A to Z Challenge

D for Dinner That I Wish Made Itself

Yes, I missed a few days after my previous post. Let’s move on.

Dinner. I love dinner. Especially when someone makes it for me. Not so much when I have to make it myself. But the reality is such that I have to. And not just for two people. If it’s just me and my husband we are very willing to scrounge for food and eat what’s available/edible. After work and daycare pick up the last thing I want to do is cook. I run on exactly 10% battery after 5 pm so I have absolutely no interest in socializing with my kitchen.

This all sounds great. But I own a child. Like it has to be fed and clothed, etc. Since I am always experiencing mom guilt (we will explore this topic later) I try to whip up some sort of home cooked meal every other day at least. On Mondays he eats leftovers ’cause I inevitably cook something on the weekend that I stow away. Tuesday to Friday is a mystery. “What to make for dinner” is a thought that plagues me all through my workday. I don’t put this much thought in to anything else.

As I tap through my keyboard or sip my coffee all I think about is the contents of my refrigerator that I can summon into cooked food. “Should I use the shriveled up broccoli or make pasta? Should I cook him oats? Is there a banana at home? ‘Cause that’s the only way he’ll eat oats. He didn’t have rice yesterday so maybe I should make khichdi. But I do not have the patience to watch over a cooker and nor do I have any vegetables. Ooooh, I will defrost the chicken and boil the potatoes and – ” that’s as far as my thought process goes by this time it’s 5 pm. My son is home and I have given him veggie chips, two slices of cheese and an egg. I will then pour milk into him and pray to the good Lord that he sleeps at an appropriate time.

I do not worry about Wednesdays. Cause Wednesday is chocolate croissant day. We go to the bakery after pick up for a treat and I watch as my scrawny two year old inhales a buttery chocolate croissant.


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A to Z Challenge

C for Cake is My Purpose in Life

I am an ardent lover of cake. I worship under its delicious alter and bow my head to it’s buttercream frosting. I don’t just love any cake. There are criteria that needs to be met. For non creamy cakes, nothing can beat good old McRennet’s tea cake with no walnuts. Soft, fluffy and perfectly appropriate to finish the whole box in a sitting, something I have done on multiple occasions.

Cream cakes can be decadent but can also be fake news. The fake news cream cake tricks you into believing that under that disgusting amount of cream lies a cake. False. Lies. Underneath all that frosting plus whipped cream (yuck) is the tiniest evidence that once upon a time there might have been cake there. This is the spawn of the devil.

Perfect cream cakes are the ones that have a sensible ratio of frosting to cake. My dream ratio is 1:4. Just the right amount of frosting to add to the sweetness without leaving you to die in a sugar coma. 

Last year I was on a quest to find my son the most perfect first birthday cake that looked good and met all my requirements. I was not prepared to shell out money to purchase a fondant cake that looked like a cartoon character or an animal or whatever it is that kids want their cakes to look like. Imagine biting into a beautiful looking fondant cake only to find that the insides taste like cardboard. Nightmare.

I wanted a proper birthday cake that tasted spectacular. The stars aligned and I found my dream bakery that makes my dream cake. For Reyhan’s first birthday I ordered a beautiful chocolate cake with raspberry filling and buttercream frosting. I was looking forward to Reyhan’s second birthday which much anticipation because milestones, baby growing, yadda, yadda, but also because I ordered a banana cake with cream cheese frosting. And it was the best darn cake I’ve ever put in my mouth. I cannot even begin to describe the moist, banana cake generously surrounded with cream cheese. It sounds like a strange combination but it was sublime.

I ate leftover cake for breakfast four days in a row. Tomorrow though, I will have to eat an egg and be satisfied with my life’s choices.

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A to Z Challenge

B for Bedtime is a Time Warp


For the past two years I have been co sleeping with my son. The night starts off innocently enough. A cuddle here, a hug there, some slobbery kisses, and “Mama, Mama, Mama” said about a hundred times before he rolls onto my chest, falling asleep at the crook of my arm. The first year of Reyhan’s life was an absolute shit show since he was a crappy sleeper. He would wake at the tiniest sounds and take hours to fall asleep so this rolling all over my body until he knocks out is a welcome change. 

After the pre requisite rounds of “Mama, Mama” and after my arm is deaden from supporting a drooling toddler’s head, I roll on to my back and lay there until time passes me by. I cannot muster up the will to get up from my bed and move on with my life. By the time Reyhan is completely knocked out it is 9 pm and I am no neanderthal to stay up past that ungodly hour. And it is not for want of things to do, believe me, I have many things that need “doing”. But after 9 pm my body just gives up. Every night I mentally go over my to-do list, fret and worry about all the things I have to do, work myself up to an anxious mess and even try to bribe myself to get up. By the time I am done with my mental gymnastics, it’s 9.30 and the sandman has dumped a shit tonne of sand on my eyes and no earthly being can wake me. Except when Reyhan moves clockwise in his sleep and proceeds to kick the small of my back ALL. NIGHT. LONG. Until I lose my mind and shove him near his father. 

