• hashtagkalakar

MINI-

By Mydhili R Varma


I am Mini. Mini, the prefix that refers to a smaller version of something. Like minibus, miniskirt. Mini as in limited in scope. Mini for minuscule, unimpactful, not mattering much in the larger picture or history. I am one of the many forgettable characters you meet in your life when you need your homes cleaned, dishes washed, and your parents or grandparents need diaper change, care and attention that you can't provide. The likes of me could weave in and out of your life in plain sight but never get noticed. If someone asked you if your mother's home nurse had a limp or a lisp, you would be at a loss to explain.

If you're not my twin brother or my Appa, I would come across as an average, lacklustre girl from a lower class family and even lower level of upbringing. If you are my twin you would be chuckling at this description. Are you? Are you my Bobby? If you are, you know where to find me. And you know what to do next – come, find me. If you're my Appa, you would've already begun contesting the bit about my upbringing. Contest all you want but I don't take back my statement.




As far as I can remember, I have always been hungry. We weren't exactly poor - like the homeless mittai uncle poor - but we weren't affluent either. We had just enough to make it through every day. I had an insatiable appetite and nothing was ever enough to satiate my hunger. My father who didn't know the first thing about raising children, blamed this uncontrollable appetite on tape worm infestation and asked me to starve in order to starve out the worms. However, starving only fanned the flames of my appetite. I started eating pages from the English newspaper the Varkeys used to read at the Rose Bungalow when I got hungry after breakfast. Sports page, front page, international news - I chewed and swallowed up everything without any favouritism. When I ate the page with the title World News, I told myself internally that I had eaten the whole world and should stop paying attention to any more pangs of hunger, because I had exhausted the whole world's resources and there wasn't anything left.

I was born in Muthanga, the inconsequential village in Wayanad where I spent the first twenty three dastardly years of my life. When they talk about Wayanad, they talk about the breathtaking hills, the divine lakes and the lush forest. They sell you a fantasy of how your days as a tourist would be like, before you go back to where you came from and continue with your vacation-affording, bucket-list-ticking-off life. They don't tell you about the people trapped in the places you visited and took pictures to go with the warm memories. That the tourist destination you escaped into was filled with lonely, begrudging people with vacant, hungry eyes and rusty dreams of escaping from there. People like me who simmered in quiet desperation, nursing dreams, cursing Wayanad, as if waiting for a sign of some sort that things would take a turn for the better, and then at last we could scrub off the numerous coats of insignificance and apprehension that have settled on our souls over the years. Like plaque. Like dust in the Rose Bungalow's southwest bedroom. Wayanad fills every memory of my early life but other than some choice curses, I have nothing to give back to the place of my birth and upbringing.

When they glorify the beauty of the mist that hangs over the grassy green covering from their Kerala vacation, they don't see the globules of desperation that coexist with the mist, hanging forever over the green landscape, extending its misty white fingers into everything alive, pressing their necks, choking them enough to wring the meaning out of their lives, but not enough to kill and end it once and for all. Toying with the weak, showing them it has one end of the strings to their limbs. Like a sadist with no form, the misty white fingers didn’t spare anyone.

My memory is a little fuzzy but if I'm not wrong, my first job was as a substitute sweeper at the Rose Bungalow at the age of seven. The regular sweeper, Kalaiarasi, whom we all called akka, had contracted what Appa called her yearly pregnancy flu, and had to rest up after her delivery. I dutifully did the job because the phsh-phsh sound of the broom calmed me down for a while and stopped me from thinking about pinching the baby in the house. I had been to the Varkey's Rose Bungalow only on account of Kalai akka's yearly flu, but that was enough to fill me with ideas of horrible death of the Varkey’s baby. The baby boy was barely a few months old, and he had his own room, a cradle and the most delicious smelling furniture and toys. The only toy I ever had, growing up, was a foul-smelling rag doll Appa had brought us - salvaged from the dump or stole it in all probability - and gave us in a dramatically magnanimous gesture. When Bobby stared at the ugly thing and I couldn't bring myself to thank him for this grand gift, let alone hide my contempt, he had called us ungrateful bastards, snatched the thing from a stunned Bobby's hands and threw it out of our shack into the darkness. That marked the end of the gifting culture in our house.

I didn't think it was fair that the baby should have so many dolls before it was even old enough to play with it, while Bobby and I had to content with the grimy rag doll and other smaller trinkets I managed to steal from the houses I worked in.

Jealousy took over me one day, and before I could stop myself I had pinched the baby on its fleshy thigh. The little thing began to cry at the top of its shrill voice and I had to sneak out and run back home at warp speed.

