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Chapter One

We live in a big house. I came here when I married Mr Lal's son. I was 22.Mr Lal has lived here all his working life. One of my two sons also lives here.I know this house as well as it knows me. It may be bricks, mortar, wood and sand, but it has been a good house. It has started to exist for me. It is strange to say that the inanimate can have an existence. It is true in my case. This house has a meaning for me. I can feel its existence. I feel safe here.

For many years I was busy in married life giving birth to children ,and this

house hardly occurred to me. I was living in it. I was sleeping in it. I hardly knew it existed. It is a sanctuary . I can hide here . I have no fear. My living has extended here. I have grown here. The sensitivity of my feelings I can experience as never before. I am not the " living dead", after all. I have died here and been reborn. These walls are a witness to this. They share my secrets, only these walls.

Each of the 14 rooms has a feeling. They have personalities of their own.

This depends on the time of the day, whether windows are open or closed. To my little son the moonlight in sheets on the floor may be haunting ,but I walk in these rooms any time of the night without hitch or hesitation. I can tell the time of day or night from any room.

I have walked all the six staircases as often as I like, going to the first-floor rooms or the chaat around the courtyard at ground level. I know the number of steps in each staircase. I know the doors with a step to cross over. I will never fall even in pitch darkness.

The entrance gate leads into the largest courtyard. This is flanked by a

veranda on the east side and a high wall on the west. The entry door to the hall is on the south of the courtyard. I can hear the rhythm of the doors opening.

The way the chain knocks against them is familiar to me. I can tell who is at the door. Strangers make their own sound of tap.

The smallest courtyard is tucked deep in the west side of the house, it is

exclusively for the use of my mother-in-law. It is in her suite with a kitchen, where cook prepares breakfast and lunch. The bathroom and two rooms are for her use all day. I do not go into these rooms.


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The aangan, or the central courtyard, is the heart of the house. Everybody

and everything has to go through it or come out into it.

My room is on the east side of the aangan. A veranda separates my door

from the aangan floor. The walls of my room and the veranda are about three feet thick. There is so much space in the units that one can be on her own without anybody knowing. This is a blessing to me. I can sleep,suffer, awaken or dream; nobody knows.

I get up early before any one else. I have my bath and get ready in my freshly laundered sari. The washer-woman leaves one every evening on my bed. I keep them in my metal trunk under my bed. I then take the stairs, rising from the south side of my room ,to another set of stairs through Vir's room (he is away at the moment) to the top-floor chaat. Here I stand higher than any house around. The sky is as wide and far as I can see. The crimson dawn changes to gold very quickly . I usually get here before this happens. Nobody ever knows. They are all asleep on the chaat below. I can see down on them in their mosquito nets.

The sky is full of activity. There are changes in colour, variations in hues

and brightness. There is so much movement. I do not want to miss this for

anything. What is more, it changes every day . Never the same, like a new life every day. What could be a better start for me?

My breakfast is usually brought to me - a glass of tea and a plate of puris. I wait for it sitting on my charpoi. I can tell who has brought it without opening my door. Mr. Lal always opens the door partially and puts it inside the room.

Hunger wakes me to my existence , extends my life by the day and I eat to

live it. When cook is late, my tea comes late. It is futile for me to cook my

breakfast ; then a lot of complications will occur, changing the status quo. Thus, I remain in my room away from others . Hidden out of their way, yet in their knowledge. I am used to it. I do not venture out for any curiosity.

Life goes on outside in the voices, in the sounds of coughing, in the tinkling of utensils and thumping on the stairs. Above all is the "tuk-tuk" of the wooden slippers of Mr. Lal. This "tuk-tuk" is confident. It is sure. It is unhurried. It is never shaky or unbalanced. I can hear it from a distance. I get time to get out of his way. He is my father-in-law. I must be out of his sight.

"Do-you-hear" is his wife's name ..., almost. He calls this as he enters the

aangan, even when she is out and then I get the warning . I cover my head with the end of my sari for a veil (as a mark of respect), or retreat out of sight.

There is no offence in this tradition. I would not know how else to react. It is as harmless as anything unnecessary. I know many women walk in front of and talk to their in-laws openly, but I have never come round to this. It is not important any more. Maybe I will ignore him more than I do now. Our connection does not depend on whether I exist or not. There is no burden in this. There is no embarrassment for us. Before my illness and my husband's death ,I would never have thought like this. Now I live in a reality which is like a nothingness ,I can do nothing about.

