Thursday, August 11, 2005

This is a digression from the story.

There are some thoughts that keep haunting me, certain injustices that haunt me. I can't tolerate injustice and unprofessionalism. I know it is too much to expect from everyone, but these thoughts weigh me down and so I write. They torture me and I can concentrate on nothing...

Thursday, August 04, 2005

I contemplated running away from there so that my mother could never find me. But then I thought, I could never be with my grandparents if I ran away. So that wasn't a viable solution. There wasn't any solution, I just had to follow what was told to me. I tried reasoning it out with my mother, I asked her how I could reverse this decision, could we return that leaving certificate? She told me that even if we returned it, my uncle didn't want me to stay there. But I said that the house was my grandfather's and he could let me stay if he wanted to. How could my uncle have a say in it and why was he deciding for me? My grandfather said that the house wasn't in his name. Name, what name? Wasn't he the eldest in the family? He said he was, but that was it. Nobody could rescue me from this. Everyone else decided my fate. Everyone else decided where I should stay and with whom and for how long. But I had to live it all. I wished, then for the first time, everyone else other than my grandparents dead. I never realised that they all were my grandparents children.

The days were running. At that time some of my cousin brothers came to stay there. The elder one was eleven and the younger one was three years old. I really liked the younger one, he was cute and chubby. We would play together. Suddenly I marked a change in my uncles' behaviour. They were very nice to both my cousins. I wasn't allowed to rest my legs on the wall but they were. I wasn't allowed to scream or throw tantrums but they were. I just ignored it. My uncles then decided to take them out as my cousins were getting bored. I was excited that we were going out. I was all ready with my clothes and shoes. My cousins and my uncles just shut the door to my face and disappeared. I was never a part of their plan. They were anyway planning to get rid of me. My aunt Vidya, who dressed me for the occassion asked me why I was left behind. I told her, "I don't know." I wanted to drown somewhere and hide my face. I was the most hated person there. I went to my grandpa and asked him to take me out. He and I went walking in the evening. And we talked and talked. By then a realisation dawned on me, being a child meant being powerless. It meant being ridiculed for thinking and expressing one's opinions. I thought to myself then that I would slap my uncles one day when I became as big as them. I would hurt them too. Then I looked at my grandparents and loved them even more.
I didn't know that the end of my stay with my grandparents was nearing and also probably the end of my feeling of security. I was seven years old and had completed my second standard education. Suddenly one day my uncle Ramakrishnan said that I had to live with my parents henceforth. I was aghast. "Why?", I asked. I didn't know that such a day would ever come when I would have to be away from my grandparents inspite of being in the same city. I ran to my grandpa and cried. My grandmom heard me say that I was going to be sent away and started worrying. My grandpa just smiled and consoled us. He called my uncle and told him that I should stay with them at least for two more years. But my uncle never paid heed to this. I realised that when he called my mother and handed over my school Leaving Certificate to her. For the first time I saw my name printed on it. It said - Nandini Srinivasan. I pointed out that it was a mistake and that my name should be Nandini Narayanan Iyer. I had seen my aunts write that suffix. But then I was told that the suffix is generally the father's name. But my grandfather was elder to my father and if we have to respect our elders as we are told, then why can't we take their name as suffix? And also, my mother's name had that suffix, didn't it? It didn't, I was told. Only my father's name mattered. But I wanted to take on my grandpa's name. There was nobody to listen to me.

My memories of my father were very grim. I had the image of him as a huge man with a moustache. I was scared of him. My grandpa never had a moustache. I remembered that this man had pinched me hard when I refused to go to him, when he called me. Nobody saw him pinching me but the mark stayed on. He would play with me on his stray visits to Kerala, where I stayed with my grandparents before coming to Bombay. And I would play with him too, not because I liked it, but because I was scared of being violated. I was scared of being beaten or pinched. I never liked him. I didn't know him. How could stay with him? I shuddered at the thought. I knew my mother but I never trusted her. She was a stranger, she was nice to me now but she too had beaten me for not listening to her when I was two years old. I didn't want to listen to her then. I didn't think she was worth listening to, only my grandparents were worth listening to.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

I asked my aunt once, my mentor-aunt, the reason for being left here with my grandparents. She said that my parents worked so they couldn't take care of me. She said it was a blessing in disguise for me as I had so many people here to love me. "Really?" I asked. She hugged me tight. My other aunt Shweta, was listening to all this. She was the youngest of the lot, just ten years elder to me. She said that my other aunt, Vidya was lying. She said the truth is that my parents wanted freedom to roam around. They had seen kodaikkanal, Nepal and a few other places without me. And if I were with them, they wouldn't be able to do so. I told her that I don't care to see all these places as long as I had my ammama and thatha. But her words stayed in my mind. I went to sleep knowing that nobody, no one other than my grandparents actually loved me, and may be my aunt Vidya. But I wasn't sure.
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My Grandparents were excellent story-tellers. I had started listening to stories since the age of two. My grandmother was educated till standard eight, so she would read to me patiently from the English Picture-story books that were given to me by my mother. I loved "The fox and the crow" as I liked looking at the picture of the fox carrying bread in its mouth after having fooled the crow. Not that I approved of it, as the moral of the story stated that One should beware of people who praise, but that bread looked very tempting. I could empathise with the fox who snatched the bread. Apart from my granparents my mother would always make it a point to tell me stories whenever we met. I liked listening to the same stories again and again. I had heard 'Cindrella', 'Aladdin' and 'Alibaba and the forty Thieves' umptene times. I never got bored of stories. My grandma and grandpa too frequently heard requests for the stories that they knew from me. So I loved studying English as there were so many stories in the text book and I never had to struggle for answers as I would read those stories many times, as in whenever I was asked to study that was always my preferred subject.

