“ ~Show mercy on the poor old woman ~~ Give alms, without qualms – oh, oh, ohh- show mercy on this poor old woman ~~,” I sang. I know the word around town paints me as the “loony grannie.” Perhaps, I am. My life certainly carried sufficient trauma to justify the insanity I am accused of. A lady clad in silk by the temple drops a hundred rupee note on to my weary palm. A generous tip but my eyes don’t leave her purse. The purse draped in soft blue, like mine once was, as though wrapped in clouds of shyness and secrets.
I had accidentally forgotten my soft blue purse in the canteen, caught up in daydreams and fallacies as twelve year olds often tend to be. Lo and Behold, it turned out to be a blessing. Who returned it but the most desired chap in our grade ? One of the TDH guys- Tall, Dark, Handsome. My purse was safe, with all its myriad contents intact but for one. My photograph was missing.
I swagger up to the tea shop and pick up a newspaper while sipping my cup, uptown girl style. Vestiges of the past remain, you see. The owner still smirks at the idea of a literate beggar. Even after a routine two months, my curiosity for the news amuses him.
We were pouring over the newspaper, me and my TDH guy, surveying national problems meticulously, enraged and proud at all the right places. He says, “Our empty words are not making changes. Being is futile without doing” and I agree. My mind turns the page of every social service option until the unexpected word is hurled at me : Soldier. That’s what he wants to become. I can see his resolve in the tightened muscles of his lanky frame. I try to wear a sense of worship in my eyes, but they betray fear.
Ongoing Peace talks. Student Union Strikes again. I read the headlines mechanically. Old habits that refuse to leave like unwelcome guests. There’s one headline that clutches my heartstrings : Ring finger wrings hearts. About a celebrity’s engagement.
Tenth grade. While my peers were busy with Figures of Speech and Trigonometry problems, me and my fiancé were concerned with flower arrangements and guest lists for the wedding. The gleaming diamond on my ring finger emitted a foul smell, perceptible only to me, for I foresaw what was to come. A life of abandonment. Penniless. Widowed. Moving out of a house that was too close to “us”, away from a town whose street corners and pillars spoke my husband’s secrets. Estranged. Widowed. Penniless.
An array of excited school boys ran past me, with the vigour of an army about to launch their collective forces. A sports team. Cricket, Hockey, Football – Football, I decided. Seeing children and lamenting my childless days was a thing of the past. A pain I had grown numb to. Still, at the sight of their uniforms, a cold dread wrapped around my heart, disguised as a safety blanket, while it was in reality, a prickly porcupine shawl. I always have the sense to go into hiding on Republic Days and Independence Days. I should’ve added Sports Day to that list. What torpefied me into submission once now startled a wail from my unsuspecting throat.
The sight of the tricolour symbols on their uniform.
Symbols that cost two lives.
Another buried alive.