A night with a toddler is never uneventful. I yearn for the nights when I’d fall asleep and wake up only once – in the morning. No sane person needs to be woken up multiple times a night. Once Reyhan woke me up in the middle of the night and cried, “Mama, car. Car, mama. Car. Car.” 

I lovingly smashed his head onto the pillow and whispered “Close your eyes and go to sleep” in a menacing voice. It did the trick for that one night.

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Uncategorized

A for A Splitting Headache

True to character, I am playing catch up. I decided to do this A-Z blogging challenge after seeing it on Pepper’s blog. The blogging scene has changed quite drastically over the past few years. No one posts life updates anymore. Those were the posts I enjoyed the most. Now, there are insta-bloggers who “blog” through Instagram. I thought that was just called “writing a caption.”

As for what’s been happening with me, I had a baby, started work, the baby turned two and am heading towards a milestone this year. The big 30. I still feel and think like a seventeen year old so we’re okay. There’s no fear of getting old here. Although, I am looking forward to being more comfortable in my own skin as I approach this milestone. I am tired of feeling insecure and letting the fear of the future get the better of me. Thirty is going to bring in a new, serene me. Hopefully. That’s the plan.

As for A Splitting Headache, weaning my child last year has opened up a new realm of hell that I did not know existed. Migraines. Friends, it is a curse. It feels like the devil is poking my eyeball on the inside with his spear. Now, add nausea to this experience and it feels like a disaster that is tailor made for me. The only thing that helps is popping an Excedrin THE INSTANT I FEEL THE HEAD ACHE COMING ALONG before my brain can even process it, and chugging an ice cold Coke after to help with the nausea. On Monday morning however, I thought I was SO SMART by not drinking my cup of coffee/tea in the morning. I spent the rest of the day nursing my head ache and dry heaving in the bathroom. 

Anyway, I hope to sustain this challenge. Writing has taken a back seat of late. I used to really enjoy it and I hope that through this challenge I am able to get back in the game.

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Fiction, Word Pad

Five

One

Two

Three

Four

Jamilah was silent during the drive back home. It was midnight by the time the couple left the party. Ismail had sailed through the evening on a steady stream of stories that kept everyone entertained. Jamilah had spent the whole evening in a daze. The tangible evidence of her husband’s mistress had left her in shock.

Ismail was oblivious to his wife’s behavior. She sat with her head against the foggy window. The AC was on full blast and Ismail raced his Mercedes through the empty streets ignoring the blinking traffic lights. His voice rose above the radio as he talked. Jamilah paid no heed to his monologue but the words “Lakshmi Nagar” and “land” caught her attention.

She turned to her husband and asked, “Lakshmi Nagar?”

“Yes, Syed’s father-in-law has a plot that he’s selling. I’m thinking of purchasing it.”

“So you can shack up next to your lady love.“ Jamilah blurted.

Ismail was taken aback but refused to look his wife in the eyes.

“What do you mean?”

“She was at the party, Ismail,” she said, her voice small and heavy with tiredness.

“Who?”

“The girl. Please don’t act dumb.”

“I don’t know who you’re talking about,” said Ismail, his eyes focused on the road.

“I’m not stupid, Ishu! I saw you two, okay! The other day, outside her house, I saw you! Don’t even try to deny it!”

Ismail was silent. He drove swiftly, his knuckles white from gripping the steering wheel too tightly. Trees, houses and pavement dwellers whizzed past. Ismail was silent, trying to figure out what he could say next to appease his wife without implicating himself.

“She’s so young,” Jamilah said softly.

“You have a daughter! What were you thinking?! For so long I have turned a blind eye to everything, Ismail. But this…” Jamilah shook her head, “this is my limit.”

“She’s different.” Ismail blurted.

“What?”

“Alisha. It’s different with her, Jamilah. I love her.”

***

Jamilah walked up the grand staircase that led to her sister’s house. She caught a glimpse of her reflection in an ornate mirror on the opposite wall. Her eyes were red and puffy. Her face was swollen from staying awake all night. After her husband’s confession last night, her mind was in a tizzy. The blatant simplicity with which he said he loved his mistress appalled her.  He simply said I love her as if he were confessing this to a friend. Did he expect her to pat his back and send him off on an adventure with his lover? What is the correct response for when your husband says he loves his mistress?

The weight of Ismail’s confession enveloped the air in the car, crawled around Jamilah’s neck and prevented her from speaking. She didn’t know how to reply to his statements so she let it hang there, unacknowledged.

As soon as they reached home, she exited the car and walked quickly to her bedroom. Jamilah ripped the clothes off her body in a hurry. She threw on her nightie, crawled into bed and turned off the lights before Ismail could remove his shoes. As her eyes grew accustomed to the darkness she could see Ismail’s shadow cast in front of her. He was standing at the entrance of the bedroom unsure of his next move. He took a faltering step towards her but backed off. He was never good at diffusing Jamilah’s anger on a good day. Tonight, he decided, he wasn’t even going to try.

The door shut and Jamilah pulled the bed sheet closer around her. She was wide awake. A million different options rifled through her mind.  For years she had ignored her marital problems and now they loomed in front of her, demanding to be confronted.

