Manjiri Indurkar is a poet and writer based in New Delhi from where she runs the webzine AntiSerious.
Knees and Elbows, Elbows and Knees
It is difficult to sit with folded legs
During the summer nights
I feel the urge to touch the sweat
That gathers between the knee joints
When the calves touch the thighs
And they perspire together, like a conspiracy.
A joint venture
My elbows are dark and the skin is coarse
Maa gives me a lemon to scrub them
If I do it every day, I can fix them.
But I don’t.
Elbows and knees
Knees and elbows
Joints are such curios things.
Places where the bones meet.
When my coarse elbow scrubs against yours
I can hear our bones talk
We don’t need fingers to touch
Or the tongue to taste
My ankle once got stuck
In the wheel of my father’s Luna
And I didn’t tell him
We were climbing a bridge
Named after a short man.
When we reached the tip of the bridge
The wheel spat out my flesh
And along with my ankle the Luna broke down.
My bloody trail on exhibit
Bridges too are like sweaty joints
I know a girl who sits on my window sill
With her legs bent in a V
I look at her bruised knees
And think of all the times
Gravity won the battle
When you fall from the window
The joints take the blow first
When it rains she looks at the drops
Flowing through the window pane
And I look at the seepage
My walls suffer from
They always form a pattern
Dark and coarse like my elbows.
I think of the nausea that fresh paint
Brings with it
Like my elbows the damp joints of the wall
Remain dark and coarse
With paint falling off them in an incoherent language
They are spaces where things end
And things begin
Where infiltration is possible
Where fluidity exists
Where dirt gathers
Where smell lives
In togetherness we live our separate lives
In separation we are always together.
There is a call center in the building adjoining mine
My bathroom shares a window with one of its rooms
Every morning I hear the women talk to customers
Selling items they don’t need
Giving them offers they don’t want
Who in today’s day and age has the time for a roti maker?
Everyone in my hometown talks about Baba’s rotis
Round as the moon, Atya would say.
Baba and I once cooked a meal together
He made the moons
And I, the dust—moong daal, gobhi-aloo,
And cucumber salad (koshimbir)
Just the way Ma makes it.
Baba spent a whole afternoon making those half burnt rotis
We all ate with love
The roti maker won’t be bought in our house either
But still this call center employee makes her pitch
And when she can’t make the sale
She is yelled at.
Some days she arrives for work with a fever
And whispers in her friend’s ears
But I hear it too
And think of things I could say to her
To comfort her
She gets back to her calls and I to my work
There is so much noise in that house
And so much silence in mine
My next door neighbours are Kashmiris
Two girls who live with their mother
Who becomes Ma’s friend whenever she visits.
Sometimes I borrow tomatoes from them
And they my ironing press
Ma often enquires about her sometimes-friend
And tells me to ask them for their Kesar
Does she not know, Kesar in English is Saffron?
These people watch their television loudly
As if playing for me
I hear nostalgia playing on their television
In my bathroom.
The terrible songs of childhood
Blaring loudly, as if to keep me company.
Away from the posh once-refugee colonies of Delhi
This is a place for the new refugees
The ones who have come looking for jobs
Leaving their houses behind
To find survival in this dilapidated existence
Dogs cry here every night
An airhostess drags her suitcase night after night
As she gets ready to remove all the stains of makeup
A portly man removes the dried clothes from the balcony
When a phone rings the entire neighborhood reaches for its pockets
We know each other without acknowledgements
We buy groceries on loan
Our windows are our mirrors
And our music a shared chaos
Between the woman who sells the roti maker
And the woman I won’t buy saffron from
Are the porous walls of my house.
I live here with the hope of an escape
I scratch the paint and trip on an abandoned shoe
I hurt my knee and don’t look for Baba
And his wad of cotton soaked in Dettol
Haldi never works on a wound without Ma.
And the Koshimbir doesn’t taste the same either.
Recipe: Peel two cucumbers and grate them
Squeeze out all the water, and save it,
Ma always does,
Mix a teaspoon of sugar, some powdered peanuts
And salt, to taste
In a small pan heat some ghee and put jeera and sarso
And chopped green chili and let the three crackle
Pour it over the grated cucumbers
And you have your koshimbir.
