Excerpt 1

She dreamt of an old haveli. There is a sweet shuffle, the sitar is playing to the wind, the raj of the Mughals is at its peak, breezy music sweeps the lawns, hinged on an ancestral memory, crackling sounds echo, like a scratched LP with two hundred years of dust to prove its wisdom and worth. Dancing girls dance like birds waiting to be fed, their flat empty bellies moving back and forth to the rhythms of their nawabs’ desires. I can smell their soft, clean dupattas, fluttering in the purple wind carrying them to the edge of reason. I long to touch them even when I know they are buried somewhere where I can’t reach them. The sound of their payal jingling in my head, cutting through time.

Excerpt 2

The smell of the dripping blood sky outside: sickness overpowered her. She
wished again she could be transported somewhere else, now, before it was too
late. Her mother looked undistorted, unlike the last head she wore. The creases
on her forehead had smoothed out and she had a cold calmness about her that
was daunting. The dazed doll-like eyes of Zakar had disappeared and a strange
tranquility had set in its place. She had obviously reached a resolution. Alya’s fear

of the unknown almost choked her. The room, with its now immovable objects,
had become absurd.

Zaib smiled her test tube smile.

Excerpt 3

She needs air. Whispers, whispers. She pushes through herself and ammi outside and pulls in air. Quickly. Green sky, lop sided mouth grins. It yops at her. Hurts her pulsating head not to remember where the blue flower is. The one she picked with ammi when she was little. The one ammi loved and kept for years. Her fingers warming silverspine trees. Bloodyants on the wall, again! Always there. It hurt not to remember, not to remember at all, not for any time at all, if someone had ever told her how long things that were around her had been there before she could remember. Mostly remembering small truths like those tended to confirm her existence. But she has not been told; nobody would tell her and that meant she was stuck on a firm point of non-gratification and non-reversal, in a small place of immovable inequities. Me and me and me, only me. She wanted to wipe herself out somehow so that all that racket in her head would stop. Once and for all.  Sky space slips from her mind and is rapidly replaced by mama’s fixed dolls, hanging porcelain-unchanging, crudely. This is fragmenting. Me. My bits stuck here and everywhere. Unlaced porcelain children, glass eyes searing, sucking the life from her, rocking her upside down. They swallow into her; she touches her face. She is nine again – in terror with frills and red marble clothes, cold – cutting herself. Still she is worried about ammi. Where is she? Is she safe? … Pins scrape my head of weeds as I look right and left, left and right, plastic head stuck to me, not mine, such strange inertia in my pulse and the bad bad smell excludes me so I am me and alone and I am me with me.

Excerpt 4

She recalled walking in to the house and hearing Zaib’s giggles sliding up the
sides of the walls. The corners whispered ghosts littering the streets of her
memory with the familiar path of her chequered youth. She saw herself run into
a room and disappear into the walls, she looked eight or nine and unlike herself.
Devi told me thirty years later that it was the most desolate house she had ever
seen, with just a nuance of its former days, its grandeur lost in some casual talk
on the outside about the family inside fading fast. There was no sound except
the faint footsteps of children, unwilling to yield to the end of time. She called
out to the cook, who was the one solitary figure in that creaking mansion she
once called home; he was always present, always affirming the existence of a
home that he was an intrinsic part of, protecting its sanctity from foreigners and
those wanting to harm the integrity of the family within.

Excerpt 5

While cooking he looked out at the sea from his kitchen window. Only his Zaib was more beautiful. He missed the cadence of her body, the sound of blood through her veins. Without her, he came home to an emptiness that locked him inside it. Initially Zaib’s absence was a small blessing. The unique peace that comes with solitude is welcomed; for a time.  Barely two months had passed and he started looking for her in every street corner, behind all the shops that she may have liked for one reason or another. He looked in the fish markets she had nightmares about and the church gardens that would have enchanted her. In the evenings when he came back from work he noticed the absence of a voice that told him he was the most loved man in the world.  His throat would go dry thinking about how far away his lovely wife was. His actions in the last few months sickened him, when he thought about how he had abandoned Zaib he lost the will to wake up the next day, but when he did, and on a brighter day, he realized the sad flamboyance of dreams and memories. He was no artist but he knew that the collapse of reality in the face of a single longing was the greatest failure of the human mind, and that’s when he remembered Zaib as a mere mortal.

 

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