Silence Lost

Deep-cut embellished blouses. Arms waxed and moisturized smooth.
Perfectly pleated saree draped to reveal just a hint of a sexy waist.
Eyebrows arched just right. Kajal applied just so.
Two pairs of lips colored to attract ever so subtly.
Two pairs of eyes seeking each other intermittently.
 

A crowd gathers not too slowly.
Voices are found as numbers increase.
“Go away. You people are not allowed here.”
“Get up from that bench. We can’t sit with you.”

 

Lips quivering with the weight of helpless anger.
Eyes fighting that daily fight – against tears.
“Why? What wrong did we do?”
“We are people too. We have the same rights as you.”

 

An electric train pulls in and out unnoticed.
All of Nungambakkam railway station is here.
Shouting, watching, discussing, whispering.
 

“Don’t sit here, ma. Move to that bench there.”
“They are bad people. Dangerous.”

 

I look up to a man in a lungi worn thigh-high.
Speaking to me with an urgency..
An urgency that doesn’t suit my beloved Chennai’s Tamizh.
 

The two transgender beauties get up to leave.
One crying humiliated tears.
The other cursing at the crowd.
Both leading each other away to safety.
 

Their swaying backs disappear at the far end of the platform.
The satisfied crowd disperses to wait for their trains.
The lungi man is back to manning his shop.
Nungambakkam station is back to its busy self.
I am back to sitting alone watching people and trains.
A tad confused and dazed. What just happened?
 

My friend comes running down the stairs.
We hug and laugh.
We start talking – fast, together.
I dust myself off.
The past five minutes promptly forgotten..
Forgotten for now.

 

It has been more than a year..
But the scene keeps playing in my head.
Did I move from that bench?
May be I did.
I don’t remember.
 

Sometimes, you don’t remember what happened.
Sometimes, you remember what nobody else remembers..
Sometimes, you remember what did not happen..
What you did not do.
What you did not say.
 

I did not speak up.
I did not refuse to move.
I did not stand up for them.
I did not stand up for what I believed.
In any way!
 

I felt guilt.
Guilt that I remember most vividly.
 

Does not feel good.. at all!
A feeling that would remind me for life..
To stand up for what I believe.
To never stay a mute spectator to injustice.
Never again..
For my own sake.
 

Ouch.. Silence stings!
Doesn’t it?
Silence better lost – for good.

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Keep Distance

Prema – all of 13, twelve years back, was an unsmiling child. Every summer morning, I sat watching her on the portico. In her hands, the broom was aggressive – scratching and scarring the floor with every sweep.

Giving a final thwack with the broom, she went around to the backyard – to the voice that called her to breakfast. Special brunch served personally by the lady of the house, on exclusive cutlery – Prema’s own plate and bowl. No one in the household is allowed to use it. I get yelled at when I rebel every once in a while and serve myself a snack on her plate.

Grandma was a fierce fighter for Prema’s rights, for what Prema deserved. She deserved to be served her food where she works – she need not drag herself to the dining area, or serve herself. She deserved to drink water from her own bottle, while everybody else had to use common glasses. That Fanta pet bottle that should have been discarded weeks back, but had been saved just for this.
Cos.. you know how it is.. Grandma does not like to bring back utensils Prema touched, ate and drank from, into her oh-so-pure kitchen.
Apparently, Prema deserved to be belittled – softly, politely, every day.

Her poverty-ridden life served her daily meals with an accompaniment of humiliation.

My elite polite life served me confused inability to question the injustice.

Casteism is easy to stand up to. One might even argue that it goes away with the “older generation”. Not this intellectualized hypocrisy.

For casteism, it was not. Liberals do not do caste, remember? This is all about hygiene!
You know how it is… these poor people don’t take bath properly and are brimming with infections and diseases, and “we” do not want to catch anything disgusting from them? They neither use soap with anti-bacterial properties nor carry around sweet little bottles of hand-sanitizer liquids – like “we” do.
It is “keep distance” – from the unhygenic.
Somehow, “socially” hugging people – the elite kind of people – is hygienic. Skin infections, after all, affect only the poor.
Somehow, sharing a drink or eating from the same plate – with the elite kind of stranger you just met – is hygienic. Elite saliva is all clean and clear.
Somehow, gorging on street-food in the rains is hygienic. It is so kewl & fun and such a liberating experience of the “real india”! And of course, “we” can pop in a zinetac, a cetzine and, if necessary, a cefaxelin later.
Only the beggar boy touching “us” with just the tips of three of his fingers is unhygienic!
“I am not comfortable with this. I don’t mind giving 10 rupees.. it is after all a job, you know?. But I am not comfortable with this touching”.
“Yaaaaa.. it is TERRIBLE!”

I am so horrified, that I even forget to pick on that ultra-moronic “begging is after all a job” part!
This is no hygiene – this is just “keep distance” – from poverty.

“Keep distance” – from poverty..
Said disguised in high-sounding words, with a smile, and a “you know how it is..”.

I can’t fight them – these liberal, open-minded hypocrites.
I can only escape..
“Keep distance” – from hypocrisy.

At least, I can afford to now – after years of independence and learning to stand up for my beliefs.

Prema still can not.. She can not afford that luxurious bit of self-esteem – ever.
Damned poverty!

Years back, there were hand-me-downs..
She wore my faded t-shirt.
She wore my old party skirt
She swept while safety pins provided old-age support to the elastic waist band.
I looked on..
Wearing her helplessness.

Years later, there are hand-me-downs..
She now wears my aunt’s not-good-enough saree.
Her infant son wears what my niece has outgrown.
She sweeps while my aunt yells at her to leave the gurgling-cooing-nuisance at home.
I look on..
Still wearing her helplessness.

Only hand-me-downs it will be.. For ever.

Given with generosity..

From a safe distance.

The Closet

She wrote a beautiful poem..

About LGBT rights and acceptance of “alternate” sexuality.

Her readers brought in more to her blog. . all too moved by the poem.

He did too. . kept reading it a couple dozen times with suppressed tears.

And then she wrote in the comments section..

“Btw, just to clarify, I am straight 🙂 :)”

Those sweet smileys burnt him a wee bit..

They pointed out that the “acceptance” was a favor.

That clarification hurt him a wee bit..

It reminded that “inclusion” was a one-way road.

She and her friends would graciously include him in their circle..

But they would never come forward to get included in his “exotic” circle.

He could come out of his closet any day.

They never would come out of theirs..

A pretty, transparent, glass closet..

Key-less..

Only, displayed proudly in the living room!