She was going to leave her husband, she decided, impulsively. She couldn’t stay in a neglected relationship anymore. Year after year, woman after woman, she had exhausted her supply of patience. Her work had kept her mind busy for so long. It wasn’t just her assertion of independence, it was her safe place. The minute she entered the doors of Deluxe Avenue she left behind the rest of the world. During her work hours, her mind was at peace. Making deals, talking to buyers and customers, the sounds of a life unburdened by secrets filled her ears and quenched her thirst. She wanted to replicate that feeling of contentment she felt from nine to five every weekday into the rest of her life. Every day she wanted to wake up with her mind at peace and go to bed with her heart full.

Ismail was a blemish, she realized sadly. Marriage was supposed to make one feel fuller, a part of a whole. But she never felt that sense of security from Ismail. His cheating was just one aspect that scarred their marriage. He was a worldly man, rich in wealth and fast cars but as a person, as a partner, he brought nothing into the relationship. They never had anything in common and through the years the “adjustable” gap between them only widen until they occupied different ends of the same chasm.

The marriage didn’t make Jamilah happier. She definitely wasn’t in love with her husband. There were instances where she found him agreeable but she was never in love with him. Upon realizing that Ismail was the baggage she carried that weighed her life down, she was willing to let her husband go.

Despite her heart accepting this bitter truth, Jamilah was still anxious. She wasn’t taught to have these feelings. Nothing in her life had prepared her for this moment. But the urge to remove her husband from her life flowed through her body and tugged at her heart.

Jamilah’s mind was working quickly trying to predict what the next ten, fifteen years of her life would look like as a divorcee. She naively thought she could handle being a pariah. The return to her paternal home with a child in tow would be hard to navigate but at least she’d have help at home while she worked. Of course, Jamilah and her daughter would have to fend for themselves what with her brother’s children monopolizing the house. And maybe in a few years, she would get married again, she thought. Jamilah finally gave herself the permission to plan her new life. A shiver of excitement passed through her as she thought about the handsome buyer who visited her shop. Ajmal was so charming, she thought. He made her feel at ease. He seemed like the kind of man she was meant to be with.

In all her life Jamilah had never fantasized about a man. As a young girl, she knew that all her crushes and unrequited loves would be pointless as she’d marry whomever her parents chose for her. The initial few months of her marriage to Ismail he was loving and he showered her with gifts and affection. But as the henna stains faded from her hands, so did his attention.

Now finally she had met a man who had the potential to give her what she wanted. But she wouldn’t give herself the freedom of falling for him yet, not while she was still tied to Ismail.

Jamilah knocked at her sister’s door. If there was anyone she could talk to, it was her sister. Afreen was older than Jamilah. Married to a handsome doctor, Afreen was a simple, sensible girl who did not possess Jamilah’s passions.

“Hi Jams,” her sister said opening the door, “come in, no.”

Jamilah walked in wondering how she was going to acknowledge her husband’s infidelity to her sister. While the sisters shared everything, the subject of Ismail’s affairs was never discussed. Afreen didn’t want to cause her youngest sister any worry by bringing up what she’d heard amongst her social circles. And Jamilah was too embarrassed to give truth to the rumors she had heard. As each brick of her perfectly constructed life was falling down, this was another wall that was going to be demolished.

“So…”, Jamilah started twirling the edge of her dupatta between her fingers, “I have to tell you something.”

“What is it, Jamilah? Don’t scare me.”, Afreen said having never seen her sister this nervous.

“It’s Ismail. I think I’m going to divorce him,” said Jamilah, the words rolling out of her mouth rapidly, worried that if she didn’t say it now, she might never.

“What are you talking about, Jams? Don’t be crazy.”

“I’m divorcing him, Afreen. I cant stay with him anymore. There have just been too many secrets. Afreen, he loves her!

“Loves who?”

“Alisha. The girl he is cheating on me with. She isn’t the first you know! I just can’t take it anymore.”

Afreen sat down on the sofa. “I knew he was up to something, Jamilah. I mean, so many people told me about it. But I just didn’t know if you were aware and if you weren’t, then how was I going to tell you this? I’m so sorry, Jams.”

“I knew too, Affu. I knew. I always knew. But I could never accept it! And now it’s gone so far that I cannot ignore it anymore. I cannot keep acting like everything is fine when it isn’t. I have to leave him. I don’t want to feel like this anymore. I am tired and I am just done.” Jamilah sat with her hands covering her face.

Like her patience, she had exhausted her reserve of tears too. She lifted her head up to her sister, hoping for validation.

After a few minutes of silence, Afreen spoke up.

“You know you can’t, right? As much as I think you should, you know you can’t?”

“But I can’t stay with him anymore, Afreen.”

“Jamilah, how do you think you’re going to leave him? And have you told Amma?”

“I want to put as much distance between us as possible. I have to get this divorce to survive.”

“Jamilah.. divorce, it’s such a huge step. There will be a tidal wave of repercussions, Jamilah. Do you think you can handle it?

“I-“

“And even if you could, do you think it would be worth it? You have a daughter. Can you imagine what it’s going to be like for her?”

“I haven’t thought that far. I’m sure I will figure it out when the time comes.”

