My niece


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When my sister and I were small, we used to play these silly games where we would act like neighbours, bumping into each other in a park and talking about our imaginary naughty children. My sister would get angry if I made my child seem naughtier in description than hers. She always wanted the naughtier one. So if there was ever a measure of who was winning in the game, the one who picks sentences like – ‘My son actually rolled in the mud and cane home all drenched and dirty, with a couple of scars, a torn shoe and ripped bag’ – would have the edge.

This was, say, a decade ago. All of it came back to me on December 27, 2015, when my niece was born. I woke up that morning to see a very pink tiny human being’s picture on my cell phone. It was heart warming, like taking a big gulp of hot chocolate. I looked at her short needle-straight hair, pink mouth, and the fur-white cloth wrapped around her. Like a Russian nesting doll. But in a cute way.

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This is how the Russian nesting dolls look. Image courtesy: http://www.etsy.com

The first week, from what I heard from my mom, she did not let anyone sleep. Long spells of wailing, and then brief sessions of slumber. ‘She is crying like someone is hurting her’ – my sister said nervously on call. The next day, I woke up to a miraculous video – she was turning on her stomach, except for her tiny hand, which she couldn’t slip out from underneath her belly. ‘It’s just the fourth day, and she is already turning!’ – my father’s excited voice. I watched that video over five times that day.

She is a US citizen, born in the cold of Ohio. My mother holds her for me in the faint sunlight some mornings, during our Skype sessions. She looks like the swirls in the strawberry softy ice cream. So soft and pink. Two weeks old now. She only smiles in her sleep, but pays attention to claps and loud voices. ‘She is so cranky these days. Sometimes in the night, she suddenly begins crying, and it is almost like she has forgotten how to drink milk.’ My sister is tired, but never gets angry at her. She can’t. ‘She just asks the baby to ‘understand her’,’ laughs my mom.

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Courtesy, the hospital

One day, I told them to keep the video on as they dressed her for her first visit to the pediatrician. Her bed was strewn with a-little-over-palm-size T-shirts, and slacks. Finally, zeroing on a white jacket, my sister slides her tiny hands into each hole of the sleeve. But her hands get lost somewhere mid-way in the over-sized shirt. ‘Every dress is big for her,’ my mom says, taking a neat white thick blanket and wrapping her up. She looked like a momo then.

Sometimes, during the nights, after a long day at work, I wonder what her hair smells like. It just comes like a whisper of thought. Nothing that I dwell upon. Sometimes, even in the middle of work. Just the thought that a little of me, just a little, is in her – almost always cracks a smile on my aunt face. I guess it’s just a family thing.

That Which Cannot be Spoken


That electric tension. It intensified as she walked towards him. The feeling was raw and fresh. Like the biting cold of the first snow of the season. It pierced in as he stood with a gaze that he kept casual – an effort that used up his last of muscles.

She walked towards him. He looked at her. Inside her head she could hear the thud of heavy prison gates closing, and inside his, he saw himself getting swallowed into the eye of a very violent storm.

‘Hello,’ he said, blood rushing to his lips, forehead and tip of nose. ‘Hey,’ she replied, her lips quivering a little, and feet picking up pace faster than normal. Am imaginary thread wove them like two pieces of fabrics. The needle pulled one to the other, but in vain, thanks to the scouring eyes in the room.

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A lazy-afternoon sketch

The last night’s conversations brewed and surfaced. It stayed over their heads like a gigantic cloud. Prick it with the smallest of pins and a million desires, feverish needs and unanswered questions would rain. No one dared to. The cloud remained, getting thicker and thicker with every gaze, voice and proximity.

He stole glances at her, from the narrow gap between two computers; never missed to look at her face as she passed by him; drank in her confusion and doubt as she spoke to her friends. He fantasised her in the well lit 10-people strong room on a Monday afternoon. Look or die. It came to that. He went inside a small dark room with transparent door, directed the seat aiming a full view of her, and continued watching, oblivious to the work stacking up on his table.

She smiled, more cautious than usual, stretched her neck longer than usual, popped her eyes out to suggest surprise, more than usual. She knew he was watching, and she was ready to play the game of Seek and Find. She saw him watching her from the dark room and felt a hundred spiders running up her legs. She saw him getting up from the chair and beginning to open the door.

The timing was perfect. He opened the door and walked in straight to her. There was a small halt. He took a generous look at her flushed face. She looked at him, put up a preoccupied face, and walked past him to her colleague.

The next day, the same continued. And the day after. And the one after that.

The yellow shabby sheet


I have a board above my study table wherein I pin up anything that I find inspirational, aspirational or  simply interesting. While the paper bits get changed almost every week, there is one clipping that remains. It is a yellow shabby sheet out of a pocket-sized diary. It says – ‘Ammu, I love you always’ written in green marker. Underneath is her sign. A curve around N of Nivya, written in fat bold alphabets.

Like graffiti on my wall

Like graffiti on my wall

Chechi had her moods. She would randomly sign on my brand new notes, right on the front page, much to my annoyance. This withered sheet was a reflection of one such instance. She had pasted it on the board saying that it should be left there permanently. I had given a sarcastic nod then, and continued with my work.

Months went past. The clippings changed from news about Obama’s announcement of Osama Bin Laden being killed to the curiosity rover being sent to Mars. During this period, she had got married and moved to her in-laws place permanently. The space in the shelf, which I used to fight for, now lay empty. The portion of the bed which I demanded for every night, now lay vast and untouched.

Years went past, the hollowness vapourised. The yellow sheet remained. Sometimes ignored, it lay beneath a pile of books and would be later excavated while cleaning, pinned up again. Sometimes I would find it hanging at an angle with one pin less to hold it. Be it during a hurried breakfast with mouth full of food or while inserting my tight sandals up my soles, I would always take a second to pin it up if I see it dangling on the board. It had almost become an involuntary action.

Then she left for the US. I remember smiling at the yellow sheet when back home after seeing her off at the airport. The idea of it resting right there somehow is comforting. The sheet talks to me. It pacifies me during stress, says things are alright, perfectly okay. It reminds me of the little garden we had in Haridwar, where as kids, chechi and I spent our childhood riding toy cars, eating unripe grapes and smelling jasmine. All those days when we used to apply ponds cream on our cheeks to get rid of the winter freckles and go to Kathak classes with three layers of clothing. It reminds me of the white frock with fat circular blocks and the huge cactus plant in our balcony. The smell of mango kept for drying and the sight of vulture outside our bathroom window, the same window through which we used to see mom and dad coming back from work in the Bajaj scooter. It’s surprising that this shabby scrap holds the key to such memories.

A few days ago I had unknowingly discarded it along with few other bits. After scavenging inside my files and shelves, I found it lying inside the bin along with a banana peel. Now it rests on my board again, neatly pinned up, yellow and rusty as ever.