You treat him like a mother would a child. Press him close to your chest, clutch his hair and brush your lips across his cheeks.
He is especially silent tonight?
You push his blonde fringe out of the way & lick his lips. He bites you back, half-heartedly. His kisses are lazy. They are no longer curious; tongues press but don’t probe.
He holds your hair back but doesn’t tangle his fingers in them or push a curl aside to bite your neck.
His sleep is heavy; he is especially silent tonight?
His silence interrupted only by snorting.
His body has been still for the past 2 hours the only movement — his small chest heaving.
The back of your head hurts, the nape of your neck is stiff, your nose is stuffed and hair is greasy.
You pick up a pen because She listens.
The silence spins louder than the ceiling fan.
He leaves you feeling empty like a bad habit.
He is especially silent tonight?
Morning comes around, a pink faced child runs up to us —
“Hi Aunty! Hi Uncle!”
“She just called you Aunty”
He skips down the stairs, happy to hear the morning birds.
You skip, miss a step and tumble down to a silence.
A silence that lasts the auto-ride-of-shame.
You feel like a wife; the disagreeable half in a relationship that leaves a lot unsaid.
You catch his eye as he looks at himself in the rearview mirror.
You give him a small embarrassed smile.
He smiles back, you look away.
He is especially silent.
“Accha, Cheta and I were wondering whether we could have chilled beers?”
Accha pauses The Life and Death of Peter Sellers and puts down the remote.
“Well, who’s going to drive then? I can’t drive while drunk.”
5 minutes of grumbling lead him to the fatherly sacrifice — “you guys drink, I’ll drive.”
My brother arrives on the obvious diplomatic solution, edging around each voltatile opinion — “let’s just order food.”
After an arguement about to where to order food from (including my immature input of using a coin toss to deal with indecisive family members) we “decide” to order from the legendary Paragon.
I insist on the switching off the idiot (we have a subscription to nothing to but ‘educational’ and ‘english entertainment’ channels) box — “but The Voice is showing today. The new episode starts at 8.”
I connect the bluetooth to the speakers and they blare Tibetan horns. I now have their attention.
My father pours a startling amount of whiskey in his tumbler, “It’s one peg. You’ll get here some day. You have to weather yourself.”
Cheta tells a tale of how the mask of ‘cool’-ness slipped off Accha’s (almost permanent) poker face.
First year. After three years of alcohol and drug induced vacation in Pondicherry he’d arrived at Bangalore to re-start his life. That was something that could be done by changing vocations and finding your purpose in life in the kitchen. He’d begun with his hospitality management course in IHM. My father on his routinely rounds in hostel rooms to make sure his children weren’t lured by ‘temptations’ of the big bad city, found empty beer bottles in Cheta’s cupboard.
“Do you want to throw these bottles away or should I break them on the floor?”
We smirk as we clutch our Kingfishers. Their cold green against our sweaty palms. We gulp and he sips.
He begins with his tales (mostly of disappointment.)
“I always wanted you to have your first drinks with me.”
“Why bother with formalities like that?”
He diffuses my argument with a wave of his hand and parental logic, “you won’t know till you have children of your own.”
After a good 15 minutes Accha leaves to bring home the food, skipping as he steps out and returning because he’d forgotten the keys at home. Amma insists on not joining us, it’s Sharukh Khan’s 50th birthday and Zoom is showing the important accomplishments in his life including fathering a child at 47.
‘I’ll play the music tonight,” Cheta reiterates.
Hotel California blares through the speakers.
He stands up and waves his arms.
The last time I saw him dance was when I was 13 and we were on a boat. The pressure to maintain a pleasant demeanour lead to him ‘waving his arms’ around me as I gyrated to ‘Zara Zara touch me touch me touch me touch ME.’
Now he ignores the beer as it collects water at the bottom and he wakes to the music.
“On a dark dessert highway..cool wind in my hair,” he moves his hands, his head growing heavy and his sight growing dim.
He stand up and bellows, confident of the music drowning his voice.
“Welcome to the Hotel California!”
He shuts his eyes.
Amma and Accha at-an-appropirate-faraway-distance.
I watch my ever so careful 22 year old sibling shed his polite skin.
The printer Shrieks—
In NGMA lies a pot of luck, choking at the floor of the fountain.
A woman observes her nails. The background – the receipt printing machine Sings and Shrieks a mechanical tune. The bottom of my throat itches. Feet Squeak on the freshly swabbed floors.
The constable chairs Sigh—
Sheets of water rain, walls of water collect, a fizzle of water seeps and up they go again — kissing the leaves.
Wheelchairs Whine behind the khaki of the constable chairs. The machine Beeps; I enter, they glance.
The lady Wails—
Large lifes in miniature frames. With their backs to wood, well wishing animals recline beside well fed mistresses. Ranjit Singh with one eye closed, holding gently — a sword. A pale lonely lady stares with nostalgia eyes.
The sparrow Squawks—
The buffalos wade, the sparrow sits alone — one chirp, two chirp, three chirps. The water ripples under its shrill cry. Underneath, a woman with a pot, undressed —glares at the monsoon sun.
The wave Crashes —
A pale lonely lady stares with nostalgia eyes —the terrible sky. The oceans are held captive by boats — they stray and bob. The water turns concave, pulled at by a giant octopus with 8 limbs and 3 hearts. The boats crash, disappear in pieces of wood and froth.
The clock Ticks —
A woman points to her wrist watch assuring us we’re out of time. Emerald floors glisten, they have proud reflections.
Guards with impatient feet and hats look under. Beneath the exhibit — maybe some meaning. A vase leans to the left. The hand of the clock hesitates for a second.