“Have you told Amma? You know that if you leave him you would have to live at home?”

Jamilah began to question her confidence in the decision that she had taken so wholeheartedly. She would have to return to her paternal home as a divorced woman. Her mother would beg and plead her every day to return to her husband’s home. The insult and embarrassment of having a tainted daughter at home would ruin her mother’s social life. Jamilah’s brother Mansoor would become her guardian. After living as a wife with a whole house at her disposal, returning back to her childhood home would mean the loss of certain privileges.

“I could live alone. I could take up a separate house somewhere.”

“Don’t be silly, Jamilah! You can’t do that. How can you live alone?”

“So what am I supposed to do? Go back to my marriage like nothing ever happened? I’ve tried to ignore the problems for so long, believe me. It doesn’t work! He is just going to keep doing what he does and now with this new girl, I don’t know what he intends to do! I CANNOT LIVE THIS WAY!”, Jamilah said her voice trembling as tears ran down her face.

Afreen had never seen her sister so shaken up. She was scared and worried about her sister’s condition. As children, they had grown up hearing stories of unfaithful men. Nothing was ever brought to light since the casualties huddled in corners of kitchens and wept while other women patted their backs and spoke to them words of courage. Divorce was uncommon in Mallikottai. This strata of society possessed so much wealth and power that women were scared to consider the possibility of divorce. They were worried for their children and for themselves being ostracized. A divorced woman, especially one that returned to her paternal home was shown no support even from her own parents.

Jamilah sat on her sister’s sofa, her fingers trembling, her eyes bloodshot trying to figure out a way out of the maze where she wouldn’t lose everything. She looked at her sister pleadingly for guidance. But both women knew that even a gentle tug at their fates would unravel a storm so vicious that no one could contain it.

***

Ismail sat inside his car, his fingers drumming impatiently on the steering wheel. He had been waiting at the meetup spot for half an hour. The black tinted Mercedes was inconspicuously parked in a deserted alley. This was the spot Ismail and Alisha had chosen for their secret meetings. Equidistant from both their homes and deserted enough that no one they knew would pass through.

Every Wednesday for the past two months Alisha would leave her home under the pretext of visiting her friend, Saroja. The driver would drop Alisha off at the end of the street. She and Ismail would then spend a blissful two hours whispering sweet nothings to each other. But today, Alisha was late.

Ismail was growing restless. Just as he was thinking about messaging her, a shadow tapped on the tinted window of the car.

“Get in, Alisha”, he said opening the door to the back seat.  A rustle and a click of the door later, the smell of jasmine invaded the car

“Sorry I’m late, Ismail. But my father took forever to leave home.” Alisha said.

Ismail sat next to her and studied her face. Oh, how he loved her perfect face. Her lips, perfect and pink. Her bright eyes glimmered with a shyness that captivated him.

Alisha loosened the dupatta around her head. A wisp of soft, black hair escaped from a fastened clip. The way she brought her slender hands to tuck the rogue lock behind her ears, electrified Ismail. The gentle clinking of her bangles and the smell of her perfume threw his heart in chaos. Every action of hers sent a ripple through his heart.

He was captivated by the vision in front of him. As he memorized her every movement, his consciousness reminded him of his wife. Jamilah. Ordinary, every day Jamilah with her simple face and tamed hair. She never captivated him the way Alisha did. The way he felt around her, it had to be love, he thought. And although he knew he wasn’t doing right by his wife, he pushed the thought aside.

“Hi!” said Alisha, nudging Ismail’s shoulder. Ismail was putty in her hands. He gave her a sheepish smile as his eyes drank in the exquisiteness of the woman beside him.

“Hi, Alisha. I’ve been waiting to see you all day.”

“Same here! I just could not get out of the house in time!”

“So,” Ismail said taking her hands in his.

“So…”, Alisha said, her soft breath tickling his ear “Did you bring it?”

“You know I don’t go back on my promise!” Ismail said as he handed her a white box. Alisha grinned and quickly opened the box. Underneath the white paper covering was a simple, oblong-shaped pastry, generously doused in powdered sugar.

“You are the best!!” Alisha squealed, giving Ismail’s arm a tight squeeze. She carefully removed the white paper around the pastry. She licked the flecks of sugar from her fingers and took a bite of the pastry. The custard oozed from the pastry and the powdered sugar cloud left flecks on her face and clothes, Alisha was elegant in her sticky dessert consumption. There was nothing more charming to Ismail than the speck of custard that was left over on the edge of her mouth.

Once the pastry was demolished, Alisha lay back on her seat, satisfied, various types of sugar coursing through her veins.

“Thanks for bringing this custard dream, Ismail. Atha never lets me go to this bakery. It’s in the street with all those mechanic shops, no, so he doesn’t let me. But you are my hero”, she said playfully hitting him on his shoulder. “You always bring this every time we meet!”

“I know how much you love it,” said Ismail.

“Alisha, I have something to tell you.” Ismail took her hand in his. Alisha’s hands were soft and unworked. There were no creases or rough patches. Just a smooth expanse of fair skin dutifully moisturized every night with Nivea cream. Each fingernail was long and perfectly rounded, painted with the most delicate shade of pink. A cluster of diamond rings sparkled on her fingers. Her hands felt light and soft in Ismail’s rough hands.