On the other hand I didn't like maths. I would always avoid it. There was so much to memorize in that. We had to learn tables till ten but my grandpa insisted that i should know tables till sixteen, so i had to learn them. I was considered abysmal in math by everyone in the house. My uncle had declared that, so that was the truth. I didn't care much, but that led me to fear math. I started hating it so much that once I put my bench-mate in trouble. Our school math teacher was checking our math books. I saw her book and saw many signs in it '+', '-' etc. She was talking to someone else when I took her book and started scribbling numbers at random as answers to the problems given. She suddenly saw me and was annoyed, I said I was just generally solving further. She was happy as it saved her a lot of work. When the teacher called her for checking, she shouted at her for not solving the sums properly. But she never sneaked on me. I apologised for my actions. But I realised that I would have done it in my book too, unfortunately I wasn't carrying mine. I was genuinely sorry that I had scribbled in hers, but I did want to scribble numbers. I just wanted them to leave me alone. I hated numbers around me so I was actually scribbling in anger. I wanted those numbers to know that I didn't like them as I was humiliated in my house because of them. I was too naive then, to point a finger at my teacher, my uncle Ramakrishnan.
In these two years I had been to visit my 'supposed' parents a couple of times. Before that I had been to that house when my mother was living alone. I was told that my father was staying abroad. I met my paternal cousins, my father's sister, my paternal grandfather and his b-i-l. I was put in really absurd suroundings. I always cried before going there as my grandparents wouldn't come along. They used to console me saying that I would be back with them the same evening. As these events always led to the separation of my grandparents from me, I never liked these events. The brunt of this dislike was obviously borne by the people I met in the house in which my mother lived.

She was actually very sweet to me. She would give me all her attention. She was the only person I knew there so I would always hide behind her. I would see that I never answered any questions that were asked by any of those unknown people, not even my mother. I used to be quiet, almost like a robot, just sitting, eating when I was supposed to, sometimes even controlling nature's calls as I was in an unfamiliar surrounding. I just waited for the clock to strike six, so that Ramakrishnan's younger brother (my second uncle) would come to pick me up. My eyes always brightened and a smile automatically crept in. But I wasn't sure if I could smile at this uncle, Manikumar, as I didn't know if he liked me. But most definitely I knew him much more than anyone else in that house. On one such occassion when I was preparing to leave, my uncle was asked to sit and have coffee. I usually stood at the door, all set to go with my footwear on, so that my uncle wouldn't waste any minute after drinking coffee and that we could reach home early. On this particular day, my father's sister's husband asked my mom why I was behaving like this. My mom immediately replied that I was close to her parents so I was waiting to go. I smiled at her as she knew my mind. Then he told me to sit as I was anyway going to go. I nodded and continued standing. Then my paternal grandpa who was blind, asked me if i knew his name. Why would I know his name, I don't even know him. I replied in the negative. Then he asked me my grandpa's name and I promptly replied "C. Narayana Iyer." I even knew what 'C' stood for, his village name Cranganoore. Then he said that I should know his name too. I asked, "why?" He didn't have any reply.
A school picnic was announced to Borivali National Park. I was really excited as our teacher told us that picnic meant fun and frolic. I had never been on picnics before. When I was in the 1st standard I was considered too small to go on picnics so I was not allowed to go. But now I was in the second, so I had hopes of joining my class. I ran home excited and made the announcement. My grandpa asked me why I wanted to go. I stared, the reason was obvious I wanted to enjoy. I just couldn't reply, then he said I was too small to go with a large crowd! He said he would take me there. I protested. I wanted to go with the class and I started crying. I never spoke to my grandpa for two whole hours that day.

My fate was such that my 'T-shirt' uncle, whom I didn't like anymore had to poke his nose in all my affairs. As I have admitted that I had started disliking him, I shall call him by his name, Ramakrishnan. He was determined to put an end to my happiness, so he obviously refused to send me. He said I could go if I was staying with my parents as they couldn't take responsibility if my safety. I immediately responded, "But I am staying with you." Then I recollected that I had a mother, so I said, "alright, can you ask my mother?" To which he replied that I wasn't staying with her so she really had no say. I was heart-broken. My granparents told him to control his words, but I realised that was the truth. My grandpa came upto me and said that he would take me there. I just smiled at him, trying hard to control my tears, as I knew my tears would hurt him.