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It was a day in office like any other. She had recently joined an organization but her heart was still back at her college campus, playing basketball with the boys, spending time reading at the library and teasing classmates. There was not a care in the world and she knew her future was full of possibilities. A technical training was in full swing and she tried hard to concentrate, but every now and then her eyes darted to the computer screen to spot new messages in her inbox. He wrote short emails. She wished that he’d write longer ones. At first glance they looked curt but when she weighed his words, they meant to convey so much more than was written.

It had been an hour already since the last email and she felt her body grow more and more restless every passing minute. He should have emailed to confirm. Well, the thing was, he had asked her out over the phone and details were to be shared over the emails during the day. She shivered with excitement for various reasons. One being, it was her first date with someone she secretly had a crush on since the time she had set her eyes on him. It made her delirious when it was reciprocated.

What was taking him so long? “Ping” – you have new email, it said. Promptly her hands took hold of the mouse to open the email and the sight of his name made her want to yelp with joy. He had written that the date was on and details were a surprise. It included a warning at the end, that it would be a long one, so better be prepared. Her fingers that typed the reply to that email were sweaty in anticipation. It was a good thing; she said to herself, that within a month of moving to a new city, her social life had started to buzz. Now the intolerable wait till the evening!

Finally, the day at the office ended. They were supposed to meet at a  mall and then take it further from there. When she entered the mall, she almost kicked herself for not going home to change. She saw a bevy of girls pass by looking absolutely sparkly. She called him to know where she should meet him and he asked her to take the escalator up to meet him at the Cineplex foyer. So it was easy enough for her to guess, that they were going to watch a movie. Soon she saw him standing at the enterance of the hall with nachos and pop corn packets in tow. They simply exchanged pleasantries and moved into the dark hall with the other movie watchers. Soon she realized, it was a block buster movie that she had wanted to watch all along. Within minutes she got engrossed in the movie , the plot, the characters, the twists and betrayal. She did not know that while she munched on her nachos and popcorn, he was intently watching her. He watched her body’s silhouette in the darkness. He watched the chocolate tone of her skin glisten each time the lights from the screen fell on her. He observed that she was unselfconscious and one with the purpose which at that time was watching the movie. He observed that she had just one anklet on her foot and began to wonder if she was the singular anklet wielding boho-rebel. But somewhere, in his mind, he was enchanted by her nonconformist attitude. He imagined her running like a wild child amongst the sunny flowers with a basketful of daisies. She was the one who could chase the butterflies with the same ease as she would conduct a meeting with a room full of suited stalwarts. Would he feel intimidated, he asked himself? That’s not even the right question, he heard himself answer. Funny how oblivious she was while his eyes watched her every movement.

The movie ended and she felt strange about how uninteractive he had been all the time. She felt as if he was getting bored in her company and that made her apprehensive. Surely she had it in her to keep him interested so she decided to drive the conversation from then on. Maybe then she would be able to understand if it was her or whether he was the recluse kinds. It would make it clearer whether there had to be anything to this association, if at all. Having made up her mind, such, she embarked on a verbal diahorrea, quizzing, prodding, indulging and to the extent of simply meandering. He was kind, she understood. He listened like a man who was besotted but never offering his two cents on any topic at hand. She felt like a lone warrior who had lost her purpose in the pursuit. But she liked that he listened.

The date was to extend from merely movie going to an evening at one of the most romantic spots in the city. They drove in silence more times with just the smattering of words when the silence became unbearable.  Slowly the conversation started to dribble in and topic of life partners and marriage took center stage.  She thought that she might just try become a match fixer and try to fix him up with her taciturn room mate. She thought both of them would make a great pair. But she would feel sad, if he didn’t keep in touch with her. She would miss his emails, his song dedications to her and the lovely quotes that kept her engaged for the whole day in a romance that was akin only to the novels. He was definitely a much better person to interact over the emails, she decided. Maybe she should try being a little more flirtatious, open a shirt button or  two, laugh more so and throw her hair around. Darn why was he giving her such mixed signals!

He was taking it all in. Her boisterous talk, the way she threw her hands around while talking, the way she stealthily opened the top button of her blouse and how he couldn’t get enough of the broken tooth whenever she flashed her dazzling smile. His thoughts were interrupted when she started steering towards marriage. On an impulse he knew how the date had to end. He joined her conversation in bits and pieces while noticing the bent of her elbow and the creaseless neck. He did not believe in love at first sight because he was too real to humour himself with such fallacies. But he grew surer of the outcome of the lovely evening.

