Mira ka Madhav
A short story
Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure. I am taking the liberty of making Albert’s lines mine. Not like Albert would care anyway. He doesn’t know I exist. He doesn’t know that I read his entire book in one go, while shitting. I had an upset stomach that day and I needed to read something out loud to drown out my immodest farts.
Mother said I should do something about the noises; they are not letting her eat. Fair point, I said. So I dragged Albert with me to the loo each time. Anyway, I know that Albert won’t mind me taking his lines because people on various internet forums have pointed out that these lines don’t convey Meursalt’s anxieties. So they can’t belong to him – he has disowned them. I am, therefore, going to make them mine. They convey my anxiousness. Like I was saying: Mother died. Not my mother. Madhav’s. Madhav is a man I have been in love with for the past three years. He is married to another woman. He has soft, brown, comforting eyes and is a devoted husband.He is an accountant at a biggish firm; it is a steady job, I think. He likes to dance when no one is watching. He is a trained dancer and has a fake stage name for when he does dance shows. No one knows. Not his wife. Not his father. Not his mother. Well now that she is dead, that bit doesn’t matter, does it?
I spend my days thinking about Madhav. There are days when I can smell him. He smells like soap. Not your regular Pears or Cinthol. He smells of those organic, aromatic soaps that cottage industry workers slave over. He smells like honey with just a little hint of vanilla. One day when I was busy day-dreaming about him, the smell came to me. Out of nowhere. I went to the medicine store, down the gully where I live, and sniffed every soap bar they had before I finally found the smell I was looking for. I bought twelve bars of that brand. My mother was furious. I had to buy a bottle of Benadryl for her. But I ran out of cash.
My mother is a bit of an addict, though she won’t admit it. But she simply can’t fall asleep without it. I guess I could have bought a bar less. But the bill had already been prepared and I did not want to inconvenience the guy at the counter; he leads a fairly boring life. Making bills after bills, maintaining account books… I know how bored Madhav is at his job too, despite his fairly high profile designation. But Madhav has taught me how to empathise with guys who have clerical jobs. So, it is fine. I will deal with Aai tonight and I will go and get Benadryl for her tomorrow. My Aai, unlike Madhav’s mother, is a hyperventilating maniac. She is a Benadryl addict and a Vicks VapoRub addict too. And she is a snob.
She rose from nowhere. She was born into a very poor family and her father was extremely regressive.When she got herself a job at the age of eighteen, she finally shut everyone up. Not like they could say anything to her when they needed the money. She was also the first one to move out of the family home. She lived away from them all for two years till the day she got married and took a transfer back to Jabalpur. All highly irregular for this small town. This town where nosy neighbours will gossip endlessly. This town where uncles play cricket on Sundays with the children of the colony, and the aunties watch and laugh at the boyishness of their men. This town where picnics are colony affairs and a hired truck takes everyone to the bank of the river or some ancient temple in the middle of a not-so-dense jungle. Antakshari is still our favorite sport. And when we run out of songs, we play cricket.
My mother, from who I get my talent for remembering Hindi film songs, is an Antakshari legend. She and I used to dream of participating in Annu Kapoor’s ‘Antakshari’ when the show was still a rage. We still bicker over who our favourite co-host was. Durga Jasraj, both of us agree, wasn’t all that good. Never mind her voice, she understood music, we said to each other. But she couldn’t keep up with Annu Kapoor. So that settled it. The problem began when Renuka Shahane joined the show. I liked her when she co-hosted ‘Surabhi’ with Siddharth Kaak and spoke of old things and days gone. But in the fast-paced ‘Antakshari’, not so much. But Aai loved her and was pissed when she left the show. I, on the other hand, was happy. Not just because Renuka was out, but because Pallavi Joshi was in. Pallavi had spunk. Renuka was always the woman who died after falling from a staircase. Not Pallavi. She was something else. Just like Aai. My Aai did not understand modesty. She would make no efforts at hiding her achievements. She would highlight them while talking to young women so that her success could “inspire them”. “If I could work a job and take care of the house and raise two children, why can’t you girls do the same?” she would ask. Every cousin of mine who quit her job after having kids had to hear about how much better it was to buy one’s own sarees than depend on the husband’s money. Diplomacy wasn’t a quality she exuded. My brother and I hated that about her and loved that too. As dramatic as she was, she also kept it real.
