April is the cruellest month, Eliot spoke to me from far away. Now there were reasons too! The painful sight of migrant labourers walking home, crossing thousands of miles to reach their villages, one of whom appeared in my dream, knocking on my strangely silent windows, asking for something. The strange dream continued, I saw a bedraggled woman sprawled outside the window in a comatose state but she was mourning as if for the dead. In my dream, I did not see her directly but through a mirror on my silent wall. I stood there immobilised.
I wake up late as usual, feeling guilty for something I did not do. And on a bright new morning, notwithstanding the uneasy calm on the otherwise noisy pathways and deep within me, I venture on my balcony to see my potted plants bathing in the gold of the sunlight and my poor hard-working washing machine of several decades. I quickly decide that the chillies must be sun-dried and stored away for the use of a whole year. Mundane things like sun-drying the chillies in April are sometimes more pleasurable than the cooler zones of hill stations, where the clouds resemble cotton wool and the trees look inviting.
A whole year! That is too much! I am far too aware of my own mortality and those of others. Eliot speaks again---this is the way, the world will end ,not with a bang but with a whimper—but Eliot has to be pushed in the further recesses of my mind, as I rush to take the chillies and allow them to dry on a jute mat on the ground. Their fate will be sealed in huge jars and they will be gently brought out to become aromatic parts of coconut-infused curries and fiery pickles for my octogenarian mother-in -law.
The day is wearing on and the sun unrelenting in his heat, as I pick up a crisp chilly and break it. It makes a cackling sound and the seeds burst. I remember my literature class three decades ago, when I had read Keats’ Ode To Autumn. It had all seemed pointless at that time. At eighteen, life was different. You read, but never thought. You thought but never felt. You felt but never absorbed. Everything had to be seen through an innocent, or was it an ignorant perspective? At eighteen, Keats was a doorway to clear an exam. But now, the most routine acts of breaking a chilly, rolling chapatis and preparing succulent crunchy salads…of identifying kanjeevaram sarees and Mysore crepes and Banarasi by seeing their resplendent designs and feeling their texture, is keatsian.
I find life outside the theoretical formulations of patriarchy and women’s emancipation , in issues I encounter every day. I see it when my maid, along with her two children, lives, abandoned by a callous husband. I see it in a son browbeating his old mother into submission. I see it in a mother submitting to the will of a headstrong daughter. In the bullying tactics of people in the work place. I realise in an epiphanic moment that the literature in the world written by the finest poets and writers is, but a glimpse of realities found in the hard and unwelcoming corners of homes and offices and exhausted paths on which the migrants tread home.
I stop to take a breath, mop in hand, the floor is spic and span. The aroma of lunch, cooking, wafts through every window. I reach out for my phone and furiously type on it. Keats, Shakespeare, Joyce, Jane Austen. I want to read them all again, and perhaps write a paper in a reputed journal before life starts again after lockdown. But I quickly move on to watch a video on Puran-Poli, how to make them soft and delicious.
It is sunset. The chillies have dried nicely. I feel a surge of joy, a sense of achievement. In this outcome based world, it is important. I position my phone and capture the chillies against the setting sun. They look resplendent as if they’re youthful models, strutting on their jute mat against the backdrop of the sun, slowly saying goodbye for the day.
I send the photos to the Sibling Revelry group and wait with bated breath. After several moments, I see various rewarding emojis from family members. I feel gratified. After all, like the heroine in Gone With The Wind, tomorrow is another day and I have plans to make before I sleep. To sew, to wash, to cook, to conduct online lectures, to pray and yes, to breathe. Thank God for that!
Anupama teaches Communication Skills in Mumbai's Ramrao Adik Institute of Technology, India and she believes in living in the present.