Looking at my somewhat grim face in the mirror, I remembered what a writer from New York had said to me about the city that is home. Sitting across from the table, he told me that Jaipur had made him sad. It was the first time he had witnessed Indian poverty and he could not quite forget the dejected faces of its residents. I looked at my face again, carefully this time, wondering what could be understood about my life, my reality from this face that just happened to be melancholy that day. Is it possible that I wake up unhappy every day, thinking about all the things that could have been possible in another country, in another city – do I, at every moment that I am here, think about the devastating poverty, about the rising violence against women, about how I have to carefully screen my clothes each time I step out of the house, that growing up my mother sometimes didn’t have enough food, that one of my father’s friends had agreed to a child marriage because he wanted a new coat?
There are mornings when I wake up without any of this. There are moments, entire days even, when all I think about is the changing shade of my heels kept on the sunlit balcony. Just yesterday I spent two hours studying a man’s face in a photograph: the lowered eyes framed by gold rimmed glasses, the melancholic bend of his chin, his white stubble’s shimmering–like freshly cut grass– the translucent smoke from his cigarette floating in the air: the smoke so fragrant when I remembered that the night before I had bought a couple of small mogra garlands, now crushed under my pillow, they made my whole bed smell like what they call in English the Arabian jasmine, and I noticed how gorgeous the torn petals looked on my chest, right below the collar bone, outlined by a block printed indigo shirt.
Yes, sometimes I forget about the crowd, and observe myself as if I were the only person in the entire world – pausing often at the arm, watching the sunlight change its shapes –as if all the bodies I have ever encountered are mere just mist, that the faces I remember are nothing but holes in light, that the photographs I have are of another world.
Some evenings, even A. forgets the time she had distracted herself from hunger by making musical sounds on water filled glasses, and we discuss the correct way of roasting spices as if there is nothing more important in the world. At home, sometimes we jokingly use the terrifying sentence “you are responsible for your own safety”, a warning issued perhaps by the government that my mother had heard as a child, hiding in the corners of the small room during the India-Pakistan war.
While drunk and trying to dance the salsa past midnight during a friend’s wedding, I don’t really remember the man who had hit me, years ago, on the back of my head while walking on an unnamed street.
How happy do I have to look to a foreigner, who will never understand that the man on the bicycle was my grandfather about thirty years ago, who had run away from home to learn classical music and married my grandmother in a secret ceremony, and that despite being poor, their widowed neighbour used whatever little spare money she had to buy cheap dyes to stain her only dupatta different colour each day. The old melancholy man is a construction worker from 1996 and always carries misri in his pockets for children.
Tonight, I am sad but if I go out on the street I am not there to be seen by you: you will never know the reasons of my sorrow and no one here will tell you why they still smile in this dismal place. The terrible city, sometimes briefly beautiful.
On nights I miss home, I dream of deformed roses.
(This was first published in Kindle Magazine where I write a monthly column on city, memory, etc.)