Ten to Twelve: The Death of a Woman I am Not Sure I Love

(After Aaji)


This house is not the house I grew up in
This is a new house
Built on the remnants of the old one
This house is not my house
Not the way the old house was my house.
The kitchen of this house is where Aaji’s room used to be
The room which she shared with me
Instead of Azoba.

The room whose mosquito net protected me from spirits
And from falling into the trappings of pataal
The way two children in a mythological film did
A film whose name I don’t remember anymore
And can’t find on Google.

Half of the living room remains the same
The other half takes in the previous house’s kitchen
The same place where Aai and I used to sing Lata Mangeshkar songs
Lag ja gale ki phir ye hasin raat ho na ho,
Shayad phir is janam mein, mulakat ho na ho

Aai and Baba’s room hasn’t lost its geography
But it looks bigger, has its own toilet
No one now needs to go to the backside of the house
No one says Peeche Ja Rahi Hun anymore.
We have left all that behind.

The morning when Aaji died, Aai called me
But I knew much before I took the call
That the woman had died.
The woman who hid my most terrible secret in her stomach
The woman who should not have hid my most terrible secret
In her stomach, is dead.

Aaji’s stomach was a miraculous thing
For months before her death she complained of pain
For the rest of her life she was the fastest at ‘freshening up’
That stomach which was so full of stories.
The ones I have narrated to my two friends
My most attentive audience
Sitting on their dead Azoba’s chair.
The patriarch of their house.

Her stomach that was sucked inside from the middle
Unlike Aai’s protruding belly which I so loved.
That stomach I slept with my hand on to scare away spirits
(If I touched her, spirits won’t touch me)
The hand which she would reject mid-sleep.
If there was an independent woman,
It had to be Aaji.

Her room which used to be our kitchen
Smells of rooms that have been locked and forgotten
The air conditioner doesn’t let us unlock it
We pass through it to keep dirty utensils
In the backyard
We enter it to find clothes
We enter it to find medicines
We pile her bed with extra mattresses for the guests
There is no cooler or air conditioner in her room
The dead probably don’t need it.

Baba says he might get a one ton air conditioner
For her room next year
Just in case guests visit
But I know that won’t happen

We don’t use her perfectly functional bathroom
We don’t put cells in her clock
We don’t touch her skin dust
Sometimes while watching Jab We Met
I tell my flatmate it was her favourite film
And that she confused John Abraham with Shahid Kapoor
We both laugh and cringe at the same time
And I move on.


A list reasons behind Aaji’s death
1. Her room had a bathroom in the new house,
A bathroom that had the commode attached to it,
She was Brahmin and not used to such filth
Could the lack of hygiene have killed her?
2. She had to abandon her saree and wear a maxi
Not decent for her age she told me.
Could the lack of decency have killed her?
3. She always complained of stomach ache
But never took the Pudin Hara given to her
She did not trust us and thought we’d kill her
Could the lack of trust have killed her?
4. The watch in her room had stopped working
And no one has still fixed it
Ten to Twelve, it says, could be day, could be night
Could the lack of movement have killed her?



Every Woman Is A Tree

She had been living in that house
For as long as memory permits me

There were trees growing inside
That house
She slept without clothes there

Never naked though
You are never naked
Unless you really are
And she wasn’t

There were branches growing
Over her bed
She had to squeeze herself in

She would turn in her sleep
And an apple would fall

It wasn’t a big house
Nor was it a small one
Just big enough for her
And for the trees

If you live with someone too long
You begin to resemble each other

The trees were her lovers
She was a promiscuous woman
Lived with many lovers at one time

It was her Garden of Eden
Without the presence of a man
Eve had all her trees
Her fruit of temptation

It is no wonder she chose them over a man
Some women aren’t afraid of giving in
To their desires

They say we have been cursed because
She fell for the snake’s charms
No one ever questioned Adam
No one ever said, maybe he was incapable
Of keeping her gratified?

This woman that I talk about
Was sexually gratified
Yet never satisfied

The long hands of her lovers
Dug deep into her
Holding her close to each one of them

A woman like her can take it all in
And still be hungry

There were birds who some days
Sat on her lovers
Some days on her
What was the difference, anyway?

Women are so much like trees

Her bed, littered with apple seeds
She couldn’t move without
Making them disperse
No one ever made this bed
Moss would gather on it
To make it soft for her

On days of dampness
She would sleep on the top
Of her lover
And sleep soundly

Her deep green eyes
Her hair like a cluster of leaves

Trees talk a lot, you know
They have observed life
They know the earth as much
As they know the air we breathe
You just need to ask

That is what Buddha did
And that is what she was doing

When women shed their clothes
They become trees




You walked into the room
On our last night together
The night of thieves stealing
From our upside down apartment
Where laws of gravity did not matter anymore

With quiet rage you looked everywhere
Destroying anything that crossed your path
The laughing children of the streets
As they ran in the filth
Rain water clogging the roads
And we stuck in our corners

I look at the patterns on my side of the wall
When our oily scalps rested against it
Leaving our signatures behind

When the next inhabitants enter the house
They will think of us
And talk about the marks we left behind
Even when they paint over them
All the nails we put on the wall
The neat patch behind the mirror
The broken magnet of the cupboard
Everything will remind them of the people they never knew

The houses where children live
Often have markings on the walls
Those walls should be left untouched
Innocence lived there once
But what should be done with walls
That bear marks of betrayal and anger?

Once I killed a mosquito that sat on my side of the wall
It was done neatly, in one swift motion
But death doesn’t appreciate neatness
It left blood stains on the wall
And I never wiped it
Like a pattern that decorates the wall
I let it be
There is no point in moving the dead
Graves are meant to stay still

When I cried sitting next to the water filter
And you told me you loved me
When I told you to not fix me
And you did it nevertheless
When our love broke my arms
As we slept in each other’s embrace
And you still asked me to hold on to you
Your dreams had turned against you
And my reality against me

For all our failures and all our successes
For every story you wrote in your notebook
Scribbled with careful abandon
I have travelled the extremes
Between a prostitute and a lover
I have been one and then another
And I have been both

Our house became a hospital
When illnesses became my obsession
A house with beds and not enough people
To sleep in them
I told you about every illness
I showed you my superstitions
Gave you the sketches of men
Responsible for the scars on my back.
Love has always been my curse


Manjiri Indurkar

Manjiri Indurkar

Manjiri Indurkar is a writer and poet from New Delhi. She is the editor and founder of the literary webzine AntiSerious