Friday, April 25, 2008

A Prickly Solution

By Dilip Raote

Geetika was tired of her parents. They were a bore. They were a nuisance. They were the pits. What’s the fun of having your own room if you can’t lock the door?

Knock, knock. “What are doing in there, darling? Why have you locked the door? Come and see what I’ve made for you. Open up, will you?” And mother would bring in some snacks that she’d just made. Hot hot or cold cold.

Why didn’t mother take up a job? She’d done microbiology. She should be looking at microbes through microscopes. Perhaps the microbes would be as annoyed as she was. It’s a hard life when you are under constant watch.

Mother didn’t take up a job because father made too much money. Mother liked to show off how much money father made. She made him change the car every year. She was already tired of the new Toyota. She wanted a BMW. Geetika never got a chance to travel in taxis and buses, not even the school bus. She was taken from their Napeansea Road residence to JB Petit School near Hutatma Chowk by driver Chandu in their old Honda. And she was never allowed to go on class picnics.

Chandu was entertaining. He told Geetika exciting stories about his childhood in a village near Ratnagiri. He walked to school barefoot. He climbed trees. He swam in wells and in the sea. And he stole fruits from orchards. He told her ghost stories. The Konkan has lots of ghosts. Geetika wondered often if she could persuade her parents to go to a haunted house in the Konkan. A ghost might cure mother.

But then it might not. Mother would get a conversation topic for the parties she threw. And she’d ask Geetika to tell the story after she’d already told it. “Geetika, tell them what you saw. It was so frightening, no? But Geetika wasn’t scared at all, you know. My darling is a very brave girl.” Yakyakyakyakyakyakyak.

Father was no help. He was proud of his wife. He liked to see her dolled up. She stank of an unbearable perfume. Father also used perfume, but it wasn’t so bad. He also agreed with everything mother said. “Do as your mama tells you,” he’d say. “She knows what is best for you.”

He wouldn’t buy Geetika a cycle. It wasn’t safe outside, he said. Even in the building’s compound? Not even there. All kinds of low-class children come there. Not good for our baby.

He got Geetika a pair of roller-skates, though. Along with them he got protective pads for the knees and elbows and a helmet. Geetika was to skate only in the house. Or on the building’s terrace. But not alone. Mother had to be present.

Father took the skates along once when they went to the club. He insisted Geetika wear them and show off to the guest at their table. And she had to wear the protective gear. Was he nuts? What would other kids think? Worse than a sissy, whatever that is.

Geetika refused. “Don't be difficult, baby,” father said. “These skates are the best in the market. Are you afraid? Daddy will hold your hand.” Geetika wanted to hurl the skates into the swimming pool near by. Hold her hand, indeed! Fine sight that would make.

Father tied on the elbow pads and hit the edge of the marble table hard with the elbows. “See! Real tough! All children’s games should have safety measures. Play should not end in injury. Yakyakyakyak…” Geetika looked up at the evening sky. The moon looked like a ball of cement. She imagined it dropping down on father’s head.

“Your problem is that you are an only child,” her class monitor Sangeeta had told her once. “You are lucky but you don’t know it. You can get anything you want. I have a sister and two brothers. Our parents have no time to even look at us. Think about it, kid. Don’t curse your good fortune.”

So, Geetika buried herself in her studies or played on her computer. She’d once made the mistake of asking mother’s help with some homework. It was an awful experience. Mother took over. She did all the homework for that day. Geetika sat around and twiddled her thumbs. Then she played Free Cell on the computer until mother finished.

Geetika heard about that homework for several weeks afterwards. Every visitor was told about it. So Geetika worked hard at her studies. She did all her homework. She never again asked for mother’s help. And she made sure she usually topped class. If she’d got a lower rank, mother would have wanted to help with the homework.

Geetika’s classmates thought she was nuts. What are parents for if you can’t get them to do your homework, they said. Parents must be involved with their children’s education, Sangeeta said. Homework is a continuation of school work and parents are the teachers there. Blah-blah. Sangeeta mimicked the headmistress well.

So, Geetika thought and thought. She caught herself staring at her parents often. When father caught her looking at him, he did a thumbs-up. He saw love and admiration in that look. When mother caught her looking, she’d say, “Need anything, darling?” Geetika would shake her head and go back to her book or computer. But no plan was taking shape in her head.

One evening father and mother left together for a business party. Kanchan, the maid, had to do overtime. She was left in charge with full instructions about dinner and sleeping times for Geetika. “And don’t be difficult, baby,” mother said. “Don’t wait for us. We may be late. Bye, darling.”

Geetika went to her bedroom and shut the door. She pulled out all the Roald Dahl books from the shelf. Nasty things happened to adults in Dahl’s children’s books. Geetika flipped through the books. Nah, there was nothing in them that she could try out. The stories were fantasies. They were not real.

Kanchan pushed open the door and came in. She sat on the floor near Geetika. She wanted company. Geetika switched on the computer. She shoved in a CD of the Hindi film Lagaan. She told Kanchan to sit in the chair. Kanchan protested that she couldn’t. Geetika grabbed her arm and pulled her up. “Sit there!” she said firmly and pointed to the chair. Kanchan settled into the chair. She was pleased. Then she lost interest in Geetika. The movie had begun.

