Of Heartbeats and Silences

His heart was beating steadily. His chest hair had been shaved off, and I missed its roughness against my cheek. But then he takes my hand gently and I am glad to feel the familiar feel of the tough skin of his palms. I bury deeper into his chest and I can feel him smile. I close my eyes.

She can feel the tears in her eyes as he gently pulls the knots in her hair. He neatly pulls it into a ponytail as she sulks. He quickly stuffs her tiny feet into even tinier shoes and ties her laces, all the time looking at the clock. She fusses over how he has done her tie as he grabs her and puts her in the front of the scooter. The wind messes the neat ponytail but she enjoys the ride. His arms on the scooter handles form a protective ring around her, and she tries to peek over them She grins proudly as the scooter enters the school compound. She jumps off the scooter, but he grabs her, mutters at the mess of her hair, frowns, gives her the school bag and then turns back. She looks at him and he grins. So do the teachers when they see the short plump man try to throw up the little girl high in the air.

He sits on the veranda wearing a lungi*. There is an expression of total bliss on his face. The little girl is trying to plait his hair. She is adventurous. She makes three “chotis”. The first using the hair on his forehead. Two more using the hair at the back. There is a perfectly round bald patch in the middle of his scalp, but she doesn’t care. She uses the tiny rubber bands that her mother has given her and tells him that he looks like a musician. He says he doesn’t like the look, so can she improve on it please. She climbs on to his lap, cups his face in her hands and looks at his face from a different angle. She agrees that it could do with some work. The rubber band comes off, and the combing begins again. He settles down once more, paper in hand, occasionally looking at the mirror and giving her his opinions on male fashion.

The auditorium was crowded. She felt very important. She was not only the class monitor, but they had also asked her to look after the tiny tots. Make sure that they didn’t talk and cry and stuff like that. She remembered how she had been, and knew that she had to help those young ones. Next year was fifth standard, and it was going to be a different school. He had told her that she had to do her bit for her school. It was Results day and they were announcing the ranks. He was standing at the window and was now waving at her. It was a big day and he was dressed for the occasion. The usual cotton shirt was replaced with a safari suit. She was as proud of him as he was of her.

They can ill afford the Chinalla Pattu sari* that the dance teacher recommended. She is excited with all her new purchases. The white stones in her arrapatta* and her necklace, and the beautiful white and gold mohiniaattam* dress. They have been roaming all over Allapuzha and finally have managed to even buy the huge brass lamps needed for the Arangettam*. She can see that he is looking worried as they enter the huge shop. They look over all the saris and he tells her that they will choose the most beautiful one. She nods her head, but is much more restrained in her excitement now. They choose a pale orange sari, expensive, and very beautiful, but not like the beautiful green and red sari that the sales man was recommending. He tells the sales guy that the green one is too expensive and she fights hard not to show her disappointment. When she goes home, she shows off her sari to her aunts. They ask her about the Chinalla Pattu, but she tells them that it was not really nice, and she had asked him to buy this sari for her. He thinks the orange color of the sari looks good in the lamplight as he watched her perform. But the green and red Chinalla Pattu would have looked nicer. The green and red chinalla pattu came a year later, was treasured, and then given away to aspirant BharataNatyam dancers; but the orange sari still remains folded in blankets and kept in last shelf in the Godrej almirah.

She has memorized the geometry theorems. The tuitions are over and all she can see is pentagons and hexagons. She knows that the moment of reckoning has come. She knows how that this is really, really, important for him. She closes her eyes, but there is no sleep. She goes to the loo and makes all the noise she can. He comes up and asks her to sleep with him. He talks to her, his speech slurring with sleep and soon she too dozes off. She gets full marks in geometry for her board exam the next day. Her friends laughed when she insisted that her guardian angel helped in remembering the theorems.

He had just come home. She was gay and happy and she didn’t want to come home. Hostel was freedom and a bunch of five girls. He is hurt but laughs it off. She knows he is hurt and tells him that she will come home every weekend. She is excited about college and new friends and new opportunities. He talks to her about the Pillai uncle’s daughter who had eloped. He tells her that the family name is very important. She nods her head, but her excitement drains off. She never talks to him about boys. Ever.

She was stuttering almost every day. And she was putting on a lot of weight. But then she was eating so much and it was healthy to eat, and as for the stuttering, she had always been a nervous kid. He had no idea what was coming. Finally she confessed. He couldn’t believe that she had been missing classes. The little princess was no quitter; she could not have been scared off by a bout of ragging. He raved and ranted and mulled over where he had gone wrong. He felt guilty and so did she. She wanted to curl up like a snail and weep. He pulled her up, whacked her hard, took her to college every day, and made sure she kept her nose to the grind. But he told her that she was still his princess. Just that she was now a very fat princess. She still stutters – but only when she is really nervous about something.

He is so proud of her. Today was her first day in office. He takes her to the office and waits in the reception. The office is really posh and is on the 7th floor and he notes down every detail. She hugs him and then steps uncertainly into the corridor. He wants to tell her to call him for lunch, but then decides against it. It is inauspicious to call somebody when they are just about to do something fruitful. He goes out and spends time in the vicinity, but comes back for lunch. He is surprised to see that she is with some other girls. She says that she will have lunch with him, but he insists that she needs to make friends. They have an ice cream together after lunch. They go up to the wash and he asks her to gargle properly.

He can’t understand. Neither can she. She comes homes regularly, but she has been putting off marriage. She has explained to him why, but he can’t make sense out of it. She fights. So does he. She gives up and agrees. He is pleased, but feels guilty. He tells her that he will choose the best guy. She nods and smiles.

She seems distant. She comes home regularly, but keeps reading all the time. He is the same; has she changed? She has that horrible hair cut now. She tells him all about her job, but she evades questions on her life style. He made some comments on religion, and she got very upset. Her political beliefs haven’t changed much, but she has become so much more vocal. She is anti-dowry and he can’t understand how he is supposed to marry her off without it. He tells her about the garden they are planning and she listens with interest. She tells him about call centers and how they operate. She avoids talking about marriage. He talks, but approaches her with wariness. There are so many more silences these days.

I open my eyes. This time there is no silence. His heartbeat is steady and soothing. He looks at me and asks me “Ache de thangamani* elle?” I smiled and nodded and settled down once more.

It looks a few errant heartbeats, and one angioplasty for my dad, before I realized how much I missed being “Ache de thangamani”.

4 comments for “Of Heartbeats and Silences

  1. October 29, 2007 at 4:18 pm

    He goes out and spends time in the vicinity, but comes back for lunch. He is surprised to see that she is with some other girls.
    I think those words capture the essence of the entire relationship: hope, expectation, jealousy, despair, failing and virtue.
    Just beautiful.

  2. November 6, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    So beautiful!

    I can see each vignette as a page in a tiny book with little hand-drawn sketches. Don’t you draw?
    do you have pictures of your childhood? Make a book with these episodes! That will be an awesome gift to him for an upcoming birthday!

    btw, what does “Ache de thangamani* elle?” mean?

    • November 16, 2009 at 2:29 am

      i interpret your non-reply to mean that you are busy working on the small book of vignettes!
      🙂

      • November 16, 2009 at 6:34 pm

        oops!!! I missed that 🙂 It means ‘fathers darling’ 🙂

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