To those who enrich my household
Amid the most unusual and the last May in my Delhi home, I am taking the time to savour countless, small, oft-forgotten exchanges
Someone in my aural vicinity is playing a keyboard discordantly, with absolutely no regard for the rules of rhythm or tonality. At first, it carried resonances of some of John Cage's compositions, with elements of harp-like flourishes thrown in for good measure, before assuming the logic of randomness. Intermittently, the mynas continue to screech. When they pause, momentarily, a crow chimes in, or that elusive bird I can never spot whistles melodically.
It is the most unusual May I've ever encountered in the ten years I've lived in Delhi. It will soon be high noon, and yet, it is so pleasant the fan doesn't need to be on full speed. I rely on the air conditioning only for a few hours in the evening, to cool down my second-floor apartment before we fall asleep.
There have been dramatic storms which have brought with them gusts of wind and bursts of rain. Then, the blazing red of fallen Gulmohar petals contrasts with the wet darkness of the tarred streets. The Laburnum is finally in bloom, adding flamboyant flashes of yellow to our experience of the mundane.
I have been recording all the intrusions at the level of sound that I have been encountering during this lockdown. I have received them all graciously, because I am aware that, at some point this year, I will base myself in a town in another continent where I will only be interrupted by church bells, and perhaps, a marching band, on a festive Sunday.
I will miss this proximity I have had, over eight years, to lives being lived at close quarters, especially since my apartment has been located next door to a basti. I am already mourning the eventual passing of so many of my daily relationships with people who have mostly known me as Didi, with whom I have shared so much, and with whom I had evolved a co-dependent relationship. I liked that they were never afraid to ask me for anything, just as I felt unencumbered asking them for help.
I miss H, my Bengali vegetable vendor, who was already home in Guwahati before the lockdown began, so perhaps wisely decided to remain there. He had been slowly building upon a plot of land he had bought and had shown me pictures of his little girls. I may not get a chance to say goodbye to him when I leave, and I'll have to wait until he turns his phone back on.
It's the same with K, my most favoured fruit vendor because he indeed has a knack for selecting the best produce and rarely ever sold me anything that wasn't at the height of its flavour. The last thing I bought from him was a packet of strawberries, in early March. They were delicious. I'd frozen them and used them in a sorbet. He must have wisely gone home too, just before the lockdown was instituted.
Since then I've been relying on the two other fruit vendors at the C Block market, whom I've known for years, and who are both from Lucknow and related to each other, and who both enjoy a great flair for poetry.
I was thrilled to hear from the lady who manages the ironing stall I used to use when I earned a regular salary and had a place of work to report to. I'd been hoping I'd get to see her since I'd kept a bunch of lovely things — blazers, coats, sweaters, trousers, and some cotton saris for her and her daughter. When she came today to pick them up, she looked radiant. She was wearing the cotton sari I had gifted her last Diwali. We both laughed at how fortuitous her call to me was yesterday evening. She had wanted to let me know she was back at work in the colony, and to ask if I had cotton saris to spare for her to use this Summer.
We spent some time chatting as she bundled together the things I'd kept for her, and then asked if she could take my plants. I loved the idea of her nursing the basil and the aloe and the few flowering plants I had and excitedly said yes. I know I will see her again as she promised to take some of my kitchen things, as did my maid, B, whose presence I've been missing immensely. I never really 'needed' her, as my dishes are rarely that many, and our apartment can do with being swept just once or twice a week. But her most compelling feature was always how she sang while she worked, especially while swabbing the floor. She has a gorgeous voice, perfectly suited for Hindustani classical vocals. She sang every day, and always as if she was at peace with the world.
Because I moved into this colony as a single woman, and as a tenant, I faced a good amount of hostility from many of its odious, upper-middle-class apartment-owning, horn-blaring residents. I will not miss any of them. But I know I'll find myself occasionally calling, long-distance, the people who really nourished me during this period, my vegetable vendors, who, upon noticing the times I'd take less than my usual share, could gauge that I was broke, and would urge me not to worry about paying them now, and who never hesitated to ask me for a loan when they needed money.
A few days ago, after the plumber and I gossiped for a good 30 minutes as he fixed the leaking shower head, I thought of how these innumerable small exchanges get left out of the grand narratives of our lives. While I'm eager to live for a few years without the burden of having to continually service a household, I wish I could write a fitting tribute to all the people who have sustained my love for the domestic.
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx
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