Madhav’s mother who died just yesterday, or maybe today (the confusion persists and I will tell you why later) was a calm and composed woman, in stark contrast to mine. She raised Madhav all by herself. Her husband was a drunkard who did not care about them and left when Madhav was still breastfeeding. Madhav and his mother from that day on learnt to depend on each other. He was a devoted son. Aai would like my brother and me to be more like him. She has said this so many times, I have lost count. But I can’t blame her for feeling that way. You don’t find people like him anymore. An accountant, a closet dancer, and a sensitive man who can cry. When he dances, you forget all your sorrows, all your worries. He doesn’t do those contemporary Bollywood dances, though he could if he wished. He is a trained Kathak dancer; has appeared for all the exams and has cleared them all with distinction. I wish he could show off the certificates to the world. He looks at them with such joy and longing in private. It pains me. I wish he would tell everyone about this one thing he truly loves. I wish his wife would understand.
His wife is my namesake. Mira. It would have been really cute, had it not been so painful. She has my name and also has the one man I truly love. Aai laughs at me when I say such things to her. She doesn’t get how I can be in love with a married man who doesn’t know I exist. To a married man who does not exist outside of our 31 inch television. Doesn’t understand why I have a poster of him hanging in my room on the wall opposite my bed. He is the first thing I see when I wake up. She tried making me put up the Periodic Table in place of that poster. Unbelievable. She thought I would replace Madhav with the modern periodic table the way they replaced Dimitri Mendeleev’s. I had mugged up the table anyway. H Lina KeRbCF(ou)r. Be Mg Ka Sir Bara. O S Se Te Po L(o)v(e). And so it went. I would never let her remove Madhav; not from my room, not from my life.
If you knew about Madhav as much as I did, you’d love him too. Madhav often goes to the terrace of his house with his ghungroos and dances just for himself and for me, I like to think. Even if we haven’t communicated, I know he knows that I will always support him and his love for dancing. One time it was raining and he went to the terrace, nevertheless, and danced in a way that would put Madhuri Dixit to shame. Aai thinks I should stop obsessing about Madhav. I am not a teenager anymore. She doesn’t understand that it isn’t obsession. What I feel for Madhav is what she feels for Baba and Baba feels for her. It is love. Aai also thinks I should start preparing for marriage. She has a list of good, eligible Brahmin boys from financially stable families who want a girl with a degree in Engineering. Most of them are engineers themselves. Software engineers who will at some point or the other get their onsite offer and leave the country for good. Germany or America or England or some other country where they’d settle and raise their NRI children and feed them on Bollywood nostalgia while talking about their homeland and its sanskars and its culture, but with enough detachment to never come back. Aai loves these guys and thinks they will give me a good life and also help me get over Madhav. It hasn’t worked out yet. Though this one time she did get me an accountant. Nothing like Madhav though. I asked him if he likes dancing and he told me he’d take me to a disco on our next date. Do you get what I mean when I say he was no match for Madhav? No one who loves dancing goes to discos. That music can hardly be called music and people shake their bodies with no rigor for the art. It is an act. They are there to kill their time and their loneliness. It is chaos that I don’t relate to and neither does Madhav. And besides that, most people in Jabalpur haven’t put a foot in a disco, and I am no different; he should have known that. He told me he’d show me around the city of Bombay, the place he worked. Show me its night life, show me Marine Drive, take me shopping around Colaba – “Lots of junk stuff for pretty girls like you”, he said. “And then we’d go to a nice place for dinner. Do you like Italian?”
While he went on about his Bombay, I had a wild thought in my head. Bombay was also where Madhav lived. I could get married to this guy and make him take me to Madhav. I would tell him about my love for Madhav. And maybe, he’d turn out to be like Ajay Devgan from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Maybe he’d find Madhav for me and take me to him. Unlike Aishwarya Rai, I am not making him take me to Italy. I am just asking him to look for Madhav within a city he can’t stop talking about. But unlike Aishwarya Rai, I won’t abandon Madhav for the sanctity of my marriage. I would stay with him and watch him dance.