Gosh!! She thought, those dimples that formed on his cheeks were hard to miss. Half of the evening was over and she was surprised she didn’t notice them before.  She always had a thing for guys with dimples and felt that guys who had them automatically qualified as the ones who were caring and sensitive. The evening light heightened the gold colours on his temples and she almost reached out to cup his strong chin. Slowly as if her eyes were seeing for the first time, she noticed that his skin was golden as it was bronzed; he was clean shaven for the occasion and his hands looked neat. His lips parted every now and then as if to say something but then held back the words. What did he fear? A silly thought perhaps, or maybe a promiscuous pass or the shock of having had a glimpse of the undone top button. She giggled at the thought of it. He must think she was trying too hard, so she turned away a little to button up her blouse. Now he would probably think that it had unbuttoned by mistake. She chided herself at making too much of a normal situation. Here were a boy and girl, meeting to have a good time. Why should they tag other expectations with this rendezvous?

They were seated at an open air restaurant and ordered some food and beverage. There was a tingling sensation that they were aware of and knew the cause. They spoke about the weather, the people at the restaurant, the dogs frisking about and the birds chirping at the height of the dull summer evening. They sipped and spoke, the sipped and listened. There was a rhythm in their banal actions which they both were aware of.  Time passed and she teased him with a prospect of introducing him to her roommate. He shrugged and asked instead, if she was willing to be his. To this, in spite of the shock, she managed to give him a weak smile. Obviously he was joking, only pulling her leg to keep the evening afloat. All this while he hadn’t uttered a word of significance and now he wanted her to be his for life? Ofcourse she was being teased. But his gaze was unwavering. It unsettled her since she knew he meant every word that dropped out of his mouth.  How could he decide so quickly, given that he hardly knew her? How could he? She thought, she was frivolous about life but it surprised her that a seemingly mature man had the audacity to play prank of this order with her.

He had to keep his gaze steady to prove the truth of his sentiments. Not once did it occur to him to reconsider. How could he tell her now that this was what he had in mind the entire evening. He had decided to risk it. He had known a lot of rejection and this was  one risk he had to take because he knew he had never had anything handed over to him  easily. He wanted her badly. Not in the physical sense alone, but her very essence, the light frothiness that she brought about where ever she strode.  He missed that zing in his life, this spring like chirpiness and delusion that life can be fun. He was sure that she would bring it with her into his life, if she said yes.

Only if she said yes.

The house was an old sprawling villa. I first saw it when the old tenants, who were our family friends, were staying there.They were going through a rough patch in their lives and the house helped them to recover. Except for the drumstick tree and the date palm, the large area in front of the house used to be void of vegetation due to the presence of the rabbit population there. There were dozens of them running around- brown, white, gray, mixed, and they were so adorable! Occassionally some of the females would give birth and were given one of the huge bathrooms to be used as maternity wards. I used to love petting the rabbits while I waited for Rashid, my friend who lived there, to get ready for school.
My mother used to say that it was the stool of those rabbits that accounted for the vigorous growth of her vegetable garden. When we moved there in 1997, Rashid and his family had gone to settle in India by and his father had recommended us as the new tenants. And that’s how we got the house. It had three huge rooms, two bathrooms, one huge kitchen and a dining hall. The area at the front was changed into a flower and vegetable garden by my parents. My father did some major renovation and employed gardeners to till the area to be planted. A truck load of fine sand was leveled and then spread with manure. The end results were heavenly!
The next year, there was a huge bower of multi-coloured flowers and a vegetable garden where my father and mother harvested their own freshly grown vegetables. I used to bring the seeds from India. There were pumpkins, snake gourd, tomatoes, bitter gourd, egg plants chilli, tulsi, pomegranate and so much more! The photos of my sister witha huge pumpkin clasped in her arms were wonderful. My parents had green fingers, that was sure.And the drumstick tree was also very forthcoming with drumsticks. We could just walk through our garden to collect the ingredients for a sambaar. Next, Father cultivated the young date palm that Rashid’s mother had planted. He appointed special gardeners to tie the date palm with semen from other palms so that pollination occured. And the next year, there were sweet, syrupy dates to be had. They were a special breed, the best of the khlaas variety of dates. If there was nothing for breakfast, we would go outside and pluck a few dates and have them with milk. A more nutritious breakfast was never to be found. All our friends wanted a share of the harvest and Father was happy to oblige. Those were one some of the happiest years in Father’s life. When my uncle came from Saudi to visit his brother, he was astonished to see such an array of flowers and vegetables. My father had even tried a hand at planting plantains and papaya trees, both of which were not as successful as the rest. Still Father had managed to establish a curry leaf plant there and my mother would grab a handful of curry leaves through the kitchen window to flavour her curries.
In the year 1999, my husband-to-be came to see me for the first time in that same house. We were married in Bahrain on 17th February, 2000. The engagement had taken place a month ago at our house in Riffa, with everyone from the groom’s family coming to adorn the bride with jewels. It was an event in which the house shone. The petunias were in full bloom outside and garden chairs were arranged there. Inside, the living room was set up with a buffet table on which all kinds of traditional Keralite and western snacks were arranged for the men. The dining room was likewise arranged for the ladies. The party was a huge success! The reception was held in March and I came home with my husband for the first time. Almost a year later, our first child, Mohammed Roshan was born on 12th March 2001, at the BDF Hospital nearby and brought home to Riffa three days later. Oor first anniversary was spent cuddling our very own bundle of joy. Father was ecstatic to have a grandson to coddle and spoil and he was especially partial to Hammudi because he himself was a father of eight girls and no boys. He adored Hammudi. The next year, I gave him yet another grandson and that absolutely made his day. Rizwan was born on 23rd April 2002. a month or two after Mother came back from Hajj.
Every year, Father cultivated dates and drumsticks – the other vegetables were not just as good now, and so we stopped planting them. Through the years, even though I stayed in my husband’s house, We came visiting every week. My sons toddled their way through the flowers every year and soon both of them were running in to greet their grandparents and adoring aunts. They learnt to tricycle and swing from Riffa. My sisters from Abu Dhabi and Sharjah came visiting once in a while.
Through all this, the house was constant with us. The flowers drooped when my mother and sisters went to India for good so that my sisters could continue their higher studies there. The gardens were a constant comfort to my father when he spent lonely nights smoking and thinking of his family in India. My children loved their times playing house in the garden. Once, they even managed to build a little hut there by stacking bricks together and creating a carpetted roof.
All that finally came to an end when in 2008, the house was sold to an entrepreneur who wanted to reap his profits by demolishing the house and building a flat there so that it would be more cost-effective. We were asked to vacate. The house that Father then found was a studio apartment which fully consisted of less than one of the rooms in the old house.
Father moved, went to India for a couple of months, came back, had problems getting used to tha limited space in the new house and finally made his decision to leave for good. He left packing and taking away some of the the memories in terms of photos and bric-a-brac.
Six months later, Father also said goodbye to this world. His kidney had been weak; a fall and a couple of operations and medications later, it was claimed useless. The dialysis worked for less than a month and by then Father had stopped wanting to live. I was not there when he passed away. I was three days too late to see him. Mother and my sisters were devastated. Sometimes I think , he lost heart when we were asked to vacate the house. The trials and tribulations of daily life were not quite so trying when we lived there. The air, the trees, the whole environment in the neighbourhood were a balm for Father’s spirit. But Father had his own philosophies about life- that nothing was constant in this life. Neither the joys, nor the sorrows and he accepted it rather poorly.
We went there after the demolision. The site of the house had been razed to the ground. But where the drumstick tree had been, there stood a baby drumstick tree.