If it is not him, the road behind my room has much for me to hear. I can

tell when a tonga has come. Vir , my elder son used to come in a tonga in his vacations from his medical college. I could guess by the trot of the horse when tonga comes to this house.

The shoes have their own tapping sound. I could always make out when

Nitin's father had come. He had a typical cough , and I knew the unique rhythm in the taps of his walking stick. There is always something happening. Women singing on their way to mandir, or a cyclist back from the office ,or a seller of vegetables or ice-cream.

It is like living in a jungle, unnoticed and unseen. I can think what I like. I even write my thoughts and feelings in words, in sentences, and sometimes , in paragraphs. It is my way of communicating with myself. It

clears the clouds in my mind, defining shapes of my thoughts. Unreal ones get dissolved. It is a revelation in itself. A shout of "Hari om" follows another. It is loud and clear. Blind, ascetic Soordas is making his way to our front door. I can hear his staff hitting the wall behind my room for the direction. I have to go. As I enter the veranda he has opened the latch of the gate. I hear in the aangan his loud "Hari om"

Chapter 16

"This is my mother travelling to New Delhi." Vir introduces me to a man who is a fellow traveller. I hear him but do not see him well. My eyes are on my case. The girl at the desk is looking at my ticket. As Vir speaks she hands it back to me. She looks at my passport and returns. The case is on the scales. I see the weights on the scale. She then puts a tag on the case, NDL (for New Delhi) in block letters. The suitcase then moves to the conveyor-belt and disappears.

"Mr Singh is travelling to Delhi," Vir reminds me. I see a chair. I sit on it.

The floor is bright. The light is pleasing. I read my airline ticket. It is clear;

Heathrow departure and New Delhi arrival. The clock is in front of me behind the girl at check-in-desk. There is time. I take off my coat.

The queue at the check-in is long. Travelling is possible, in my case,

without minding if I waste time for no reason. I sit and wait for my flight.

Movement on the stairs on my left is unhurried, at least so it appears from

here. I would rather be moving ,but Vir is still here and is looking around. Vir is alone like me. I know. I am no more concerned. He has to learn to live by himself. He will. His neck has turned. He is looking in another direction. I breathe slowly but deeply. I feel the muscles of my face. Vir has moved his feet and turns towards me.

"The air hostess will come and collect you any moment."

I do not feel concerned.

I sit here alone, as if in my room. I sit here unnoticed. I am hidden here as

in a forest, a dense one. I look at the bookstall: the books, the attractions and many more things, in front of me. Vir has sat down on the chair beside me.

He may go back, but he is sitting, just like anyone else. I am ready to be


Talking, reading, moving, looking, is what the world is made of. I see the

television screen constantly changing the flight order. I see a man sleeping on a chair not far away. This is all the world is. Who does not know of it? I look at the faces I see; nobody gives anything away, Vir included.

"British airways flight number ...." is being tannoyed, I can hear. The world is converging. Planes are flying in from afar and then flying away ready to be boarded and to take off. I am waiting.

Thoughts fly faster and higher ,I think. I feel as if I am sitting in my

charpoi instead of this chair. The setting does not change the state of my

thoughts. I feel just as safe as familiar, as alone, as if nothing has changed.

This nothingness is what matters to me. Then there is the hum all around me , there is movement, confusion and a state of pathetic relentlessness. I quickly close and open my eyes to remind myself that I exist and am on the move ,but I am not. I wait.

I was keen on travel and it excited me. Now I have travelled, rather am still travelling. I do not know what to think of it; I do not know what to think of it; I do not think of it. The attraction is only in the picture seen in holiday brochures. Is the place clean or not? Is it comfortable or not? Is it organised or not? Does it suit my imagination or not? Whether it serves my expectations or not is not travelling. Many must travel like me for the sake of it. But I still wait for my flight to be called.

It is a pleasure to watch children , two of them, standing in front of me. I

adjust my glasses. They were falling off my nose. Their movement has a

rhythm. The girls seems to dance on one foot whenever she is talking to the boy. The boy is confident and sturdy. Their faces are so attractive and

charming. Their clothes are colourful , but the children are not concerned.

They are here and they do not seem to care. Like me they are here, like me

without wanting, and for reasons they do not know of.

Yet they are unconcerned. They are enjoying. They are unaffected by me

sitting and watching them. The crowd has an interest ,but they do not seem to bother.

The fact that the girl is pretty and graceful does not change the feeling that

they have an innocence and charm. They are fair and are travelling wherever they will. This does not hide their happiness. I do not know how I was as a child. I know Vir was attractive. I wonder what will happen to these children?

