“It’s right there, you blind fellow! Can’t you aim a stick and shoot?” Aunty shouted from the first floor balcony, seemingly ready to jump off at a moment’s notice as she looked exasperated with the car cleaner and his stick, both of which were trying to get her pink lace bra stuck in the electric wire, outside her house.
“It’s not coming on the stick aunty…it’s very big!” joked the car cleaner as a couple of other men whiling away their time in the streets, laughed and aunty was furious as she shouted.
“Yes! Yes! It’s much bigger than the small package you have been carrying since your childhood, bunny. Go work on that! Useless fellow!”
The guys on the street guffawed loudly as the car cleaner looked visibly embarrassed at being slighted in public. Some other people had gathered around in their balconies to witness the ‘Drama of the Bra’ yet again.
Mrs. Verma who lived below on the ground floor objected as she told her husband. “This is impossible. Every month her bra has to get stuck somewhere or the other…in someone’s balcony, wrapped on some kids’ football and now this electric wire.”
Mr. Verma sympathized with aunty and said, “Don’t be silly, it happens sometimes!” Mrs. Verma, irritated at his defence, widened her once-big eyes and pointed, “Of course it does! My question is why does it happen to the same bra every single time?” And she walked off in anger as Mr. Verma went back to his Sunday newspaper while the commotion outside, subsided.
Aunty finally got her bra back and she folded it neatly and placed it in her cupboard which looked like it was overflowing at its seams and would burst forth any moment.
Aunty arranged the bedspread and cursed, “Useless fellows, all of them! All of them be damned! Not one teeny-weeny respect for someone older than them…have to call Sandhya also…that reminds me…have to get a calling card…ISD calls are so expensive…and the vegetables…sky-rocketing…soon they would be wrapped in gold and we would be wearing brinjals in our ears…”
Aunty continued to mutter as she kept the bucket of clothes soaked in water before she could wash them. She then washed the four utensils she had used for dinner last evening and placed them in the utensil rack above the sink. She wiped the kitchen slab clean and then panted for breath. She stopped, made a hot cup of cardamom tea and sat down outside, on her twenty year old sofa as she reminisced about her life back in Patiala.
Of gorgeous crepe saris and reams of silk and silk…of a house bustling with people and servants at all times, of her long black hair…of kitty parties with her rich neighbours, of Diwali nights of gambling and choicest whiskey flowing among the men and stealthily among women in fine china.
Aunty heaved a sigh of longing as she looked at her ceramic mug and sipped on her hot tea which masked her glasses in steam every time she sipped. Just then the door bell rang and aunty cursed as she got up, “…can’t even drink a cup of tea in peace in this house.”
It was the local junk dealer who had come to ask for scrap. Every month he used to make a visit and aunty would first check from the peephole she had, to see if there were masked men with pointed razor-sharp knives in their hands, ready to kill an old woman and take off with whatever little she had left including the pink lace bra in her closet.
“If they were to take that…” she always wondered… “…at least they would know, I used to be a woman of quality once…”
The scrap dealer rang the bell again as Aunty shouted from inside, “I don’t have anything…have told you a thousand times that there is no place for scrap or junk in this house…if you set foot here again, I will sell your bones off, do you hear me?”
Aunty shouted, loud enough for the neighbours to hear who were, by now used to the cacophony created behind the doors of house number 104. The scrap dealer shook his head and left.
Aunty left her cold tea and dusted the entire house, a modest two-bedroom apartment which her son had bought for her and her husband when he brought them to Delhi from their sprawling one acre bungalow in Patiala.
From that home to this shanty bachelor’s house in the middle of middle classness, aunty had to come to terms with a lot of things in the last eight years that she had not been ready for. But there was no option.
Her husband owned a business as a distributor of farm equipment and his old-age and prostrate problems did not help better their prospects. Their two sons and a daughter had long left Patiala for higher education and enviable jobs.
The younger one was in Delhi for a while, who brought them there while he was working for a MNC in Gurgaon. But he too left, once he got posted in New York, leaving his parents behind in this dingy apartment. Her husband too, passed away six years ago and Aunty was left to fend for herself.
