Naina

I can see glimpses of her. The door swings inward and I catch a sliver: wan, supine, dull. The door swings outward: spent, medicated, tiny. She has been ‘cancered’ recently, as she likes to call it. The tumor in her right breast grew to the size of a large red grape before she realized it was there. A surgical excavation revealed an ugly purple mass of angrily growing cells, burgeoning quietly under the delicate mix of light brown of breast and the darker, puckered texture of areola. A survey undertaken in the region reveals smaller bulbs of carcinoma dotting the landscape.

The surgery is complete. The cancer, however, has not been arrested. It has “meh-tah-stuh-sized” her oncologist tells us purposefully. My mother, father and I nod vacantly as he fumbles with the plastic model of a breast on his table. Many words flow from his mouth as his hands point to places on his own body: armpit, upper arm, chest, neck. I throw up all over his table, my sick dripping viscously from the edge of the impressive desk’s polished wood. Continue reading

The Ring * Part Three

He woke up before first light, his stomach churning, his mind asking the same question over and over – what if they found out? There was no doubt that the ring belonged to Chhote Sahib’s family. The pawnbroker would certainly think it important to tell them that he, Mehramji, their servant, had pawned a diamond ring! It was a valuable piece of jewelry – no one would believe that it was his. Wouldn’t it be better if he returned it to them? They were bound to reward him. He pulled out the ring and looked at it longingly. The diamond seemed to smile at him tempting him to think otherwise. But they are kind people, he reasoned, they would compensate him for his honesty.

© Nandita Chaudhary

© Nandita Chaudhary

Perhaps it would not be enough to fulfill all his dreams, but at least enough to pay off his loan. And it was the debt that worried him the most. His wife and he would not sleep for days before and after the moneylender’s visit. And every time he came, the interest would be a little more.

Mehramji decided to return the ring. He did not tell his wife anything. He was scared she would sway his decision. He got off the charpoy slowly and went to wash near the well. Continue reading

The Ring * Part Two

After Sahib died, Ranbir moved back from the city and took over running the estate with his wife. Mehramji started calling his old cricket partner Chhote Sahib, the young master; they had stopped playing together years before.

© Ayesha Sindhu

© Ayesha Sindhu

A raindrop splattered on Mehramji’s weathered cheek, bringing him back to the present. His fifty-three years of untiring loyalty had resulted in little savings and weak knees. His parents arranged his marriage to a young girl when he was twenty, and together he and his wife had three children – two sons and a daughter. His daughter, Babli, was married to a tailor in the same town and the boys were working on another estate about fifty kilometers away. Babli’s marriage had been difficult to arrange and an expensive affair. Mehramji was in debt and the moneylender came knocking on his door every month, like clockwork. Continue reading

The Ring * Part One

© Ayesha Sindhu

© Ayesha Sindhu

A big grey cloud was rolling in from the east. It looked full with rain – at least an hour’s worth. A gale had been blowing for a few days now but there hadn’t been the slightest sign of even a drizzle. It had been exceptionally gusty that morning and by a little after noon, the dust and dry leaves had stirred and whirred on the terrace and collected in piles, threatening to clog the rain traps.

The sun was tiring out as the clouds marched across the sky, it would be dark soon. Mehramji climbed the stairs slowly, his left hand pressed against his thigh and his right holding the cement banister. He stopped to catch his breath at the top of the stairs. The faded blue cloth he hung around his neck was damp with sweat and grime. Once on the terrace, he got down on his haunches and started pulling the leaves out from the traps. If they weren’t removed they would clog the water drains that ran all the way down to the ground floor. The cement structure absorbed the dampness and the seepage would spread like a network of arteries across the walls and ceilings.

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Anjani * Part Four

The old lady said nothing. She lifted her slightly bent frame off the chair and walked into the kitchen without saying a word. Rhea closed her eyes and exhaled. Her brain worked furiously trying to remember if Maya had ever mentioned her aunt, or even that name, Anjani. Never.

***

Mrs. Mehta walked back into the room and set a bottle of refrigerated water down on the table. Light brown freckles covered the backs of her hands, the raised green veins visible under her thin skin.

“What time is your train tomorrow?”

© Nandita Chaudhary

© Nandita Chaudhary

“At nine in the morning, I’ve already booked a cab for seven so I get to the station well in time, you never know with Delhi traffic,” Rhea babbled, relieved at the turn in conversation. “That’s quite early in the morning so I’ll see myself out; you don’t have to worry.” Continue reading

Anjani * Part Three

Rhea jumped up, rubbing her eyes awake. She pulled out a pair of linen shorts from her suitcase and replaced her aeroplane jeans with them. She smoothed the shorts down, flattening the fabric against her thighs and easing out the creases with her palms. As she left the room, she silently mouthed three syllables over and over again: “An-ja-ni.”

***

© Nandita Chaudhary

© Nandita Chaudhary

Maya had insisted that Rhea stay with Mrs. Mehta. They had been friends for six years, the first four as roommates in college in the States. They were in different cities now separated by their dreams and a thousand odd miles, but they spoke often, almost every week. Rhea had called Maya instinctively when she realized she’d be spending a night in Delhi, before heading north to her family in Dehradun.

Maya was ecstatic at the prospect of Rhea meeting Mrs. Mehta. “You have to stay with her, there’s no other way,” she said over the phone. “You’ll love her.”  Continue reading

Anjani * Part Two

“I hope you’ll be comfortable here,” Mrs. Mehta smiled, her voice warm again. “I’ve put out fresh towels for you but this room doesn’t have an attached bathroom. You’ll have to use the one in the hallway. I’ll ask the maid to bring your bags in,” she added as she started to walk out.

She turned around suddenly and looked Rhea straight in the eye. “It’s nice to have a girl in here again.”

***

Rhea sat down heavily on the queen-sized bed. Her shoulders ached, and her eyes felt dry. The walls of the room were milky white and unadorned. There were no pictures and no streaks of dirt, just the stark white of the sterile paint. “Like a hospital,” she thought.

IMG_2815A single rose leaned languidly against the rim of its tubular vase on the dressing table. The water, reaching more than half way up the stem, was clean, barring the specks of dust roaming about in it lazily, like infinitesimal babies in amniotic fluid. The edges of the rose’s petals curled downward petulantly, seeming unhappy at the barren surroundings of the bare room. Continue reading

Anjani * Part One

photo-3

The house smelled of menthol cigarettes and musty carpets. It was deathly quiet. Rhea’s armpits felt damp in Delhi’s mid-summer heat.

The cream-coloured wall behind the chaise lounge was covered in blue pottery plates; a few looked like they might be from Russia. Rhea sat down in an armchair upholstered in orange fabric placed in the corner of the room. She got up immediately to face it. It felt like she’d sat in the imprint of another human body.

“That was my husband’s,” a voice said from behind her.

She whipped around to meet the speaker: her college roommate Maya’s grandmother. She stood in an arc of yellow light, her skin looking like the fawn of Rhea’s mother’s deerskin coin pouch. Her hazel brown eyes peered out of a face lined with age.  She was a dignified pretty.

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