The saved cucumber water
Mix it with besan and rose water
It’s great for your skin.
People don’t colour their walls anymore. It’s all about the texture, the way it needs to feel when you touch it. Why the fuck will you touch the paint, when it is only meant to be smelled, and maybe, seen. I touch the golden paint on the one wall of an otherwise white room. It feels uneven, the painter has done a shabby job, my brother complains and I agree. There is no clock in this room, I need to buy a new one. But with the one thousand and seventy six clocks available to purchase from, I don’t like any. I miss the old, ugly yellowed with time clock, whose hands were as slow as this city, and numbers as faded as my memories. This is a smaller room, but it has a sense of space that the bigger one did not have. This one looks bigger from the inside, smaller from the outside. Somewhat like us, don’t you think? When the wall art is ready we will decorate it, the laughing Buddhas mother is so fond of, will have a place to live again. Ganpati statue encrusted with fake gemstones will be dusted, and the cycle I bought at a mela, with my first salary, will once again find parking space. Things will fall into place. The shine will turn into dullness. I will turn back into the humdrum of daily life. I will stop pretending I care enough to keep the old newspapers in a stack in the cupboard behind the door. Go back to my shabbiness, my mess, my piles of clothes. When the gold paint starts chipping and you begin to see the wall in all its ugliness, think of me, not in your memory, but in the old photo albums where you weren’t present. My compulsive hair plucking, my obsession with illnesses, my insanity, all are of the colour gold. When this paint chips of, whether on its own, or because you had to scrape it off the wall, before you go and buy a new paint, a new colour, a new texture, enamoured by a new paint manufacturing company’s shiny models and their shiny houses, just look at me once. In all my nakedness. In all my beauty. And in all my ugliness.
The Film That No One Watches
Last night while watching a film
I realised I wanted to be the woman protagonist
A wonderful girl who thinks it is okay to lie
Whose moral compass only understands
Her own happiness
I don’t think she is a free woman
I don’t think she was meant to be extraordinary
And I don’t think she is.
But she knows how to make her heart
Burst with joy
And I am not that woman
You often talk about the wonder
That you and I are
How long have we been together?
Have we ever ran out of things to talk about?
The two lovers in that film
They never run out of conversations either
But I wonder if we ever got to see the entire life
Of our beloved characters
Will there be a happily ever after
Or will they become like you and me
Talking in a language neither of us understand
There is a reason why they end most films
When the couple is still young
And still in love
This is why such cinema is called escapist
Because if you tried to look deeper
You’d notice seepage in the walls of their house
You’d see them scratching the walls
Till the fingers bled
You’d see them redecorate their house
Just so that they can make conversation
You’d see them eat in silence
You’d see them buy new clothes and
Attend weekend parties and come back home
You’d see them look through each other
You’d see them not hear each other
You’d see them unhappy and
Unable to move away from each other
Nobody fights in this house
Nobody yells at anyone
On anniversaries they buy each other gifts
They take holidays
They have children
There are films that explore such relationships too
But they all end in resolution
With couples parting ways
Or with them falling in love
But no one makes a film on us
Our story, your story and mine
We are always the unimportant characters
The parents of the heroine of the film
They stay together to give the girl a happy life
She isn’t happy, neither are we
But it’s her unhappiness that the film is about
Not ours, never ours.
Imagine a film about a character whose only job
Is to fold bed sheets
She does it meticulously
Not a wrinkle, not an inch out of place
The film is shot in a single room
Where the actor drinks her tea from a thermos
Folds a lot of bed sheets
And then unfolds them.
A fan rotates in an unbearably slow motion
The sun burns through the windows
She sits, reads, eats and folds bed sheets
We don’t know who locked her in there
We don’t know if she wants to be out
We don’t know if she wants to stay in
We don’t know if she voluntarily chose this job
We don’t know if anyone is paying her
All we have is this woman
Inside a room, folding sheets
And we are watching her
Is she bored?
What is she thinking?
Why is she doing this?
We know nothing.
It would be a spectacularly boring film.
And you and I won’t watch it.
Illustration: Swarna Jana