In her most profane moment when she was two brandies down, Aunty would curse her son for bringing them here, in this cubbyhole which she claimed was smaller than her late husband’s ass hole.
Now, in the morning, Aunty kicked the brandy bottle and the glass under her bed to keep it hidden lest someone dropped in without informing her. Not that it had happened lately. It had been over fifteen years since someone had surprised her.
Sometimes her ears would keep waiting for the phone to ring, hoping it would be her daughter Sandhya from Singapore who had gifted her that pink lace bra two years ago when she had last visited.
Truth be told, she had never really worn it but loved looking at it from time to time. Sandhya used to call frequently earlier but after her son was born two years ago, she had no time left, as she claimed.
Aunty was supposed to go to Singapore to help her but then she found a nanny from Philippines and Sandhya asked her not to tax herself in this age for her sake. Aunty’s excitement fizzled out like a condom after an orgasm and she felt cheated.
Her elder son in Canada lived with his wife and children in some godforsaken cold place with his family and maybe her grandchildren didn’t even know she existed. He had returned though, at his father’s death.
In fact, all of them had come and made a big show of grief over cups of tea which might have become salty with copious amount of tears that they had shed. But only four days later, their intentions were clear. They wanted to know how much money was left to be distributed among them.
The one acre bungalow and business had been sold before they had moved to Delhi and the money they got from it had been spent on these children’s’ education, their lavish weddings and this damned two-bedroom apartment she was living in.
Aunty had managed to save her pride and their long, pointed inherited noses still looked high after the weddings as the guests left but it also left a big dent in their savings. When the children found out, they too, disappeared as fast as they had come and Aunty knew, they might just make one more appearance… at the time when she would pass away.
“I will not give a single penny to those sons of bitches…not a penny.” Aunty mumbled and went for a bath after locking the doors and checking them twice. She always doubted that one of these days, the next door neighbour Mr. Vashishth whose wife used to be away at her mother’s most of the time, would walk right in through the main door and lock it from inside.
And then she would shriek because she left the bathroom door ajar every time she took a bath. He couldn’t possibly see this cotton bra hanging here…it had to be the pink lace bra.
Aunty shook her head as if it had already happened and turned the water tap on. She thought of how Mr. Vashishth smiled lasciviously at her every time they greeted each other at the staircase landing. Sometimes she felt that he would deliberately come out to meet her just so he could make her uncomfortable.
“A single woman can’t live in this city alone…without being raped, murdered or molested…in our Patiala things were different. Doors were not locked out and neither were neighbours…”
Aunty took a shower and came out as she wiped her short, cropped hair with a towel and put on her glasses kept on the side table and then looked at the pile of dried clothes on the sofa, from yesterday. As she stepped across, she almost slipped on the little puddle that the water had formed right outside the bathroom as the door was left ajar.
She balanced herself with the bathroom door knob and saved herself from falling just in time. She heaved a sigh of relief.
Aunty started folding the clothes one by one. She had thought of hiring a maid sometimes but was scared after reading the newspaper reports of some domestic help in South Delhi slashing the throats of an old couple and fleeing with all the jewels. “No one can be trusted here…no one in this city…my children were all good before they left Patiala…it is the city…the city I tell you…which ruined them.”
What aunty did not admit was that she would have been too horrified to have someone find her in a state as disgraceful as a slashed throat with a tongue hanging out and legs wide apart and eyes as if they have seen the worst horror almost like a newly-wedded woman discovering what a pittance her husband had in store for her on the very first night.
The mere visual of the scenario brought a chill down her spine. It was this fear that kept her locked behind doors most of the time. She used to step down once in two days to buy her daily needs and it was here that she encountered Mr. Vashishth at the landing, Mrs. Verma at the door of her house below, haggling with the vegetable vendor…Monty, the boy from the next door building playing with a football and outside, the young street brigade of boys hanging on their motorbikes and scooters and ogling at everything female that crossed them. Every time Aunty went up and down this staircase, she felt claustrophobic and sorely missed her green lawns at Patiala in the memory of which, she had planted some miserable potted plants sweltering in the Delhi heat in her balcony.