Geetika walked out of the room. She was in deep thought. She wandered into the guest bedroom. She took in all the items one by one. She peeped into the wall cupboards. Nothing exciting.

She wanted into the kitchen. She considered all the electrical appliances. She opened cupboards. Chilli powder in the pillows? No, that was a short-term thing. So were ice-cubes under the bed sheet. She opened the cutlery drawers and stared long at the knives and forks. No, that was an extreme solution.

She went to her parents’ bedroom. She peeped in the wardrobes. She hadn’t realised that her parents had so many clothes. She shut the cupboards and stared at the huge bed. The bedcover was a large M F Husain canvas of a Madhuri Dixit portrait. Father had got it specially printed. All the bedcovers in the linen cupboard were art works. There was Picasso, Dali, Raza and many more. Whenever father acquired a new bedcover, he’d hang it on a wall and show Geetika a photograph of the original for comparison. And he’d laugh at his own ingenuity. He said he was an art lover and winked at mother.

Geetika walked over to the bedside table on mother’s side of the bed. The drawers were filled with bangles, hair bands, a can of some spray, and other such things. Geetika’s eyes settled on a packet. She picked it up and flicked it open. She smiled. Here was the solution to all her problems.

She carried the packet to her room. Kanchan was staring at the screen and laughing. She didn’t even notice Geetika. Geetika went to her study table and dug out her pencil-compass box. After a while, she went back to her parents’ room and put back the packet in the bedside drawer. She smiled, like a wicked witch.

Geetika warmed the food in the microwave and had dinner. She brushed, changed into nightclothes and lay down in the guest room. She dozed off.

She woke up in her own room in the morning. Another boring day lay ahead. She decided she’d pretend to be sick and bunk school. Then the memories of the previous night stirred. She jumped up. She ran out. She pushed open the door of her parents’ room and rushed in.

“Hi, Dad! Hi, Mom!” she said. They were still sleeping. Father turned over and groaned. Mother opened her eyes and was annoyed. But Geetika bent over and gave her a hug. Mother smiled.

“Why are you up so early, baby?” she said. Then she looked at the wall clock. “My god! It's eight!” She threw off her cover and got up. “Go and get ready, baby. You’ll be late for school.” She rushed off to the bathroom.

Geetika smiled and laughed on the way to school. Driver Chandu was infected by her mood and told her jokes and atrocious stories of his childhood days when the kids played nasty tricks on adults. He laughed a lot. His eyes were more on Geetika in the back seat than on the road ahead. He was surprised by the chirpiness of the girl this morning. She never laughed like this even on her birthday or on results day when she got a first rank. He wondered.

And so days and weeks passed. Geetika kept a surreptitious watch on her parents. When was it going to happen? When? When?

One morning she noticed that her mother was silent. She was brooding. Anxiety showed on her face. She didn’t make a fuss with Geetika’s preparations for school and breakfast. Geetika asked her if anything was wrong. “Feeling a little sick, baby,” she said. “But don’t worry. I’ll see the doctor in the evening.”

Geetika was pulled up by four teachers for not paying attention. She smiled when she was scolded. During recess she laughed and ran around and wanted to take part in all the games on the playground. Her classmates were puzzled. “She looks like she’s in love,” said Sangeeta, the class monitor. “But it can’t be. The only man she’s allowed to meet without her parents’ supervision is driver Chandu.”

When Sangeeta inquired, Geetika said, “I’ll tell you tomorrow. Then we’ll have a party.” She refused to say more.

The house was quiet in the evening when she returned from school and ballet class. Only Kanchan was at home. Father and mother returned after Geetika had had dinner. Father looked grim. Mother’s eyes were red. She had cried. They nodded at Geetika and went to their room. The door was shut with a bang. Soon voices rose inside.

Geetika tiptoed to the door and put an ear to it. Father and mother were both speaking too fast. Mother was wailing during the pauses. There was the sound of a drawer being opened. Then after a long silence, father’s words came through sharp and clear.

“I’ll sue those condom manufacturers. I’ll take them up to the Supreme Court. I’ll teach those bastards a lesson.”

Geetika tiptoed back. She went to her room and locked the door. She did a wild dance on the bed. She changed into her nightclothes and climbed into bed and stared happily at the ceiling. She pulled the pillow from under her head and stuffed it under her nightie. She stood in front of the mirror and looked approvingly at her big belly.

There was knocking on the door. She ignored it. The knocking grew louder. “Good night, Mom. Good night, Dad! I am sleeping.”

“Good night, dear,” said mother from the other side of the door. It sounded like a sob.

Geetika got into bed and put the pillow back under her head. She tried to imagine the look on Sangeeta’s face tomorrow when she told her that her mother was pregnant.

Some day Geetika would tell her the true story. But not now. Not now. After the baby came, perhaps.

1 comment:

Eccentric said...

hhahaha, what a lovely story !!