By: Kusum Choppra
Through my bedroom window, I look down on a giant bedroom.
It sleeps 23 odd scattered around, singles, doubles, triples and quartets.
Dark nights offer no glimpse that I rush to catch at daylight.
My eyes first seek out the horizon, shuttered by rising skyscrapers
Monster steel and glass development symbols that slurp resources
To spew out fake humans with fake emotions that change with every audience,
Ultra right / left, ultra modern / old fashioned, liberal / conservative, 50 / 50
Fulsome praise to your face, vicious criticisms behind your back.
Ahead of the skyscrapers are swathes of variegated greens, the trees swaying majestically in the early morning breeze. Easy to pick out those with a new coat, in fresh new shades of glistening green standing out from the mature shades around.
Then the eyes reach closer home, the terrace immediately below my eerie. There, just below my window, is an old thick set man on his solitary string bed with two pillows. Occasionally he is joined by a young grandson, perhaps, on a smaller bed. The old man’s khatla is positioned to allow him to sleep a little late as the overhang of the adjoining room casts a long shadow screening off the early rays of the sun. Three other family members sleep well away from the old man and rise early enough to move quietly away, not to disturb the patriach.
Those who sleep on the north eastern corner of the terrace, diagonally opposite, are not so lucky. The first rays of the sun strike full in the face – only a young lazy boy covers his face, as if challenging the rays to get through. But the battle only earns him the dubious honor of having to fold everything, stack all the beds against the wall and stacking the bedclothes on all the three beds.
On the north west of the terrace, across from the old man’s slumber, a foursome of beds is cooled by a handsome pedestal fan. Often i imagine them squabbling over the placement of the beds in the lee of the stairwell that offers some shade from the sun’s first rays, with one particular bed that offers an extra 10 mins of sleep before the light bores into the eyes.
One morning I was late! Only the last bed on that western corner was occupied by the time i reached the window. A middle aged woman came gracefully up the stairs and surveyed the terrace, now bereft of sleepers, except our late Latif. Why do the girls never sleep late? I asked myself.
Her hair and sari were so perfectly in order, I guessed she must have already done tea, familybreakfast and a little wash up before heading back up. With practiced ease, she picked up her bed and placed it horizontally against the adjoining wall that offered her family privacy from the adjoining segment of the terrace and offered the longest shaded lee against the heat. As she moved each bed, the bedclothes went onto the adjacent one, till they were all piled on the recalcitrant sleeper who was thus forced to sit up. With incredible grace and patience, the lady folded each just so, then neatly piled them up on the stacked beds. Finally the boy got up, gathered all the pillows and marched off with them downstairs, while the mother stood up the last bed and covered the lot with an old black cover. Then with one hand, she picked up the pedestal fan to stand in a shaded corner, covering it before sweeping off downstairs.
Only one little corner of the terrace stood empty of outdoor sleepers, a little enclosed corner with doors remained firmly shut. Four pairs of big and smaller slippers outside gave away the strength inside.
Looking down onto a now empty terrace, I thought, morning has come the house from my Upstairs window. In that instant, loud sounds of jubilation rose. Were they from the ground floor? That I had never seen. The middle floor flats had protruding balconies which were summer bedrooms. Soon loud wails took over. I wondered what was happening for my people.
My people?? I didn’t know them from Adam. Never even seen their faces properly with my rheumy eyes from so afar. Yet they were mine! My early morning companions for so many years now.
The dhobi’s brother arrived to pick up the day’s ironing after a half hour’s impatient wait. ‘Where’s your brother?’
‘His daughter has scored above 90% in the Board results. They’ve gone to the school,’ he announced with great pride. ‘Tonight we will celebrate after work.’’
‘But some people were crying too. What happened?’
‘ A call came from the village. Bhabhi’s mother died and she’s gone to the village.’
The good and the bad had happened on one day amongst my people.