Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Colour of Us

By Manmeet Kaur

Uncompromisingly bloody red water stood in my veranda. My feet itched with its lightness as I struggled to drain the water through the perpetually choked drain. Covered in sweat and water and miserably tired of the unyielding task, I sank into the pool, pulling the red chunni off the drying rope with me. I sat there for a long time, staring at the masterful scores of zardozi that had covered me from top to bottom on my wedding night. My hand slipped to the patch which had proudly carried the chaashni stain from the rasgulla my friends had forced down my throat right before the ceremony. I had just finished washing it off, discolouring the cloth and erasing even remote signs of what it looked like for those few moments before the circumambulations. Those few happy moments: the last ones I truly was in possession of. Below me, the water at the edges of the dupatta began to change colour- becoming bloodier and thicker by the minute. I laughed at the possibility of it turning white if I sat soaked there for a long time.

The teak door to the bedroom at the end of the corridor gleamed like a lonely paradise in the dark with faint hints of residual light from an oil lamp. I wiped my face with the white dupatta that I had carelessly draped over my flimsy blouse and let it drop on the floor as silently as dew drops. The news had been slightly unbelievable, though not unwelcome by any standards. I had laughed silently under my veil after feigning a stupor, feeling like an undeterred murderess through and through.
The funeral had been a quick affair: no one cared for an old man with no wealth, or children. That helped. No one expected me to cry once the wave of first intimations died out. I sat calmly near him, as his lifeless frame stretched from one corner of the room to other. It was a humungous task to hold the laughter back- the tininess of the room forced the men to place his body diagonally across the room, reducing him to a plaything for the ones yet far away from the finality of such a posture. For once, their callous, unreasoning traditions helped me walk back to my room while the men carried my husband to be burned. And here I was, sitting on the floor near my room, not wanting to open that teak door.

I had always found the teak door to be a massively miscalculated move. It simply did not go well with the otherwise decrepit curtains which passed for doors and the damp, cracking walls which held this equally fragile family together. It was only after seven years of my marriage that I had understood how the teak door came to be where it was. It was my father’s desperate attempt to safeguard my privacy with my sagging, useless husband. I was 13, he? 45. What was my father even thinking? It was a funny story for another day if you come to think of it. But today, today I was in triumph, and while in triumph frivolous amusement feels like an utter waste of time.
It had been nine years since I came through these doors and entered the life of a married woman. Initially, I was ecstatic. It felt like being inside of one of those dollhouses. But gradually, the permanence of the shift began to sink in. I had never been fond of my husband but almost unknowingly, I fell into an irreversible detestation. I never wanted to kill him though; I just wanted him to die. And today, he did.

I walked up to the teak door. Its unwelcoming, cold touch allowed me to pass right through the room and into the veranda. She was waiting. Her face stared back at me like a portrait by an amateur artist- lines still deepening, eyes still growing.  
“I’m so sorry for your loss.”
I looked right into her eyes and waited for her face to soften. In a moment, eleven months came rushing down in thick drops of kohl till my face was wet with her words and memories.
I had met her eleven months ago in this veranda. She was doing what I had done nine summers back- washing and drying her bright red wedding dupatta. I smiled at her from my veranda and bent over to continue with my washing, but she was not to be ignored. Next moment, I saw her leaping across the wall and standing in my veranda, her red phulkari in hand.

“Help me dry this.”
It wasn’t a request. Without looking at the thick red cloth, I held an end of it and set it in motion. It flew welcoming the winds through its wet, oozing red pores. Our eyes twitched as the moisture fluttered all around us, setting scarlet droplets free. Soon, we were laughing as in a trance of the first rains jolting the lazy summer afternoons out of their slumber.

Before we knew it, we fell into a manufactured tradition. She would leap into my veranda, coming with a different coloured dupatta every day. Silently, we would talk while draping the folds of the tame cloth again and again. Wetting and washing, drying and draping...our mornings became sacred hours of solitude, leaving remains of a smile throughout the day.
I felt her hand on my cheek and saw the soot coloured tears washing her palm.
“I’m happier than I have ever been.”
She looked at me with an expression of one who knows, but doesn’t say.
“Wait for me.”
She went into her house as I wiped my face with a corner of my white kameez. An unexpected outburst of untainted, consummate love born out of the absolute knowledge of former sacrifice and falsity lay there, greying and softening the starched white cloth. I dreaded the thought of keeping up the white facade for days and years to come.
“Help me dry this.”

This time she stood in her veranda, her eyes urging me to leap over. I laughed with my face in my hands, in an effort to catch the involuntary tears. We sat there for a long time, sitting with the soaking wet red phulkari thrown over our shoulders. I shivered under its wet weight even as it coloured my white, dripping and daring to happily paint my future red.