“No. No. Yes. No. No. Yes. Yes”……. (Dial Tone)

Some hundred dead ants and a million scattered in the sun. Gujarat. Some hundred red and pink flowers crushed and a million yet to bloom. Kashmir. Some hundred pieces of cherries left to dry in the sun and a million bottled. Cherry jam and marmalade. It consumes and radiates the golden of the sun. Some red is spilt around. Her terrace is the only secure place for her fruit.

She is home bound. Radio blares out songs and bulletins, so she knows that few kill many and await the blooming of many others. Soon another lot will be ready to be bottled and sold. Cherries – red and ready.

The continuous songs and the radio jockey yapping, fills up all silences and she indulges in the colour, fragrance, juices, spices and syrups. Everything is set to a time-table. It makes her secure, reminds her of her schooldays; and she is happy to know the hands of the clock. Hour after hour, the hands change work and have shifts, but never stop. She is labouring. The threads of the thickening juice weave hours for her and she goes deeper into the cherry syrup. Blossoming, pinkish red, even the aroma carries colour.

This is her living, her trade, her fragrance, and her taste. It is her. She is busy. Busy. Its jazz that she listens to. The surprising syncopations keep the hours going or running, at times limping or staggering.

What about the ants? The most stubborn and insistent threat to her life. She uses turmeric against the little monsters. Yellow line of defense. The house is always lined with it. All doors and windows. Every morning she makes yellow boundaries with bulletins in the background. All her days are the same; with fixed number of doorbells at fixed hours. The intensity of the turmeric is felt in the yellow light.

If the cherries are red; and the light and turmeric – yellow, what colour will she have? I would want her to have rosy pink cheeks. But she is pale. Blue veins mark her body. She could also be dusky, but she isn’t. The colour is yellow. She mixes with the boundary of her house as the shiny cherry cheeks in wooden caskets smile at her. And she, blanches them, skins them and removes the seed. She is cruel.

Is she envious of the red cherries? Maybe. Once she had fallen off the slide swing and got a blue patch on her thigh. It was a delightful mix of purple and blue with red blood dots. But now, blue it was under her pale transparent skin.

“Yes. No. no. ok… yes. No. no” … and the dial tone of the dead call still sounds in her ears. She’s just refused to experiment with her recipe of the marmalade. Jar after jar, the recipe is practiced and preserved. It sells. It’s trade. She will not experiment. At least not over an order handed to her through the phone. Recipes take shape out of hours of practice, permutations and combinations of mood and salt, mind and sugar. How commercial it all seemed to her in an instant. For her it was colour, smell, taste, the translucence of cherry syrup and her life. Customers buy the taste that she prepares. Why waste even one cherry for a trial? No, she won’t. Tried and tested and bottled up.

On the radio an RJ philosophizes about life and almost remarks on her life. How, as we grow old, rigidities creep in. The colours, hours, tastes, and days; all preset and pre-decided.

With boundaries and margins she charts her days, weeks, months, and years. Is she crushing herself under her own rules? No. Her routine it is and she is content. All her life it seems, is trapped in those jars. Cherry and its shades, no… monotony. With taste, smell and colour, she would present a variety to the world.

As every alternate morning, a fresh casket of cherries waits at her door; she brews a new taste in her mind to supplement her bitter black coffee. Such a mix of the sweet and bitter in her. It sustains the austere ‘cherry life’ with a dash of bitter coffee.

Does she have a story? This goes on day after day. But this cannot go on. Monotony kills. She is alive.

 

Namrata Jain

Namrata Jain

Namrata Jain has taught literature in English for a decade at the University of Delhi. She earned her M.A. in English from the University of Delhi and her doctorate from the Jawaharlal Nehru University. Her area of interest/research has been feminism, literary theory, European drama, post-colonial studies, and Contemporary Indian Theatre. She has been actively engaged in theatre since 2002.

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