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Doctor examines mother-in-law’s pulse, fills home with smell of syringes. You remember playing with syringes, when you were a five year old girl, the favorite and fairest in school. You fill water in the syringes along with your friends, giggling for no reason. Mother–in–law often passed an angry look, hinting at your uncontrollable nature of giggling for no reason. And she of course pointed out how her daughters are fair, fair like a white washed wall of your apartment on the twenty-fifth floor. Then you understood, no one is fair in the world, everyone wants to be fair as much as possible, but circumstances won’t let everybody fair. Your mother–in–law’s granddaughter hates smell of the tablets, sound of the tablet wrappers, sprays the room stolen detergent powder, plays Hollywood music. You know how people try different techniques for making illnesses to put into silence. They accuse you for not being silent. Throw away the recipe book, turn off the cookery channel. Preparing your mind for cooking is the bigger task. You should buy coriander, mint, Tamarind, garlic. Sweeten them with potato. Potato is not for kachoris. They are for sugar. Sugar syrup should be added with baking powder. Baking powder is different from wheat flour. You should know making chapatis for both gulab jamuns and kachoris. Your life, so far childless, has both making and baking. The children at home just like simple tea with movie theater popcorn. Give them ice cream out of gram flour. Sugar syrup should be brown like the new sister–in–law’s sari, which she bought for celebrating her twenty-ninth wedding anniversary. You wake up early in the morning, greeted by your younger sister–in–law’s exploration of nausea. They used to ask you “do you feel like vomiting? Do you feel like eating something sour? Do you feel like eating mangoes, not even lemon” then leave with disappointed faces, sighing.
It was at the New Year celebrations in the apartments, you felt alone, surrounded by the mixture of orange, grape, jasmine, rose flavors of perfumes, beads of artificial jewelry, hair sprays and cold creams on cracked skin. For them, a magical cascade, coins inside, folds of handmade fan, will decide who should win and when. One of them giggles at the receiver, she replaces for each angry hour, and never sets alarm in phone, pretty scared of breaking it in her morning’s disturbed sleep.
To pass each lonely hour, you need a couple of bananas, hunger at the nerves, stuff with onion, salt, black pepper, chilli powder, dal, milk powder too, baking powder again, all the ingredients should be added with mustard fire. Your shopping bag shouldn’t smell like a school uniform. You all mark in the calendar, so the dates are erased, sometimes indented with preponements and postponements.
They all call you crazy, you spend the whole day in dreaming they confirmed. If you don’t have mango pickle for your curd rice, you get adjusted with fresh mango slice. Here, if you didn’t master chapati making, you can start with preparing idly mix. You can make cheese with any of these. Cashier’s vaccination, hostess’s clean fingers, sometimes remind you of the nail paint. You can never shake hands with her, she is practicing hair dressing. You hate being offered Vodka, sonography, and missed calls in the late night, and filling the bladder with water. You were not scared of speculum. You felt the light real and better than reality. You read a book in the hospital, for every appointment. You underline some phrases. You stare at the lovely pictures of babies with their mothers. Your body hears the waves of ultrasound, the hormones respond to the medication. Someone advised your mother about your diet. She phoned you last summer, and gave you the food prescription. You should avoid sweets and spices she said. This Monday you are going to meet an experienced gynecologist. Your sister–in–law’s best friend she is. Your mother –in–law arranged a meeting, where all of you watched the gynecologist making a paper presentation at an International conference. It was somewhere in Italy as far as you remembered. Your mother–in–law reminds you that she shouldn’t forget the stories that she wants to narrate to crying babies, shouldn’t spend money on her daughter’s children, and should remember to make eggless cakes for your children.
There’s nothing written on those walls. You already filled the walls with sea shells. They too decorate the tables with fallen paint, houses in ice cream cups, bulbs in wire baskets, woolen rabbits, tissue buds, bath soap flowers, budgeting bouquets, key chains, wall hangings too, whatever their knowledge on economy prompts. Later, they discuss about their incomplete applications for the arts and crafts department in the college where your cousin is an administrative officer. The college also has an architecture department, to which your co-daughter–in– law insisted her engineering daughter get admitted. You took some time to figure out colleges from hospitals, gas cylinders from weighing machines, sisters–in–law from friends. Initially you thought of remembering all your acquaintances, how they are related to you. Later, you found, they don’t have names, each one is like the other woman. One of them suspended her servant who mislabeled her sari for another day, made her to wear the same sari for two different social gatherings. Another one hired foreign makeup artist for your best friend. Your elder niece was different everybody thought. She learnt driving, ironically travels in plain. They told you to forget your dance classes for sometime. If the chapatis are not instantly eaten, they become cold, hard to be chewed, similar to the sweets you got for new-year, you donated to your servants. They told you to drink plenty of water. But, you know it. You are no sea to swallow rivers from steel bottles. You also started collecting baby dolls, learnt wrapping them. Your own sisters would help you in that. You will have Italian recipes in your last sister’s wedding. They will talk about your abroad living cousin’s costly video calls, one of the convocations they attended, the birthday gifts, the wedding day tours, mandatory customs in baby naming ceremony, and of course about your long time used oral contraceptive pills. At teens, you have PCOD, you should grow up to get the ovaries removed they hinted. PCOD is a minor issue another friend told. You typed in the search box, whether ovaries are also like appendix to be removed at any time? Or at any pain? You got interrupted by an entertaining video that popped up. You know the contents of entertainment, and melancholic towards entertainment they made you feel. In a hurry to close that window, you shut down the entire page.
You finally learnt to understand the shapes where gulab jamuns and kachoris appear. They are in round, square, circle, similar to your flying thoughts. You stare at people, they said. You stopped staring. You already know that, your big sister-in-law’s grownup daughter is not coming for the wedding. You hate her calling you “aunty.” You buy the medicine from a store that doesn’t give receipts, just opposite to your regular parlor. You also remember one of your aunts, lecturing about women’s rights. You understood all of them, you thought. You also wrote down names of hormones, names of surgeries in notebook, some tricky phrases like reproductive, adoption choices, and some more words you couldn’t figure out from your ovened memory. You often hear them in Television shows. Gulab jamun powder, you can get from a store that doesn’t give you the change in rupees. You counted the money and showed them the exact rate printed on the pack. “The extra money you paid is tax,” you heard the reply. You counted the money again, looking at the picture of a bowl on the pack. “Yes. It’s a free gift.” This time, the young, smiling sales girl gave you a small bowl with a slender design, and a smile. You didn’t count the money this time, returned home. You needn’t share the gulab jamun powder or the bowl with any of your neighboring aunty, her tuition students, or their mothers. You can cross the teenager, without staring at her new hair cut. You can swallow them until their hunger can pay you compliments. You understood that you are grown-up, when you started hating compliments. Compliments about your sari, your hair style, about your jewelry. You hated. You hated smiles, the pretending smiles, sweet words, and people looking at your staring eyes. You thought you are grown-up, when you don’t tell everybody your name. You are grown up finally, a child you are, enjoying each snack of spicy sweet life.
Dr. Jyothsnaphanija is the author of the poetry collection Ceramic Evening, published in 2016. Her poetry, short stories and research articles have appeared in several magazines and news papers. Currently she works as Assistant Professor of English, at ARSD College, University of Delhi, India. She can be reached at [email protected]
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