That day, I realised that I didn’t particularly like the Varkeys and rich people in general. The rich have this languid nature to them. They know the last crumb of food on their plates will wait for as long as they want; they know the taxi will wait until they finish saying their niceties; they know how to demand to be someone’s top priority. But the poor have the alertness and quick response of a wild animal that has to fight every day for its survival. This is why if you throw people into a disaster, you will find the rich gawking stupidly until a slab of concrete hits them and the poor scampering for their dear lives. With nothing precious in their possession, they know that all they have are their lives.

I had to teach myself the art of slow movement and languidness in my later years, to fit in with the rich folks, to not stand out in the wrong way. In my early years, I developed the art of looking like a complete daft to the T. I had realised it early on that the best way to fool people and hide your true intentions was to make them believe you were dumb as a rock. That way, they gradually let their guards down. I didn't have the opportunity to continue my education after tenth class because I ended up topping the school in tenth state board exams. My marks were in stark contrast with Appa's expectations of me, and stood right in the way of turning me into a full-time housekeeper at Rose Bungalow and handing me the breadwinner baton so he could drink himself to death. Despite the school Principal and all my teachers trying to persuade him to let me continue my studies, Appa didn't give in. They were no match for his stubbornness. He could only forbid me from going to school, though. He never knew I secretly continued my studies using second hand books from Malik Bookstore in the city. He never knew how I swallowed my vomit, giving a blowjob to some creepy, suspicious fellow who made me a fake college certificate in nursing and demanded more cash than the amount previously agreed upon, and I ran twenty rupees short even after I emptied all the change in my purse.

Although I despise my hometown, there are some random memories that still delight and amuse me. Like the one time that I was alone in Rose Bungalow and made some amazing new discoveries. First off, I needed to know what went where. It was on a scratchy, smudged, sectioned steel plate that I saw the vague reflection of my genitalia. Satisfied that everything matched what I had read, I decided to take the next obvious step. I thrust myself onto the hand rest of Mrs Varkey’s favourite high-backed chair covered in jade cloth with big flower prints, and squirmed myself in place. I gyrated my bony hips against the cushioned hand rest, biting down sounds of pleasure that got stuck in my parched throat. As my gyrating speed increased, involuntary sounds escaped my clenched mouth. Amidst my panting, I was surprised to find out that I sounded like Ponni's sick dog while I was shaking in pleasure. In moments, I was hunched, head resting on the backrest, and involuntarily groaning into an explosive climax. Spent, I sat regally in Mrs Varkey’s favourite high-backed chair and slept off. When the Varkeys came back from the wedding they had been to, I handed them the key to the house and left, chuckling about how I had fucked with Mrs Varkey’s favourite high-backed chair.

These days I seem to be shifting from one memory pocket to another. In another random memory, when I scratched my head, I felt something get stuck inside my nail. Upon examination, I found out that it was a bloated, jet-black louse. Nobody would believe it if I said this, but I passed a whole afternoon playing and toying with the louse. Halfway down, I started torturing it in different ways. I tried drowning it in water, then poking it with a safety pin, and then unwittingly killed it by dripping a drop of hot wax over its tiny black body. It was a disappointing end. I had hoped it would live through more elaborate processes. In the course of time, I found out that the most satisfying way to kill louse was to place it on your left thumb nail and slowly, without having it slide off your nail, squeeze it with your right thumb nail. Pop comes the sound, and the lice is effectively dead, a splatter of black and red on your nail.

In my late teens, I devised a little payback game to get back at the people I hated. I would sing Akkuthikkuth aana varambath, a Malayalam children's song from my school days, and decide whom to impersonate and shame every time. Thumb for Pinky kutty, forefinger for Mrs Varkey, middle finger for Jyothi, ring finger for Vrinda, little finger for Jessy. I would then take a trip to the city and make a fool out of myself, while impersonating them.

Today, I was in no mood to impersonate. I was on a Bobby Quest. I didn't have months ahead of me. One, maybe a few days squeezed in, the doctor had said. To borrow from the wordy Mr Thampi, I was feeling a bit discombobulated. The word resembled a bubble in my head, and today I was stuck in one filled with the vestiges of the mist from the Wayanad I thought I had left behind for good. My eyes were watery from staring endlessly but I dared not blink, for the green-eyed boy could be right there, looking for the cleft-lipped girl.

Unusually spiky hair, bright green eyes and a heartfelt smile weren't hard to spot, but the three attributes never came together in all these years of my search for my lost twin. One tick, two ticks, never three. My breath quickened at even a possible half-tick. When Bobby-spotting and ticking boxes for years on end got the better of me, I spiralled. Spiralled hard. Bruises, ghost skin and screams kind of hard.