“What is it?” asked Alisha.

“Alisha…I love you.”

“Aww, so sweet you are. Thanks”, said Alisha.

Ismail didn’t look away. “Alisha, I really love you”, he repeated.

“A lot”, he added hoping that this would make his case.

“Okay, why do you keep saying that?” asked Alisha with a smile on her face that did not reach her eyes.

“Alisha, I love you so much that I want to marry you.”

“What?! You are crazy, Ismail!” Alisha shouted.

“Just listen to me. I spoke to my wife about us. She is angry but I’m sure she will get on board. It’s going to be hard, convincing everyone but I know that our love for each other–“

“Okay, STOP IT!” Alisha yelled. “Are you mad? Did I ever say I want to marry you?”

“But—“

“In case you didn’t realize, you are ALREADY MARRIED, Ismail. I don’t want to be anybody’s second wife, okay. And did you really think we were serious? I cannot believe this!” Alisha said, her hands flailing in rage. “You really thought I wanted to marry you?!”

“Ismail”, she said looking straight at him. “I am getting married in six months. My parents introduced me to a boy yesterday. He’s a businessman from Chennai and I will be moving there. This thing between us” she motioned, “its over. It was never meant to last. It was never real. This was just time pass. I thought it was the same for you. But clearly, I was wrong.”

Ismail was stunned. He did not expect his declaration of love to carry no weight. His grand gesture fell flat and meaningless. He had misread all of Alisha’s signals and had let her invade his heart.

“I thought you loved me, Alisha.”

“Well, I never said that did I?” she asked, rolling her eyes.

“I thought you understood what we were doing. Anyway, I think I’d better leave, Ismail. You’ve become serious and this friendship isn’t fun anymore. And I’m glad that was my last custard dream. I should start losing weight for my wedding, so looks like everything’s worked out fine. I’m just going to go, okay.”

“I’ll drop you home,” Ismail said.

“No, it’s better this way. Bye,” she said squeezing his arm. “Thanks for all the custard dreams.”

Alisha quickly got out of the car and banged the door shut leaving behind her a lingering smell of jasmine and a broken heart.

 

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life, madras, Rey

Postpartum Trials

The day I came home from the hospital, I cried. I was in the shower, taking my first bath since I had the baby. The hot water hit my bare back as my hands searched my body for familiar contours. They found none. I cried because with every touch, my body didn’t feel like mine. It felt like a stranger’s. It’s a hard feeling to describe when your palms don’t recognize the body they’re a part of.

My stomach was still tender and loose, decorated with purple stretch marks smattered all across my stomach and hips. My breasts were heavy and drooping. My back was hunched, under the assumption that I still carried my 5 pound baby inside me. I had sagging skin on my upper arms and my non existent butt was now very much in existence.

My first meal after having the baby was a hospital tray of pasta, broccoli and soup. Giving birth had unleashed in my stomach an endless pit that no amount of food could satisfy. So I ate. 24 hours after delivery I ate four pieces of French rolls generously slathered with salted butter. These French rolls were the kryptonite to my postpartum period. I ate them everyday for a month.

The days following the birth were rough. In the postpartum, women are expected to eat nutritious food. In the Indian context it means ‘eat all the food’. The congratulatory calls I got often ended with advice about food: eat well, only then you will produce milk; eat more rice, remember, your baby can eat only if you eat. I was suddenly aware of how much of my nutrition was connected to my baby’s. The pressure was on.

My milk took time to come in. Everyone gave me prescriptions for lactation. Eat fenugreek, eat carbs, eat ghee, eat fish, drink water, don’t drink caffeine, don’t eat sweets and definitely nothing cold. I was desperate and tried everything. My breakfast consisted of two eggs, cheese, and three slices of toast. In a couple of hours my stomach would still feel empty so I ate French rolls and butter as a mid morning snack. I’d follow this two huge bowlfuls of bone soup. At lunch my mother would heap a mound of rice on my plate, drown it in gravy and drizzle it with ghee. Breastfeeding mothers are often asked to stay away from caffeine, but it was my only respite so in the evening I’d have my tea with a snack. Dinner would again be large quantities of whatever my mother cooked. This was my diet for two months. Its safe to say that I didn’t lose much of my pregnancy weight but instead gained a few pounds.

Two months went by in a flash and my parents returned back to India. It was me and the baby through most of the day. A good day was when he’d occupy himself for 20 minutes while I caught my breath. On bad days he’d fuss all day and wake up multiple times at night. He would nurse for hours to fall asleep and wake up the minute I put him down. So for the most part he took all his naps on me. He still does. I’d wear him in my sling as I peed. I’d shower twice a week. Thrice, if I was lucky.

Reyhan is an awful sleeper. For the first six months he slept next to me on the bed and would nurse throughout the night. It’s a habit we are working on breaking. By morning my back would be twisted and I would wake up more tired than I was the previous the night. Sleep deprivation sucker punched me in the gut and it has drained every positive feeling from my body. Since I couldn’t do the things that made me happy like sleep, read, leave the house without a crying infant, I ate. Out of exhaustion and out of the need to do something fun, I ate. All the snacks, all the chips, ice cream, breads, cheese, pasta, chocolates, take out. I ate and ate to make sense of my current life.

