Megha felt a soft touch on her shoulder and turned to her left to see. For a minute, she gawked at this strange face standing next to her, while scanning the archives of her memory. Was it him, she pondered for a moment, with her mind still zoned out and her face, blank. But she was in no frame of mind to process anything complex, and refused to acknowledge the stranger.
"It's me, Karan, you baby hippo", the man muttered under his breath.
She knew it. She could never forget that face. It had to be him, all of her doubts now reassured. Nobody else in this world would dare call her a hippo. As the revelation slowly registered into her consciousness, her face began to bloom into a wide smile, petal by petal.
At once, she threw her arms around his shoulders and squealed in absolute delight. He wrapped his arms tightly around her and lifted her two inches above the ground. "I can barely carry you anymore, hippo" he nudged, dropping her down with a whump.
"And look at you billo, all buff and ripped. The docile house cat from our dingy streets has grown into a menacing city tiger, growwwwl." she giggled aloud.
Karan chortled with the same peculiar neighing sound he made as a kid, whenever he laughed with all his heart, especially with Megha around.
Suddenly he pulled himself back with a hard jolt, when he noticed the piercing stares of everyone in the crowd.
Megha too, was thrust back into the present. She retracted all of her ill timed joy and solemnly stepped back to stand in solidarity with her grieving grandfather, with a stifled grin on her face.
A bowl of dried leftover cereal and milk still lay on the table. I saw it and ignored. Cushion pillows were strewn over the floor, one by the doorway, the other next to the couch. I saw it and ignored it. Hot wheel cars and Lego pieces were all over the floor. Colour pencils and drawing sheets spread out on the dining table. Yohan wasn't the easiest child to be kept busy. I saw him clamouring for my attention but I ignored.
I barely cleared out some space on the table, to perch my laptop. The emails couldn't be ignored any further. I was losing my calm but I also ignored the oncoming meltdown, somehow holding fort. Just another fifteen minutes and I should be done for the day. I pleaded Yohan to sit down and watch some more TV. He wanted to run about the house, pretending he was Captain Yohan saving the world from an invisible monster hiding in our bedroom.
From the corner of my eye I saw a shiny purple metallic toy car near the hallway. I saw it and ignored. I then saw Yohan run from the bedroom towards me. I screamed for him to slow down, but words escaped me. His little foot landed on the car and skidded. I looked up and saw Yohan swerving towards the wall and losing his balance, all in slow motion. And all of a sudden, the image accelerated to a blur until I heard a soft thud, and a puddle of blood where Yohan lay very quietly.
I saw him, and for once I found him very hard to ignore.
"... it's about time, we learnt to accept ourselves for who we truly are. From historical times, women have been pressured to squeeze into the standards of beauty, society has prescribed for her. And social media has only further warped our relationship with appearances, so much that we don't even recognize ourselves anymore. With Sakhi, we hope to plan more such programmes to restore the confidence of our young daughters." The audience thundered with applause as Reena was being awarded the most promising NGO of the year 2021 award.
Congratulations and bouquets wouldn't stop pouring in, way after the show was over. Reena had a hard time opening the door with both her hands still full. After a minute of struggle, she finally made her way in, first and foremost, getting rid of the painful stilettos, dropping her designer bags, trophy flowers right by the doorway, and finding her way in the dark to slump onto the couch.
After laying there for what seemed like forever, Reena willed herself to gather some strength and trudged towards the bedroom. Turning on the dim yellow lights, she stood before the dresser and slid out of her evening dress. She sucked her belly in and unclasped the compressing body shaper to let out a deep sigh of relief.
Next, she carefully took off the emerald studs that belonged to her grandma, placing it back into the velvet pouch. She then plucked off the bobby pins from her hair one by one, that were holding up her high bun in place, unravelling cascades of her free falling tresses. She ran her fingers through her hair, and unclipped the silk hair topper from her crown, letting it fall off to the floor, and clomped towards the bath, to wash off all the leftover stains of expectations.
She looked at herself in the mirror above the basin for a full minute. With her eyes still moist, she headed into the hallway, fished out her phone from her purse, and clicked a selfie. 'I love you and recognise you,' the text read. Her phone pinged a moment later.
