where the sparrows once nested

Posted: October 19, 2014 in writings
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

“I grew up in the farthest and darkest corner of my grandparents’ house, where the sparrows nested and where a murderer had once wept, his hands streaked with the fresh blood of the man he had stabbed in a theatre nearby.”

The clock was close to striking three; the night was
on the threshold of dawn when darkness is deepest
and softest. As the moon was born, so was I on a cold
winter’s night. Like most babies, I have been told, I
was held upside down and given a slap on my bottom
and began my life with a wail.

The welcome was not as ceremonious as I had hoped
and needless to say I was far from your typical bundle
of joy, gurgling and slapping the air. I wore a scowl all
the way back home and it rained.

My mother looked at me, all red and wrinkled, and in
a moment of drama, promised that she would love me
though I was not a boy. She was relieved that a baby
would guarantee her husband would stay by her side;
the marriage was already on wobbly ground as the
demure Brahmin bride didn’t have too many fans in
that house with a bright blue rexin sofa and two maroon
birds with feathered top hats endlessly taking turns to
dip their beaks in water.

Then there was the father, that charmer and crook,
who looked perplexed at this new responsibility he
could have very well done without. Nonetheless, he
took on the challenge with admirable disinterest and
his ability to make up things meant there was no
dearth of stories. Stories that began and ended with
ghosts that flew from tree to tree in sugarcane country.

His sister’s thin lips pursed tighter till they disappeared
as she quietly took in my skin color that was a couple
of shades lighter than her own daughter’s. My
grandparents tut-tut-ed as the nurse held up my twisted
right foot.

‘Who will marry her? We must get her foot fixed,’ my
grandfather would say, little knowing the leg would
be the least of the concerns when it came to all that
stood in the way of me experiencing marital bliss.
And the foot? It never got fixed.

I grew up in the farthest and darkest corner of my
grandparents’ house, where the sparrows nested and
where a murderer had once wept, his hands streaked
with the fresh blood of the man he had stabbed in a
theatre nearby. A troupe of red-faced monkeys would
swagger in on Sundays; the mothers would settle on
the branches of the chickoo tree and proceed to
remove the lice from their babies with big round
surprised eyes and sharp screeches.

Sundays also meant the aroma of kheema that came
wafting from my grandmother’s kitchen. Like the dog
in Pavlov’s experiment, I was always ready. Then
there was Ramayana that was quickly followed by
Mahabharata and we would gather around one of the
few color television sets in the neighborhood, watch
with indignation as the honorable Draupadi was
disrobed thanks to the evil Shakuni Mama, whose
cackle and sneer as he threw the dice was remarkably
similar to my grandmother’s.

I see my parents now. My father in a short kurta,
sidelocks and flared pants. There is a teacup by his
side and a paint brush in his hand as he mimes painting
an already-painted and pouty Goddess Durga. My mother
sits with her eyes lowered, a doll in hand. Her long
hair is plaited back accentuating her angular cheek
bones. A round bindhi sits between her arched
eyebrows, the same brows I furrow now as I look at them.
The photograph was an entry to a ‘made for each
other’ contest.

Somehow I fell into this love story that did not have a
happily-ever-after ending, an ending I was destined to
play a part in. And it was here that I fell in love with
love, not knowing that all around me were distorted
pictures of that celebrated red heart. Or maybe the
boy in diapers was shooting all the wrong arrows.

I drank in my grandfather’s despair over my defective
foot while painting my toe nails a luscious cherry red,
ran like a doe, and danced to ‘Nina, Pretty Ballerina’.
There I was, the queen of the dancing floor. I drank in
my mother’s fears and insecurities, even as I dreamt
of my love story and a life of adventure and laughter.
I drank in my father’s indifference and failure and felt
the exhilaration of soaring like an eagle way up in the
sky with outstretched wings that never flapped, never
missing a beat. I looked at the sky a lot more often
those days. I slipped into one story after another,
sometimes in my mind and sometimes in books, as
friendliness from other children eluded me.

Drunk on this potent cocktail, I set off into the world
again and again like a comet, with hopes and dreams
at my core, never looking back at the trail of fear and
despair that followed me. The rainbows swirling around
me wept and quietly bled into muddy pools. I never
noticed I was wading through puddles and no longer
dancing in the cleansing rain to which I was born.

The sparrows didn’t last, do I stand a chance?

© Anuradha Prasad

(a short story i wrote while working on The Tales of Arrival and Becoming course with Judyth Hill)


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