By his seventh month, Reyhan started sleeping a little better at night and he was comparatively easier to handle. We decided to make the dreaded seventeen hour trip to visit family. I was so excited. Packing took a week. Before I packed each outfit, I tried it on. Over 80% of my clothes didn’t fit me. Many tops didn’t go beyond my neck. None of my pants fit me. In the end I just packed the only things that I could remotely wear and unbutton lest my baby required a boob. This narrowed it down to eight tops and two pants.

The trip home was fun. We spent time with family, Reyhan met his great grandmother, I met all my friends, had a great time with my niece, it was wonderful. I didn’t do any shopping for myself. The fear of not fitting into any clothes was crippling. Even tops that were marked XL and 2XL didn’t fit me. I stayed away from malls. Instead I got my tailor to stitch long, loose, kurtas that hid every curve of my stomach. It was the only thing I was comfortable in.

Every day people would come over to visit me and the baby. It was amazing watching Reyhan socialize with others. He charmed my cousins, aunties and basked in the attention. While everyone were thrilled to see Reyhan, they were shocked to see me.

Many women managed to contain their astonishment, having had children themselves. But the men, oh the men, were disappointed in me and did not hesitate to voice their opinions. About twenty seconds in to meeting my uncle says, “Enna Zarine, gundu aite!” (Zarine, you’ve become fat!). The initial shock of someone commenting on my body the second their eyes laid on it was jolting. I couldn’t fashion a response quick enough. He persisted, repeating himself. I just smiled and ignored him.

One incident, I thought to myself, one incident of one man who doesn’t know the pitfalls of childbirth despite being a father to two sons. I let it slide. He was my uncle.

A few days later there were two more instances of two different male relatives telling me the exact same observation within the first few seconds of our interaction. Again I was taken aback but couldn’t dignify their statements with a response because it felt beneath me.

I discussed this with my sister in law and we both mused about how crazy it was that all the three incidents involved men, fathers themselves, surprised that I had added on the pounds. Their ignorant, we decided. Educating these men will do nothing for them since their ignorance is well rooted into their psyche.

The last two days of my stay saw plenty of relatives being washed ashore to my house. One cousin sister, a mother of two children said to me, “Nalla veite potturruku”. (You’ve put on a lot of weight.) Not a question, just a statement that lingered in my living room. Another relative said to me “You are just like my daughter! She was also fat like you after giving birth!” .

Women. Mothers. Grandmothers. All having been through various instances of birth, all having experienced what birth entails have been disappointed, amused even at my body. None of them realized it, but every comment on my body, the most personal space I know, my essence, which already feels foreign, made me feel more distant from myself

How do people feel comfortable throwing judgments about other’s bodies? Maybe I do not live up to their expectations. And why should I? I’ve experienced how fragile postpartum can be. I don’t need to go through a catastrophe to have a bad day. One look at the mirror will do it for me. But the audacity that people in our society have to so freely throw these statements shakes me. Are they so secure in their life, in their bodies that they have the right to point out others flaws? Or do they say these things because they have no filter and just plainly do not care? I think it’s the latter. It’s the way some people talk. They just don’t care enough to realize the damage these words can do. It’s a habit of saying things without a second thought. Sometimes its done to elicit a response, to see how far they can push you before you pounce back. I have been around far too many people who say the most ridiculous things because its just who they are. It’s how they’ve always communicated. It’s how they’ve lived. And talking this way is the only way they can hold a conversation.

It took me a few days to recover from this verbal disaster. I still have good days and bad days. I still haven’t attempted to try on a huge portion of my old wardrobe, having donated half of it in frustration. I’m slowly learning to feel better about myself by not letting these harsh judgments penetrate my shaky self esteem. I thought I was doing good enough. I felt okay about myself. Until I attended a dinner party a few weeks ago. I met a woman whom I had never seen before and she said to me, “I saw you five years back and you were so much thinner then! Now you’ve put on weight!”.

This from a lady I had just met and whose name I still do not know.

 

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The moment Ajmal left the building Jamilah could sense a severing connection. Despite being a stranger until an hour ago his very presence had given Jamilah the comfort and motivation she was looking for. As she talked to him, she could feel the excitement building up inside her. Expanding the business! Opportunities! Maybe even opening up another branch! With Ajmal’s presence the opportunities seemed limitless and she had to catch herself before she jumped in heart first. But the instant he left Jamilah felt like she was recoiled back in to the dark and had been left to fumble her way through. Experience had taught her that she could never rely on her husband to indulge in her interests. Kumar Uncle was always the one to give her business advice. Or Ramesh Anna next door. Ismail regularly attempted to forget the existence of his wife’s career. Acknowledging her interests would mean recognizing that she had a separate life. Daily conversation between the husband and wife were restricted to the few things in life they had in common: their daughter, food, family and Ismail’s excuses for leaving work early. These topics were peppered with fights and disagreements strewn about generously.

