Drawing Room : Homely poems
Everyday father would return from office,
sit down on the sofa, untie his laces
and take off his socks. He’d casually drop
them in his shoes, and let the feet slide
into his massage slippers that I’d smuggle
beneath his bare feet, just in time.
If his feet touched the cold winter floor,
I’d fail as an ideal son: to myself, so I told.
Next, I’d pick up his shoes, tuck in the socks,
and rush them to the shoe-rack,
close to the door, below a painting by him
of an old man with deep eyes, titled Hope.
I’d be so envious: of his socks that never stank,
of the ever faultless creases of his pants,
of his white and pink feet like a newborn’s,
of his hands capable of magic like Cezanne’s.
Ma would appear then, a tiny tray in hand:
three cups wafting warm vapours on her face,
his customary glass of water before tea, and biscuits –
two Good Days for father, and one pack Parle G.
Over the warmth of the mom-made elaichi chai,
he’d quietly share every little nugget of the day:
who said what, what was old and what was new,
who he met, whom he avoided before they knew.
I’d wait for my tea to cool, even though I liked it warm.
The ideal son, that I was, I’d not squeak a word,
lest it might remind the two halves of this other one.
Silent as if off, I’d swallow my cough, nibble my sneeze,
and suffocate the occasional hiccup.
On the pretext of wetting the Parle Gs
in the tea that had gone winter-cold with time,
I’d overhear (unlike the ideal son) their hushed grapevine.
Sister confessed, after reading part one,
that she too would eavesdrop,
once father returned home.
Without Parle Gs, or fondness for tea,
she’d listen in from her room.
There, she pretended to study,
with her Walkman paused and
earphones plugged, as if it were on.
How could one not tap, she argues,
when they spoke crisp and clear.
Their voices mostly loud,
as if we were some place else –
adrift, unborn, not even there.
In particular, she tells me,
there’s one conversation
that she’d like to share.
Sister had once overheard father
complain to Ma about his boss,
Mr. Shankar, who saw a pretty woman,
half his age, and muttered into
our dear father’s ear –
discreetly, fervently, in a voice
that meant every word –
the phrase, “I want to fuck her.”
Sister was fourteen,
when she overheard the tale.
For weeks, simmered her rage.
Until one Sunday, when Shankar Uncle,
to avoid the dry heat of May,
turned up impromptu at our place.
Sister didn’t wish him a Namaste–
the usual greeting that we’d insincerely say.
Both father and mother
received Shankar Uncle with great warmth,
as if they cared the least
for his week-old obnoxious remark.
While Ma laid out an elaborate lunch,
father went to sister’s room to plea:
‘Wish my boss, please,I hope
you won’t embarrass me.’ She didn’t.
None of us knew why
my otherwise well-mannered sister
chose to be a real ass.
At the dining table, ma called her
badtameez*, father called her rude,
all in front of the bald uncle, who
was married, had two kids, and relished
young women, besides good food.
When I was in grade 8,
mother joined my school
as an ad-hoc teacher.
The class teacher of 3A,
I was glad she didn’t take
any senior lectures.
It is awkward,
having your mother
teach you, grade you
and look at you
looking at your crush
A new principal,
some Kashyapfrom Delhi,
had joined our school.
he was a Brahmin.
I didn’t know that,
but the drawing room
knew. It didn’t take long
for me to discover.
I lived at a place,
where caste didn’t abandon
any dialogue, whatsoever.
One eve, Shuklaji,
a distant relative
who taught me Sanskrit,
came home for tea and gossip.
Kashyaps, they are just like
Sharmas, he said.
And Sharmas were Brahmins,
I knew, since my dearest buddy
twirled the sacred thread
around his ear
every time he’d pee.
after the new principal arrived,
mothertook us to his house,
with mithai and badhai.
It was his birthday,
us to be in his notice.
swajatiya** bond –
it’d reap benefits,
such washer belief.
Kashyap sir was cold,
uninterested, all through.
A month later,
mother’s fascination for
asshe, along with others,
was asked to quit real fast.
The new principal
hadkicked all ad-hoc teachers,
irrespective of their castes.
A total of
had lost their jobs
courtesya Brahmin –
a New Delhi snob.
Our drawing room
turned into a sink
to their pent-up stress.
A month later,
I heard: Kashyap sir
was having an affair with
our Bengali headmistress.
The four Brahmins,
like four monkeys –
some what scandalized,
slightly envious –
jumped on our sofas,
munched on samosas
holding a tiny chai kapyala***.
After discussing for hours,
the council surmised –
Kashyap wasn’t a Brahmin,
but a bloody Dilliwala.
**Swa-jatiya – same caste