I hope if they ever feel trapped that they will realise , there is

development in limits. Fear and humiliation have to change their looks and

behaviour ,,but they will have to sustain it. Pure fragility is very attractive but to be saved from it is impossible. In their travels I hope they will find support when needed to sustain growth within the limits of whatever they may be. We all have such limits and fighting or stretching them may not help. Then who am I to tell this to them? Why should I feel nothingness which has no form, no taste, no sound. They are free for their feelings and thoughts like in their present journey. I see a woman is leading them to the stairs away to board a plane perhaps.

"Mrs. Lal?" the driver of the buggy stops near me. Vir is talking to him.

"Yes, that is right."

Vir comes back to tell me, "Mummy, you sit in this , and it will take you to the plane."

I wave a goodbye to Vir. The buggy moves away and I am on my way to

the plane.

Passing the corridors to the boarding gate has been very quick. I could

have walked as quickly. I would have been as steady and firm as are the

frames of the passage. I could have focused on the world outside, on the

tarmac through the giant glass windows of the corridor on my left. The

weather is dry and bright. There are shadows. I would have seen the planes. I could see the wings of the plane, the engine and so many other things all around connected with the flight. The buggy however has to do other jobs too.

I am in the plane before I know it.

* The wool of my coat feels so soft. The thickness of the folded coat is no weight in my lap. I am holding it as if it was a requirement of my achievement. It is just the thing to suit the occasion. The occasion has never been so real. I am very much a part of it. I am glad I put on this silk sari. It feels good. I am as if dressed for the occasion.

"Allow me, I will put your coat on the shelf." The air hostess takes the

coat from me and puts it on the shelf. This was unexpected. I feel as if the coat was what I needed to feel at home.

The seat is comfortable. The feel of the armrest just as I would have

wished. I rest my head on the seat to see the decor on the wall. There is no

strain. The lighting is diffused and glare-free. People pass down the aisle. It causes no confusion.

I remove my shoes and twiddle my toes .I feel as if I have arrived and the

plane has not even taken off. I do not want to sleep. I am bright and awake.

The music is piped, and I wanted it this way. The rhythm is pleasant. I like

to hear it. There are no words in the music. I am glad of that. Liking cannot always be described. Words do not always convey feelings. The feeling is smooth and tranquil.

There is no need to think look, listen and feel comfortable.

"Would you like a sweet?" The air hostess offers a sweet. I take one and

put it in my mouth.

There are many seats in the front and many behind me. The plane is wide 11 seats in one row. Yet I feel as if no one else matters and no one cares about my being here. I feel totally part of the atmosphere and able to simply be. It may just be the air permeating and feeling in time and space at this very moment, which is not short or ephemeral. There is a feeling of permanence in the continuity of my travel. Confidence seems to grow in me.

The bell goes. The fasten-your-seat-belts sign is lit, "Welcome aboard, this

is your captain speaking. We are now ready for take-off." I fasten my belt, I hear the roaring engines. The monotony of the engine sound does not change.

The plane is travelling at a speed of 700 miles an hour at the height of 28,000 feet. The sky outside is pitch-dark. Crying children are asleep. Movement is reduced to a minimum. The man next to me has changed his newspaper page for the umpteenth time. He is now putting it back in the pocket of the seat in front. He has picked yet another paper to read. An air-hostess is coming this way. He calls her

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"Another beer, please."

He catches me looking his way.

"Wait", he tells the hostess. " Would you like a drink?" He asks me.

I hesitate than decide I could do with a drink. "An orange juice for me."

The air hostess goes away. His bright eyes turn to ask me. " Do you live in



"Were you on holiday?" He pauses to ask again. "Do you know anyone in


"My son lives there."

"Your son! How old?"                                                                  BUY HERE in India

"He is a doctor."

"Practising doctor?"


"You cannot be that old..." He is looking as if he needs to look again. He does and I let him . " Marvellous. Pleased to meet you Mrs. What is your name?" He asks stretching his hand to shake with mine . "Mrs. Lal" " I am Verma" My orange juice comes, and he is gulping his beer. Half of it gone. The man is big, his face round. He has a moustache, a bushy black one. He wipes the beer off it and swallows the aftertaste. His cheeks are full. He has restless eyes. They move every time he speaks. He is consciously still now while intently looking at me.

"Where do you live?"

His glass is nearly empty. He calls the hostess by pressing the bell.


He keeps his glass in his hand . He does not raise it to his lips, as if searching for more questions.


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