How can I, who have seen so many summers, sunsets and sunrises, laughter and tears pick one memory from my kaleidoscopic life to write about? I pick one and the kaleidoscope turns bringing together different shards of glass, creating a new memory altogether, not the one I first sat down to write about. But I must hold this magical mutability still or else it will all break down and like this “too solid flesh may melt and thaw and resolve itself into a dew.”

So, abandoning Mr. Shakespeare, I address this daunting task of sifting through a life of chaff to find some seeds to share, to plant and hopefully to grow. Forgive me, if every now and then the kaleidoscope takes over and we go haring off down a path an uncooperative neuron may choose to chase because a word, a change in the light, or a forgotten taste awakens yet another memory.

Well then, here goes: Me sitting with a freshly sharpened pencil in my hands, a clean half white half red eraser on the table next to me and in front of me the empty, open page of my exercise book. The task – homework. Fortunately for me, it’s English homework and the pleasant assignment is to describe a rainy day. Now, I love the rain. Not an insipid drizzle but a good thundering monsoon rain. Angry black clouds clashing their heavenly cymbals with a chorus of smaller kettledrums setting up a regular percussion, interspersed with brilliant flashes of lightning. But this is April in Delhi, north India where the heat is setting up a practice run for some serious scorching yet to come in May and June. So it’s pretty hard to get in the mood to describe a rainy day. At the time I was eleven years old and didn’t have as many memories as I do today to draw on. So, in order to recreate the image I set my chin on my hands to imagine this wonderful scene.

I close my eyes and picture the coming of the storm. In my mind’s eye I can feel the little wisps of wind as they carry the message to the tops of the trees. Next I see the gradual darkening of the sky, the strange other-worldly light that portends this grand theatre of the heavens. I can actually see that first enormous flash of lightning as it rips the curtain of clouds with its brilliant white sword to announce the arrival in all its majesty and God-like grandeur, the hero of the show: Thunder. I can almost hear this amazing loud noise and in the sweltering heat of an April afternoon in Delhi I shiver until I actually feel a resounding clap on my back. This is all too real and I shake my head as I awaken from this daydream.

What greets me is some real thunder. My mother, who at that moment appeared to me as a screaming banshee. Wild eyes. Flaming tongue. “You’ve been sitting here for half an hour supposedly doing your homework and you haven’t written a word!”

I look down and sure enough, there it is, that pristine sheet of paper in my exercise book, untouched, unmarked. It is then that the page shows its first few drops of rain – my tears.

July 2020

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