Suddenly there was a loud crash of a window breaking. “Thieves!” Aunty thought but what she saw was a mere cricket ball and she got off the bed, went to the kitchen, picked up a sharp knife and walked back to the balcony in raging fury to guillotine the culprits. S
he shouted at the kids looking up in fear, wondering what this old goose was at again, “You scoundrels! Sons of devils! Who will pay for this window? Your father, the great Ambani?”
Just then, the mother of one of the kids who was picking up her dried clothes from the line overheard this and shouted back, “Yes! Yes! My husband will pay for it! No need to shout your lungs out!”
Aunty could not tolerate this disrespect showed her the ball and cut it into two pieces with a knife and threw it down at the boys and told the woman, “…then ask him to pay for this ball as well!”
The other woman furious, shouted back saying, “Just because you don’t have kids who play, does not mean you will behave like this!”
Aunty, opening her bulbous eyes wide, replied, “Go, ask your husband to behave because I am sure he has kids in every freaking colony around this area and god knows how many neighbours will have to pay for all those broken windows that his illegitimate children break!”
The woman of the child pursed her lips and shouted at her kid, “Amol, come inside right now! I don’t want to hear anything. Come here…I will break your legs next time you play cricket!”
The woman walked back inside before Aunty could reveal more secrets of her closed walls on which a wall hanging of ‘Happy Home’ hung proudly. And little Amol dug his bat hard on to the road, cursed Aunty and his mom and walked to his home.
Aunty’s fury finally subsided and she came inside to the kitchen and washed her knife which had touched the dirty ball. Then she chopped the vegetables with it and cooked a single meal for a single person and single-handedly finished her chores to retire for the night.
As Aunty plopped herself on her bed with a glass of brandy, she checked her landline at the nightstand to see if the dial tone was there or if it were as dead as her late husband. It was very much alive and with that assurance, she switched on the DVD player and inserted the DVD. The DVD player showed its antics before she rapped thrice on it and then it played her favourite movie, ‘The Guide.’
This was the best time of Aunty’s day or night because she could have a rendezvous with the king of her heart, the crown prince among them all, the man with the drop-dead gorgeous looks…Dev Anand.
Aunty raised the volume as Dev Anand and Waheeda glided along to the once famous song. Aunty watched the whole film while she downed another brandy.
As the film was coming to an end, Aunty got up and played the other DVD. This one was shown to her by Sandhya, in a time when she still cared to show her things and share with her. Sandhya had argued that the actor in the film would give Dev Anand a run for his money and Aunty had laughed at the conjecture.
But when Sandhya played the DVD and Aunty watched His moustachioed self on the screen, she fell in love with Clark Gable in Gone With the Wind and knew that if anyone could move Dev Anand a couple of inches in her heart, it would be him.
She didn’t understand the dialogue completely but watching him was enough, every time. But right now, the DVD refused to play as she pressed the buttons on her remote and rapped the DVD player but to no avail. She sighed, thinking it was time to sleep. She went to her cupboard and as a ritual, took out her pink lace bra, came back to bed, placed the bra on her chest, closed her eyes and fantasized about Dev Anand and Clark Gable as her morose husband stared blankly from his picture on the bedside table.
Next morning the milkman came and rang the bell to collect his money but there was no response. There was no movement, no cacophony from 104 as the neighbours noticed.
When the police broke down the doors with the heavy locks, they discovered Aunty in the bedroom, with a glass of brandy next to her bed, a smile on her face, the pink lace bra spread across her chest. The neighbours giggled days after she was found but as the policeman reported there was one more detail in the room.
The DVD of Gone With Wind, which had started playing on its own some four hours ago showed the scene where Clark Gable as Rhett Butler famously told Scarlett O’ Hara, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!”…not anymore…not anymore…
P.S The picture in the post is that of Vivian Leigh on the sets of the classic ‘Gone with the Wind’