"Why are you so beautiful?", he swayed and swooned under his sweet alchohol breath, leaning ever so slightly towards me, planting the softest kiss on my clavicle.
This safe space, I needed it as much as he did. Perhaps, more than he did. We spoke about it over one long, lonely night. There was consent. Explicit consent. There was chemistry. Enough to power a nuclear plant. There was clarity. We are strategy counsellors afterall. There was comfort, precipitated over the years of watercooler conversations. And ofcourse, there was confidentiality, with our careers at stake.
It took me a moment, but even in that state of blissful high, I'm sure I noticed something more, a strange fragility in the air.
Inspite of his mildly inebriated state, brought upon by the malt and the salt that we poured into the night, it seemed like he looked for some feeble sign of my approval.
And for a man who cut straight to the chase, oozing confidence and dominating success, everywhere he touched, the hesitation in his eyes was awkward and frightening.
Tenderness was a helpless newborn someone left behind at our door. Neither of us knew what to do with it, and none of us wanted to be the cruel one who abandoned it.
Hey, why do we have a whiteboard marker in the bathroom? he asked.
To practise Urdu calligraphy, so I can tattoo sabr(patience) in unmentionable places, I thought to myself and giggled, tickled by my own humour, but muffling it down to a smirk, considering how close I could be cutting to the bone.
Good question though, dear husband. I'm relieved he was only mildly curious, not rolling over on the floor, laughing, in wicked amusement. Then again, he couldn't do that, not even in his wildest imagination, because bathrooms in Mumbai are one tight squeeze. How romantic!
Hold on, while we entertain the shower sequence thought bubble, and I earnestly begin to answer the original question, I must demand to know, what was he even doing, fiddling behind the geyser.
My beloved, he has access to the choicest of writers and poets in our study, even more importantly he has easy ingress to his wife's mind, my rough drafts. But they all lie there, undisturbed, waiting for a pair of eager eyes.
He tried to read for my sake. Infact, I'll give it to him, he has struggled and failed, like three times in the last one year itself, to sincerely read one book, but somehow falls asleep at the same page, each time — except, except when he is on the throne in the small Indian washroom.
That's when he is alert and ravenous, hungry for every loitering alphabet around, that dives through his orbits and falls into the great intestines with a splash, stirring things up. The morning edition of the Financial Times is the routine laxative that works just fine. I scrunch my nose in disgust, each time I glance at this eyesore of the water crisped, warped version of the freshly minted news; but that's marriage for you. Eventually, you learn to tolerate each other's kinks.
There are days however, when the morning paper would lie abandoned. And in all honesty, I had never stopped to wonder, that if the news wasn't being flushed, what else was being processed. Today I finally asked.
That's when he confessed, that on days he forgets the papers, he would religiously read the labels of shampoo bars, shaving gel tubes and mouthwash bottles, or anything else he could lay his eyes on. Thus, while hunting for his next reading material, he stumbled upon my secret stash. The whiteboard marker in question, was found cornered in the crevice behind the geyser.
Coming to why I had the marker for private company, if you haven't already guessed, then it's for that flashing moment of epiphany, when that grand idea for my next piece bolts in, or when the perfect line in iambic pentameter flashes its toothless smile at me, or when a rhyme slides in smooth, with its arms wide open, like Shahrukh on his knees.
All of which usually happens right when I'm incapacitated to write it down anywhere, no phone, no paper, soaking wet in suds, splashing under the showerhead, singing high octaves of la la la laaaaaa, like the Liril girl from the 90's. I just can't rely on my memory that's already stretched too thin to remember anything for posterity.
My mind is a motley of disorganised thoughts stacked into each other like the women in 6:05 pm Andheri fast, ladies first class train coach, a hundred open tabs crowding and yanking at the central core of my attention. Ideas fly in and out of my head at blitz speeds. That's where it helps, a dry erase marker and the pristine white bathroom tiles, and I'm ready to capture the flashing genius.
And now with both of our weird confessions, what makes complete sense is to somehow juxtapose and encourage these individual quirks. And I think I may have figured the perfect white board, to inspire an otherwise philistine, business mind to cultivate the art of appreciating some fine poetry, sitting on the throne of a middle class mumbaikars tight washroom.