My school was always in a hurry to pass me out! Mummy applied for LKG. (Lower Kinder Garden) but for god knows what reason I started school with HKG. (Higher Kinder Garden)! I never got to play with the wooden dollhouse that the LKG kids played with… I regret it till date!
My teachers very soon recognized my talent for art and drama, they started awarding me with many certificates and prizes and also extra work for set decoration and projects! In dramatics, I could not do much as I had to stay back after school hours and home being away from school it was difficult! But yes I was shortlisted by a famous director (those art movie types, who make international movies for film festivals and those which nobody gets to see) for a lead role! I did a couple of auditions and guess what? I was rejected for being fair. A dark-skinned leading news daily editor’s daughter got the role (without auditions, just had to name her father!). They said they wanted a dark and dusky girl (that’s how Indian girls looked in foreign films!) How I hated my self for being fair, in the otherwise “fair and lovely” using India.
Hmm, anyways thank god I was not chosen otherwise today I would have been one wannabe star struggling to do mainstream cinema!
Well I caught up with drama at home! There was enough to keep everyone busy.
My school days were also responsible for me to getting closer to Maji (my mummy’s mum!). I had a teacher in my third grade; she thought that I needed extra attention in my studies, so she called me to her home for tuition with extra fees! I wonder then what was the tuition fee that my school charged. Weren’t they supposed to teach me? Anyways, this meant I had to stay at Maji’s home, which was closer to my teacher’s home. I use to visit my home in the weekends! Dongri was my new home for a year!
One year I gorged the yummy food (especially the fish fry) that Maji made for me with her yummy home-made masalas. I wore two contrasting plaits, thick and thin, Maji was getting old and she sat with me in the verandah to comb my hair… always confused with my plaits. I remember Maji’s hands smelled of roasted cumin seeds … she always did. She use to sell home-made masalas for a living (true mistress of spices!). I loved to weigh the masala in that small weighing scale and pack them with cotton thread. I felt useful and enterprising.
Maji was proud, feisty old lady, respected by family and the community. Maji ran the house single-handedly, which once housed some ten kids ranging from age 10 to 35. Those were the times when mother and daughter delivered their babies together. Those were the times when a young widow of 18 (with a small child) got married to a man of 40, already fathering 5 kids, the eldest being 18! Those were times when nobody raised questions on such complicated relations… brother getting married to sister’s daughter, 14 year getting married to 50… everything was accepted but today that same generation cannot understand gay marriage?
Maji was quite traditional but yet modern in her thoughts… she called me Zeenat Aman, she found me radical in my ways like the actress was in Bollywood in those times. I always had a different point of view than the rest in the family. I wore short pants with utmost ease and walked the densely populated burqa clad Muslim neighborhood in Dongri. I never bothered about my surroundings; I just did what I had to…
My bond with my Mama (mum’s brother) also grew stronger in this one year. Mama and Maji were the lone survivors in this house, which once was full of chaos, laughter, and fights when all the kids stayed together… slowly they all left some with their wives and some with their husbands… now the house at Dongri was just left with Mama and Maji. Yet Maji had her kids coming to her daily… everyday someone or the other would land up during lunch. Maji always cooked extra she knew she will always have company during lunch.
Mama stayed with Maji but he never was around… he just use to visit the house to have a bath and change his clothes, those white trousers and white shirts with colorful handkerchief around his collar. He would always come for dinner and buy milk for the house. He would take all the kids for an evening stroll, to buy milk and on the way back buy balloons from the vendor standing at the corner of the street. I always would buy the round apple-shaped one and my sister would go for the regular one!
Mama never slept at home… he went to the Dargah to sleep with his friends … I do not know, but they all say that once Mama had a fight with his father and from that day till the day he died he never slept at home. Maji and Mama never spoke much but I knew they cared for each other the most. Mama was not born out of Maji, he was the stepson, yet Maji when died left a big share for him. Mama and Maji shared an amazing relationship. Mama never got married. He never wanted to leave Maji and go. Maji in return never showed, but she cared for this stepson the most!
Maji died of lung cancer, that too a sudden one before anyone could understand what was happening. I was suddenly called back from school to the burial ground. I saw all her ten kids … crying, I kept deciding should I cry or just stand there watch her go… do I need to cry to tell the world that I will miss her or should I think about the time I spent with her… I was confused, I held my sister’s hand and just stood there watching … all her kids were there, some born out of her some step … but the tear I saw in Mama’s eye was real and I could just relate to that.
My trips with Mama in the Dargah were very close to my heart… Dargah happens to be our family burial ground too. Mama now used to go home less and spend more time at the Dargah… Maji was at the Dargah now! I use to go and feed the fishes in the pond in the Dargah. Mama use to take me to the graves of Maji and his father. They were sleeping next to each other. I often use to go to meet Mama there… after college, after marriage, and I always saw Mama at the gate of the Dargah and he would take me in, give me money to buy me something … he always did, he always bought me goodies, some times balloons, sometimes toys and many times interesting knick knacks from the second’s stall, which his friend use to have. Our school bus use to pass through the Dargah gate where Mama often waited for us and showered chocolates through the bus window.
I last remember Mama crying, he had lost his one leg due to Gangrene. He was in crutches and he told me, I do not want to die with both my legs amputated… I was numb…did not know what to say. Mama was addicted to drugs (I do not know which substance he was addicted to but doctor’s said that they were killing him slowly).
Dargah was a place for many drug peddlers… many stayed there along with mama and many a times they hid the dope in the graves, when raided. Mama, I do not know was amongst them or just a bystander, but I know that I lost him because of that.
One day I received a phone call from mummy and she told me that Mama, passed away in the wee hours. That day I cried and howled because I knew I had to!
Today Mama who never slept at home is sleeping next to Maji at the Durgah!
Mama use to call me dhoor! (wandering dust) …