn't cry.

Dead people don't have the luxury of tears or sobs. Just coarse sounds that struggle from their depths over the clamps of strained palms. Like a mad woman who tears her hair when she's lost something . The sounds she'd carry with her long after she's forgotten what she lost.

I killed myself slowly as I did what you'd asked me to in your letter without a postmark.
You made me promise, as a dying man's words beseeched me, to not kill myself like you knew I would have.

But I did. I too died that day long before they lit your pyre.


My name was Akansha*. Where I'm from doesn't matter. There are many forgotten parts of this colossal land, all alike in their annonymity. There's no reason to remember our towns or villages.

I've long cremated the reasons to have been remembered.
I'm also no more.


But a woman survived Akansha. Her name is insignificant and achingly new. Kept in following an old custom of renaming brides. It is her wedding that you'd asked for.

He leans gracefully to finalise our vows with the sacred necklace*. The gold flashes angrily as the fires blaze.

I watch our whispers drown in the glowering fire as I become another's wife.

ghat = check this link
mandir = hindu temple
Baba= in this usage, father
Akansha= loosely translated as hopes
sacred necklace= known as mangalsutra; made of two strings of a kind of black beads with a gold chain strung between the two and the three meet into a gold pendant. It is worn by married Hindu women.

Update: This story has also been featured here at Blogchaat

Fiction Writing Literature


Chitrangada said...

I m really touched by this post ...I love this mehndi collection of urs..

this one is fab dear ..

i love that para ..

dance on soft music ..:)


n can i ask u one Q

whos ur inspiration :)

Nahuatl said...

Very touching

Anonymous said...

not sure if everyone can read the rest, but the last bits are in very very tiny fonts. may wanna fix that.

babelfish said...

heart-breakingly beautiful; i've said this over and again but truly...time stood still as i was reading

Anonymous said...

deepti: thank you :)
no one actually :)

nahuatl: you've returned :) thanks

anon: thanks for pointing that out. It has been fixed.

Babelfish: gracias :)

Anonymous said...

i never left a comment for u...today i feel like...u r really good at wat u do....i am not so good at appreciating arts such as these..cuz i do not understand much....but this i can make out..its amazin..i think u shud start writing a lot...u r amazin at it...
ur admirer

....R.A.J.A.... said...

yaar, main kitna kuchh likha tha :-(
'coz of my net connection problems, nothing got posted :-(

Anonymous said...

firse raja! hum sunna chahenge :)

Megha said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Megha said...


ur way of writing...amazing:)

....R.A.J.A.... said...

yaad karne do. it was something like:

the entire collection shud be published. every NRI shud read it. (I might have had suggested that it shud be included in north american desi school-curriculum also :-p)

btw, I *absolutely* loved it

Anonymous said...

anon: =) flattering. very.

megha: welcome! =)

Raja: =D thank you once again

southpaw said...