Wednesday, 18 July 2007

The Dance

Do you think they know? She wondered as she lay down, her head throbbing, all the various conversations swirling inside. Know what, she smiled as she asked herself. Know that, underneath this smiling face, I hide so much pain? She almost laughed out loud as she realized how melodramatic that sounded. No, not pain, but happiness, so much happiness, do they know? She got herself in a twist now, what really, was the difference between pain and happiness? Two sides of a coin, both resting in the same hand.

Veering away from the abstract, slowly, her brain started unraveling the various incidents of the day. One by one, she dwelt on and caressed each of them, pondering long on the good parts and skimming quickly over situations she had embarrassed herself in.

It was a wedding. Thankfully not one in which she was ascribed any sort of responsibility. She just had to attend the event, walk around, meet people, chat, eat. Unbidden the thought occurred to her that she was ‘expected’ to look good doing all this. The eyes, even as they asked her what she was doing, how old was the child, and so on, were roving critically over her body. Her clothes were being examined minutely, her jewelry, make-up, everything was scrutinized. But she had not planned her look at all beyond finding a blouse that both matched a sari and fitted her. Oh well, this is my true self, take it or leave it, she thought to herself.

She recalled the old lady’s comment ‘Why are you not wearing the toe-ring? All married women have to wear it, it touches a nerve in the toe that ….’ The rest of the lament was drowned out by the naadaswaram guys. Toe-ring. She had her arguments all set up for that one. Who wears a toe-ring to the gym, who can be bothered to remove and put it back again everyday? Why shackle oneself with all these uncomfortable metal parts just because one is married? Are married men wearing a toe-ring? And so on. But she never had a chance to say any of these things, as she realized that the disapproval was strong, and her defense, well, irrelevant.

For many years now she had worked hard, concentrating on not falling into the same trap as many of her acquaintances. The trap of being unable to derive enjoyment from life, any aspect of it. The trap of finding fault with everything, everyone, and always wanting something more and something else than what was offered. A trap that was very difficult to get out of. Of course her genes, her upbringing, these were driving her in as well. But thankfully, she had overcome them. I have been successful in this, she told herself. I manage to enjoy things, I manage to not have hidden agendas, I manage to be directed by myself and not others, I do this casually now, without any great effort. I am happy, she told herself, glancing briefly at her watch. Gosh! It was late, midnight already, and an early flight to catch the next morning. But she could not sleep, her mind too intent on the full day she had had.

She had bonded with so many people, old and young, at this wedding. The children were of course fun to be with as ever. She had quickly transitioned between Kannada and Tamizh and English, when she found herself in the midst of three children, each comfortable in one of those languages. The language barrier notwithstanding, the three had the same idea. Switching on and off, endlessly, the colourful lights on a miniature dancing fountain they found at the entrance to the wedding hall. After an hour of this activity, she had found herself imagining a situation of electrocution. She started pleading with the children, in turn, to stop the game. She suggested several alternatives. And when they just ignored her, she followed the crude wiring to the main switch and pulled it off. Was she happy she had saved them for sure electrocution? Was she angry at herself for spoiling their fun? Was she embarrassed at her extreme reaction to a normal situation? She was not sure any more, but at that time, it seemed the right thing to do. Oh everything was so confusing, two sides to every damn thing.

With an aged relative of hers, the discussion had been about waste of food at the event. She had argued vehemently against this, and, although the uncle could not hear her well, he had nodded sagely and repeated his set of arguments, which also, if you interpreted it, amounted to the same thing. The conversation started well but got tricky once she realized that her speaking was far less effective than her facial expressions, and that any sign of impatience on her face as the man droned on would cause immense hurt. She was almost thankful when she was called away for a quick bout of singing, although it was uncertain that she had any skills in that direction.

She had also run into a large number of cousins, racked her brain to remember the names of all their children so she could inquire after them, been largely successful in convincing them that she really cared. Which to a large extent she did, but not so much that she would lose sleep over it. They in turn had asked after her family and job and daily schedule, and the weather, and also acted as if it mattered to them. She had quickly discovered that various parts of her family harboured various unrelated and funny apprehensions about the big city. One was afraid of the rain. The other of terrorist attacks. The third was concerned that the schools were all co-educational. A fourth, of panthers! And so on. She could hardly tell them that living there you did not particularly have time to dwell on such matters. You found a job, it put you in a city, you hunted for a home, and then the day-to-day things just overwhelmed you so much that you did not question your choices. They would not accept that. Perhaps they were right, perhaps everything was about geography, or, location. Now where had she heard this one before?

As the day wore on, although she told herself that she was having a great time, and that meeting all these people was a damn good reason to attend a wedding, she felt immensely tired. Having a conversation with just one more person, trying to connect with them on their terms, paying attention to what they were saying, jocularly warding off unsolicited suggestions about how to lead her life, even listening to those that insisted on praising her and narrating incidents from her childhood which had led them to conclude, then and there, that she was special, all of it was getting to be too much. I am not used to this, living all the way away and not talking to adults much, this is an overdose, she told herself.

It was night, everything was done, she had helped with the cleaning up, loudly singing hindi movie songs all the while much to the amusement of the remaining, over-tired, people. She had returned back to her hotel room, alone in an auto, escaping into one before anyone could see, and now the crisp and cool white sheets on her bed were really inviting. Another young couple married off, hope they know what they have to do! I wish I could have told them, wish I knew what I could have told them, about married life. It is an intricate dance, the easy steps for the everyday, the twisty-difficult ones for special events. You can enjoy each and every part of it, but just as easily hate it too. I wish I could have... she was thinking as she finally fell asleep, just as the clock struck two, for joy.

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