Where Jamilah worked hard, Ismail was vain. His vanity did not stop at his good looks and impeccable dress sense; it extended to befriending other men like himself- rich, spoilt sons of wealthy men. Luckily for Ismail Mallikottai wasn’t a town that lacked in these type of men. Most of his friends were married. Their wives had one of two things going on for them: beauty or wealth. The luckier few had wives who were bestowed with both and they didn’t let anyone forget it. Jamilah preferred to stay away from this battleground where women competed against each other in every element of their lives. She enjoyed that the women considered her a recluse.

Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and charities were just excuses to throw lavish parties for their friends. Jamilah was satisfied with being a spectator at these events and none of the women complained. They couldn’t understand why she felt the need to have a career of her own when her husband could provide her with a comfortable life. Jamilah’s thirst for independence and ambition were unrecognizable qualities, almost alien. She preferred to stay away from the fake concern and forced pleasantries that were thrown around carelessly. But today was not her day.

Jamilah’s phone beeped with a reminder from Ismail. It was the first birthday of one of Ismail’s friends’ son. Jamilah and Ismail were expected to attend it. And Ismail would be there, grudgingly, his plans for the night foiled. Neither of them were thrilled about it.

The mood outside No: 13, Subramanian street was a cheerful one. From outside, the menacing gates that guarded the bungalow seemed like it housed all the happy people of Mallikottai. Hundreds of fairy lights covered the façade of the building. The rose garden was blooming with three different colored roses. Through the windows one could see a mesmerizing collection of people- silhouettes of men who oozed privilege and women in sparkling jewels. Although it was just a birthday party for a one-year-old boy, there was not a baby in sight. All the children occupied the first floor of the house with their nannies in charge of feeding and putting them to sleep. The older children were gathered in the rose garden, the girls huddled together giggling and talking as only girls do, and the boys, fighting over who gets the prettiest girl. It was clear to the participants of the game that this meaningless tryst in the rose garden would remain just that- meaningless. Their parents deliberately ignored the teenagers making eyes at each other for who they’d ultimately end up with would be planned by their families.

Inside the mansion a wide, extremely ornate room divider split the large hall in two. The marble floors boastfully reflected the light from beaming crystal chandeliers. The light effect was splendid and gave the impression of the room being drenched in gold. The men occupied the front half of the hall and the women mingled on the other side.

After greeting the host and mildly acknowledging a few guests, Jamilah headed straight to the buffet that bordered the room. The quicker she finished her dinner, the sooner she could leave. The same couldn’t be said for her husband. Ismail was the life of every party and loved to hold court amongst his friends. They could always count on him to entertain with the best stories and Ismail loved the attention. The admiration of his peers fuelled his ego and his stories became wilder as the night passed on.

“Jamilah!” a voice behind her shrieked. It was Nilofer, the queen bee of Mallikottai. Her family had lived in the town for many generations and now owned half of it. She was married into a family that owned the rest and hence cemented her place as the unofficial heir of Mallikottai. The evidence of excess wealth could be seen around the diamond bangles around her wrists and the emerald necklace that circled her slim neck. The pallu of her red sari delicately framed Nilofer’s face, showing just enough of her brown hair to be considered appropriate. Nilofer was surrounded by four other women, all poor imitations of Nilofer from the tips of their fake brown hair to the ends of their painted talons.

Although inevitable, Jamilah dreaded the idea of socializing with the first ladies of Mallikottai. But everyone in the room was related to each other with by marriage or by business, and politeness even in the most strained manner, was expected. As much as she wanted to ignore the petit, sharp woman in front of her, she couldn’t.

“Hi Nilofer”, Jamilah faked enthusiasm and said. “How are you?”

“Alhamdulilah, I’m good.” Nilofer threw back her perfect little head and smiled. “We’ve all been waiting to see you! It’s been so long. Is everything okay?” she asked quietly, edging closer to Jamilah hoping to catch any piece of gossip that dropped out of her mouth.

“Oh, everything’s fine, Nilofer. I’ve just been busy with work.”

“Right. You own a boutique of some sort don’t you?” one of the ladies accompanying Nilofer asked.

“Its not a boutique, Sheila.” Nilofer snapped. “It’s a party store, am I right?” she asked Jamilah.

“Its not just a party store. We sell everything from stationery, home stuff, kitchen items, gifts and yes, party stuff too. You’ve been there Nilofer. You should know.”

“Oh yes, but that was a while back. I just have no time these days! The children are busy with school and Ali just can’t do anything without me!” Nilofer laughed.

“So how is Ismail?” Nilofer asked patting Jamilah’s arm.

This was the conversation Jamilah had been dreading. The question meant that the news of Ismail’s dealings had travelled through to infiltrate the ears of the curious. But funnily enough, Ismail wasn’t the only one involved in these matters. She had it on good record that Kamil, whose house she was in, had a nasty little situation involving another woman a few months back. Even Nilofer’s husband wasn’t as angelic as she made him out to be. Ali was considerate enough to have his women outside Mallikottai and considering he travelled a lot for work, this arrangement suited his wife.