But I didn’t get married to the accountant. It would have been a great risk to take. What if he wasn’t like Ajay Devgan. What if he turned out to be like Nana Patekar from Agnisakshi? Obsessively jealous husband who won’t let his wife talk to another man, let alone letting her be with another? I said no to him and no one since that guy has come even close to a yes from me.
Madhav’s Ma died somewhere between today and yesterday. When Madhav reached her bedside to wake her up, she didn’t say anything. And soon, he was sure she never would. You should have seen the look on his face. He wasn’t crying. He was too miserable for that. He kept talking. Locked the room and pretended she was alive. He played the Walkman his Ma had gifted him on his birthday, wore his earplugs and danced the dance of his life. I want to believe that his mother could see all that. Madhav had always dreamt of performing once at least in his life for his mother. I don’t think I have felt this amount of pain in my life, ever. I don’t know if I can be that miserable when Aai dies. I think I might have given him all the love I have. Love I stole from what I had kept aside for Aai, for Baba and for my brother. I am not sure they will understand this. And so I won’t tell them.
Today, Madhav performed the final rites for his mother. And cried a lot in front of the pyre. But you know, I think that he felt weighed down by all the rituals he had to perform; they took away his mourning time. I think he had performed all the final rites when he danced for her. The rest was an unnecessary performance. I think he wouldn’t have minded someone else giving fire to his mother’s pyre. This body that doesn’t talk, doesn’t breathe, is not his mother. I know he is thinking that. But is too afraid to say anything. The next thirteen days, Madhav will be busy meeting all the people who will come to visit. And ask him questions he doesn’t have answers to. “How did your mother die,” they will say. “Was it a heart attack?”;“Was she ill?”;“Did she have a brain hemorrhage?”;“Had she gone senile?”;“Was it her age?”. He will want to give them satisfactory answers. Answers that have scientific basis. But he won’t be able to.
He knows why his mother died. His mother did not die of old age. His mother died because she was out of things to do. She was a woman who struggled all her life. A child to raise, a house to run, mouths to feed; each day was new challenge. But now that she had none of these, she felt like she was turning into old, raggedy piece of furniture. Not good for anything. And so it was better she left the world. If you work all your life and suddenly someone tells you don’t have to do it anymore, without giving you the time that inertia needs to settle in, you lose the will to live instead. You feel unwanted. Your body tells you the story of your rejection every day. I have seen it happen to uncles who retire from their jobs, and celebrate it with a party and from the next day begin sulking. They interfere in the lives of their sons, don’t let their grandchildren watch the English shows they want to watch, or fight with their wives in the absence of productive activities. They feel like they should be heard and so they constantly draw attention to themselves. And when that doesn’t happen, they give up. Madhav’s mother did not try drawing attention to herself. She retreated to her room. And became a removable part of her queen size bed that Madhav had gotten made for her. And one day, she simply left.
Madhav should have shown her his dance. I think she would have understood. I know this will be his life’s biggest regret. I hope he doesn’t sink into depression. I hope my namesake helps him stay strong. Aai says she is done with this show. She thinks it has dragged on for too long. She tries quoting the cliche, ‘All good things come to an end’ but says, “Good things should end” instead. I don’t agree with her. And so she scolds me. “Mira, you need to be more practical in life”;“Mira, you are becoming a couch potato”; “Get a job, if you don’t want to get married. Get a job in Mumbai and look for your Madhav there”. She doesn’t understand that it doesn’t matter that Madhav is not with me. I don’t need to find him. He is there with me, every night. He watches me fall asleep. His smell lives in my body. I don’t have to find a job. I don’t want to do anything that would distract me from him. I won’t do well and it would hurt Aai all over again. And Madhav too, I think. He’s too used to me being in love with him. It’s not something that is a part of life. It is life. If I take a break from this or distract myself from this, I will turn into the neighbourhood uncles. I will die of not having things to do. I will die because my work will keep me away from thinking about him. I will die because my work will mean I have to forget about him for those few hours. He’s not used to that. Neither am I. What will I be without the love that is there in my thoughts even when I am nursing my sick Aai? What will I be without this love? Its taste lingers on my tongue; so much so that I can hardly tell the difference between a karela and a chamcham, drowning in sugar syrup.