But here I am at it again. By afternoon, two ticks got me jumping in joy and tapping the shoulder of a stranger in a white shirt, pants too tight and oval glasses. I had no intention of talking further after he missed the cue on the code word Bobby and I had agreed upon. ‘Korangachan,’ I would say, and Bobby would know to reply, ‘Kadukumani’.

I told him I thought he was someone from my hometown and tried to excuse myself but he persisted, asking me where my hometown was, squinting from the sun, dimple forming near his eye.

‘Muthanga,’ I said.

Dimple Eye got up and exulted, 'I am from Muthanga too! What a coincidence. Where in Muthanga? Do you know Fakru bhai? The house opposite of the cinema. Brown gate. Did you hear that Jolly died of cancer, Binumon from an accident and...'

He went on and on, listing the deaths and real estate developments.

I studied him carefully. He had my Appa’s lopsided smile. My breathing quickened and I clenched the edge of the table in attempt to stonewall an encroaching memory, the most unsettling one this time. I thought I had entombed it safely in an abandoned drawer in my subconscious labeled ‘Do Not Open’, but it has crawled out of its tomb, fangs, claws, scales and all.

‘Please, no…’ I whispered, but I was already being dragged headfirst into the time and day I simply couldn’t bear to remember again.

~

I was back from yet another of my impersonation jaunt – this time as Rubeina ittha - and was walking back home in good spirits. Appa’s drunken laughter reached me before our shabby house came into view. I hesitated and then dragged my feet home. When I rounded the corner, I saw him sprawled out in the veranda like a dirty rag doll that had slipped off its perch and landed on the floor, its arms and legs splayed out.

Bobby was inside the house, squatting on the floor with his head in his hands. When he looked up in my direction, I noticed that his eyes were bloodshot and puffy. I rushed towards Bobby, nearly tripping over Appa’s outstretched leg and eliciting a string of abuses from him. Hands shaking, Bobby whimpered and showed me the empty baby powder bottle that used to contain all our secret savings.

Enraged, I turned to Appa. ‘Did you take our money?’

‘Your money?’ he shouted in slurred voice. ‘You think you are some wealthy tycoon, saving money and all?’ Appa crawled to the pillar, and using its support, got to his feet unsteadily. ‘I buy the rations, I feed you, I am the master of the house, and you’ve been stealing money from me and filling up powder tins!’ When he realised he couldn’t balance himself standing anymore, he leaned against the pillar, untied and retied his lungi.

‘It’s our hard earned money,’ I shouted to match his voice. ‘We had scrimped and saved every rupee, every paisa of it. How dare you blow it all up on booze?’

‘Consider it as repayment,’ he said, waving his hand. ‘It’s not like you were saving it up for your marriage or something. Who would marry you anyway? You are so ugly I couldn’t even sell you to those Hindi-kkar. You and your dead mother – rotten wenches.’

Having said as much, he slipped and slumped on the floor.

Burning from head to toe in rage, I ransacked the place, looking for something to strike the living daylights out of Appa. Ours not being the kind of household that boasted of expensive vases and decorative pots, my search proved futile.

And then I noticed the stone under the tamarind tree that we used to call our Amma and vent at length to. Bobby must’ve guessed my next move, because his eyes widened in shock.

When I brought down that stone on Appa, he was still splayed about and laughing at Bobby. He didn't see it coming. And when he did, in that brief moment, he simply frowned at me like he didn't believe I could do it. Didn't even put up a fight.

Petrified, Bobby and I split up and absconded, after deciding to meet at Kovalam beach when the dust settled.

~

That was the last time we saw each other. Bobby has since then left a gaping hole in my heart into which I shrank and fell and lost myself. On days when the winter smog of dark swirling episodes from my past thickens around me, I lift that stone once again and strike the living daylights out of it.

Not knowing he had put the key in the hole and turned it and laid open the trunk of bad memories, the stranger continued talking. I had stuffed the trunk and closed it with much difficulty a long time back. First with my knee pressing on the lid, then both knees, and then sitting on it until I squashed the bony fingers of dreadful things creeping out of the trunk, sending them screaming inside and locking them in forever, hands shaking. There they stayed, screaming their muffled screams, some moaning.

Now, he had let every single one of them out and they weren't screaming and moaning anymore. They were out and hungry, growling for a piece of my mind. Defenseless and dragged headfirst into a labyrinth of Wayanad memories, I stumbled and fell, scampered and ran, screaming until my screams drowned their hungry growls and pierced my very bones.


By Mydhili R Varma




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