The truth about their husbands did not seem to outwardly affect these women. Appearances were a higher priority than feelings. As long as the women appeared in public with their husbands smiling and chatting away, everything was fine. In private most of the women chided, persuaded and some even blackmailed their husbands. But separation and divorce was such a taboo word that their families rather their sisters and daughters were married to cheating men than be single mothers and divorcees.

Despite knowing the grey cloud that overshadowed the women looking down at her right now, Jamilah never brought it up. The only way women like Nilofer could sleep at night was by disturbing another person’s sense of peace which served as a great distraction for her own crumbling family life.

“Ismail is fine” Jamilah said dryly. “Work keeps him busy.”

“Oh.. but we heard. Okay, never mind what we heard. As long as he is fine and you two are back together again. That’s all that matters right?” Nilofer’s saccharine sweet voice asked. “Now come on, let’s eat before the food is over!” said Nilofer walking away. Her mission was only partially completed. She had one more trick up her sleeve that would be revealed in due time.

Jamilah struggled to keep her food down after that painful interaction with Nilofer. For a while she was worried about being tormented by the ghosts of his past affairs for as it turned out, no one would let her forget about her husband. The crowded women’s area was masked with a strong scent of perfume, jasmine flowers and the smell of biriyani. The combination of these scents created a heady, mesmerizing scent that for a moment Jamilah was sure she was going to faint. Obese aunties decked in kanjeevaram saris and gold jewelry freely distributed unsolicited marriage advice to the younger girls. It didn’t matter what the event in question was, marriage proposals and meetings were held.

From the corner of her eye Jamilah spotted a meeting between two prospects, overseen by overenthusiastic chaperones. The girl in question was young, slim and had a beautiful heart shaped face. On her long, elegant nose glistened a diamond pin. For a minute Jamilah forgot about her dizzy spell and the girl held her attention. There was something about her, the way she was talking to her suitor, seemingly enchanted by his presence that felt familiar. The aunty who had aligned the fate of these young people looked pleased with her handiwork. The boy was smitten. He couldn’t take his eyes off the girl.

A hand clasped Jamilah’s shoulders. Nilofer was back. “That’s Alisha.” she said “Her family lived in Cumbum for a long time and they’ve relocated back to Mallikottai. Her parents are looking to get her married here. Isn’t she pretty?”

“Yeah, very beautiful.” said Jamilah distractedly “Where do they live?” she enquired hoping for an answer that would dispel the fear that had mounted over her.

“Her father has built a huge mansion in Lakshmi Nagar. It’s probably the biggest house on the street.”

Jamilah’s hands gripped the edges of her plate. Images of her husband from last week came flooding back to her. It began as any other Tuesday did. She was on her way to check on some stock that had been delivered to the warehouse. After making sure that everything was in place, Jamilah stepped out to start her scooter. It was already five in the evening and she still had some work to complete before she was done for the day. Just as she was about to start the ignition, a silver Mercedes approached her from the opposite direction. Jamilah recognized the number plate instantly. She was surprised at her husbands’ thoughtfulness to give her a ride. But the car stopped a few feet away at the entrance of the street. As she was about to approach it, a tall vision in blue jumped out from the passenger’s seat. The face was overshadowed by a flurry of bouncy curls. The giggling figure leaned into the car for a last whisper. After she was done, she placed the edge of her dupatta back on her head and walked down to the huge white house, her diamond nose pin frantically sparkling in the hot sun. Once she entered through the gates, the silver Mercedes returned back to the street where it came from and sped away.

It’s difficult to describe the thoughts that crossed Jamilah’s head that instant. Her mind kept replaying the number plate over and over again. Every bone in her body knew the truth, but accepting it was a hard pill to swallow. Ismail was supposed to be at work, she convinced herself. Maybe he lent the car to someone? But even as the thought formed in her head she knew how wrong she was. Ismail never let anyone drive his precious Mercedes.

Over the past years Jamilah had collected tiny evidences of Ismail’s affairs. Hurried phone calls, late nights at the office, secret smiles when Ismail thought no one was looking. All these she kept locked away in a separate compartment in her head. These were her doubts, never proven but locked away to be used at the right moment. But this was the first time she had actually stopped to consider how real they were.

Flesh and blood, tall and pretty, carefree and happy.

Real.

But this girl was so young, Jamilah thought. And while she blamed her husband for his uncontrollable avarices, she couldn’t help but wonder what a beautiful young girl saw in her thirty year old loafer of a husband. Was there some secret desirable part of Ismail that she was blind to? Yes, he was good looking but personality wise he didn’t have much to offer. It was clear the young woman was not after his money. She seemed wealthy enough to last her a few lifetimes. So what was it that brought these two people together?

This was a question only Ismail could answer. As much as she tried to ignore it, the anger flooded her blood. Jamilah dreamed of many things but she never dreamed she’d catch Ismail red handed. She knew that if she did catch him in the act the next step would be inevitable.

Jamilah stood frozen to the ground unsure of what to do next. Maneuvering this piece of information could easily break the system that was carefully constructed. Every breath she took was like a dagger dug deeper into her heart. This affair was not in the background anymore. It was standing right in front of her, too real to ignore. Finally, the time to make a decision had arrived and Jamilah was frozen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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