What will you do when the show ends or your Madhav grows old and dies, she says and leaves the room. It is not a thought that hasn’t crossed my mind. But it still hurts when she says it that brutally. The same brutality I hate so much on some days. The same brutality I love so much too. I am a doomsday preparer; I have captured all of Madhav’s life in my laptop. From the time I fell in love with him, I have kept him hidden in the deeper crevices of my laptop. No one knows about it and no one needs to. Madhav knows and so do I. He accompanies me wherever I go. I have asked my brother to throw my laptop into the fire when I die and I am cremated. He laughed at me first, asked me if I had lost my mind, but then when he saw my hurt expression, he agreed. I know he thinks I need help. He calls Madhav my poison. If only he knew.
Mira, he says, why are you such a loner. Why can’t you go out of the house and make real friends? Whatever happened to all those people who would come to our house when you were completing your Bachelors? I tell him they have all moved on. Someone is in the US, some have married, some even have children. Almost everyone has a job and a career to build. They too probably think like my brother. They too probably call me mad. They too are tired of my emails about Madhav that I send them every weekend. A whole rundown of the week’s happening. Some have blocked me. Some have publically humiliated me through their Facebook posts. I know they all are scared of the kind of love my letters speak of. I know they haven’t felt that way for anyone. I know they will never feel that way for anyone for they don’t love themselves enough to love someone else with this intensity. They are lonelier than me. They just don’t realise it. Busy in the daily humdrum of life, in paying off their debts, their housing loans and car loans. They don’t have time to love anyone. They confuse ambition for passion and daily convenience for love. They don’t love their partners; they like them, yes, but are afraid of letting that change into something deeper. They plan for holidays and pack the itinerary with water sports and paragliding and eating in posh restaurants and sight-seeing in the name of exploring cities. They go shopping and watch films. They have sex and sometimes they experiment too. They divide their house chores between themselves so each one is busy inside the house when they are not busy with outside work. They invite their friends for dinners on weekends so they don’t have to spend two complete days alone. They have run out of conversation. Their Fridays are spent with overpriced popcorn at some multiplex. They don’t ever do anything meaningful really.
Sagar’s last email on this group where he requested me to remove him from the mailing list was quite telling. I can see that I am making many of you uncomfortable. I have done the needful. Sagar will no longer be bothered. But since the rest of you don’t feel the way Sagar does, I shall continue with my and Madhav’s story. His mother’s been dead for a month now and I am worried he has given up on dancing. He thinks he has given his final performance. He is blaming himself for not letting his mother know when she was still alive. I think he is turning into his mother and I am very worried about him. My namesake can’t see what I can. She is a nice woman, but is also naïve. She thinks if she gives Madhav enough space, he will heal. But he doesn’t need space. He needs to be held tightly. He needs to be comforted. He needs to be brought back from him mother’s room. Someone needs to make him dance again. But she doesn’t know that. I do. And I can’t tell him. I have been thinking a lot about how to communicate to him. I don’t think I have a way. I went to his fan page and left him several messages. But I got no response. I know he is mourning. Weeping. But I also know his heart aches to dance. I posted a few dance performances on the fan page. I can see he has liked them. Maybe he will watch them and dance again? Who knows what might work. All he needs is a reminder of the feeling of being one with his body; something that can only happen when he dances. This is something I know his mother would want. What do you guys think? I know I often ask difficult questions and so they are more often than not, met with silence. Or some uncomfortable joke that I pretend to laugh at. But guys think about it. What is the point of living this meaningless life that is so goal-oriented that you people have forgotten to look around the scenery outside your car whose debt you still haven’t paid off. Just think about it once. And please do write back. Madhav needs your support. And so do I.
~ Manjiri Indurkar is a poet and writer from New Delhi. She runs a small literary webzine called AntiSerious.