Write a piece about a typically “local” experience from where you come from as though it’s an entry in a travel guide.
Just by the road that runs in front of my two-story brick clad house, is a giant, irregular Neem ( goes by the name Indian Lilac, in English, I presume) tree. Its branches kiss the electric poles taking away the electricity from our homes every few days a month. Things get worse in monsoon, when the grey clouds hug and lower the tree, maddening it, and letting it grumble with the lightning as if a yogi has levitated in his enlightenment. It is divine; it is scary.
Our colony consists of two hundred houses, split by a park that runs in almost a rectangular shape with the Neem tree on one of its rounded corner. The park is fenced and has a two-feet tall gate only on one side, the one that is farthest from my home. Every morning, I stroll in the park – wearing a nightgown, covered with shawl with several other women of my age. We don’t talk much except discuss the weather and the difficult habits of feisty daughter-in-laws. Though I do not have any family living with me – it refreshes me and starts the day on a positive vibe.
After the walk, I pick up two packets of milk from a local dairy and walk lazily to my home. I pick up my newspaper that is drenched in the residual water; left over in the patio after it has been washed by our tenants from upstairs. They have been instructed many a times to not wash the patio which adjoins my portion (did I say that it also soaks my newspaper) but they feel obligated after they have walked on it with muddy shoes and left their footprints. Over the years, I have realized that its easier to dry out the newspaper than to argue with them. A side note: I have also slipped once on the wet surface. Luckily, I did not break anything except an aging pair of slippers and receiving a generous back ache. The woman who lives upstairs, apologized profusely and took care of me like my daughter for three weeks but still washes my patio with all the water she can.
Some days, when I have a few minutes to spare, I watch the rising sun from my window that opens east. It is rejuvenating to see the golden God stretching its crimson fingers in the vast swimming pool of sky. Every twitch, every wrinkle of stress goes away from my old, weathered bones after the sacred vision. It is sad that I miss it on some days when the water arrives earlier than expected. The municipality allows only twenty minutes of fresh water everyday, sometimes as less as seven. As soon as, the tap starts its growl and cough, I have to start the motor to fill an overhead tank and wait outside to turn the motor off after the tank overflows. Actually, that is an additional reason my patio is wet; the pipe from the tank opens in front of my house, over the patio. I have always cursed the design of this house but changing anything at this point is more difficult than dying. So let it be.
Electricity is another nuisance; I am better off when it is not around. I am forced to sweat, read the dried up, smudged newspaper and visit my friends who like me, are sitting in their verandahs to cool off their stain, sweat stenched saris and glued, cotton blouses . We get together in one person’s house, make chai, some appetizers and chit-chat – it passes my time. Otherwise time becomes the greatest obstacle for a lonely, old woman like me – overgrown like the Neem, ready to be taken down yet kept around.
Sometimes, in the evenings, I pull my plastic chairs and sit out in the patio or tend a few plants. I light a lamp near the Tulsi (Basil) and pray for everyone’s happiness in the family and around the world. It is the only task in my entire day that makes me feel useful for others.
While watching the colors of dusk, I often recall my family I used to have – a husband who ran away with someone else twenty years ago; a son who I raised on my own and he decided to stay abroad after his studies. I miss them even after they have abandoned me and I hope where ever they are, they are happy and full. Someone did ask me not too long ago if I was full of bitterness for them? My answer surprised him. You cannot hate someone for ever – it is worse than dying, I’d said; and I wish to live no matter how dark it gets. It is in no way to mean that I have grown indifferent; instead I have chosen to love than to hate. It is easier to love someone when they aren’t around you – the imperfections of real life end up making you cynical and logical, making it harder to love.
It is almost dark and the stars are up. I need to open my windows and let the fresh air come in, filtering the mosquitoes out. By the time dinner is ready, my favorite soap will be playing on the tube and then it will be time to sleep. Another night will go by that I’d have lived or I will wake up on the other side. Who knows? Either way, there will be a morning waiting for me.
Above is a piece that I wrote in the memory of an old woman who lived in front of our house in India. Her life was a whiff of local tour to me; her presence an icon of an average but meaningful household.