On a lazy weekend midday, Baba should be fast asleep- preferably and effectively. There would be no going out otherwise.
We had been in preparation days ahead of the actual adventure, me not so much as her. On this fateful day while the scorching sun burns all and drenches all, we hurry and scurry past all prying eyes to do what needs to be done. I told her to wear her second-best saree for the occasion. The second-best, as her most exclusive, statement-making piece in the wardrobe might bring back excruciating memories. I whisper at her a time-check and a sharp warning, “Hurry up! We have 15 minutes, might as well be dead otherwise!” Craning my neck, I keep a watchful eye on the ticking clock in the hallway.
She emerges not in the second, but in the third-best saree she has. I mouth a 'why' at her, to which her voice trails off somewhere I can't ever be, “It's not appropriate, you see, a girl like me. Wearing colours like that….” There is no room for an uneasy quiet between the two of us, so I begin to brave a second question at her, “What's the harm? It's not like he's…”
The rest becomes muffled, we need to keep it quiet, hush-hush. For now, for ever, forever. She wipes the sweat off of my forehead with her neatly folded handkerchief, explaining further, “Not dead, I know. But as good as that, don't you think?” One look at me, and she has read my mind.
I carry my heels tenderly, for the convenience of tiptoeing past the sleeping tiger. In an easy chair, Baba's form lies in a deep slumber, the newspaper shrouding his face and the upper half of his body. The headlines say something about the impending budget, the impending cricket match, and the impending doom. The world ends, they suppose, in 2012.
When did the world end for us, though?
Was it at, what Asif bhai called, the 'body turmeric' ceremony? Unlike today, she was radiant and ravishing, perhaps truly happy, beaming at those of us who were younger. She wore colour with the pride she was entitled to, was still entitled to, at that point of time. We remember cutting up purple patterned paper in triangles, tracing them out, attaching them to an overhead string. A flock of happy triangles concealed a bit of the gloomy sky for us that day.
She is, and always has been, all about colour. She was a zesty lemon-yellow that day, yet berry-purple is her first love. The colour of berries, jaam, especially. Before any of this had unfurled, she had once schooled me and my friends on the origin of sarees, of celebrations, of traditions.
“Why is that weave called Jamdani? It's because the original sarees used to be the colour of jaam, dyed with the purple jaam juice we like so much. And listen, I'm not the type to wear a designer blouse with a Jamdani saree. The saree is the star, not the blouse, so a single-coloured, plain blouse is best. Otherwise, it's an insult to the weave.”
Her second-best is hence, a purple Jamdani, a deep blackened purple. The blackened saree has scared her now, or perhaps, it's the fear of the people who decree this no-colour policy. They made her transition from warm-yellow to rustic-red to wraith-white.
I had ensured beforehand that the rickshaw remains at the ready. Taking advantage of the tiger's latency, I whisk her away on wheels, straight to the house where silvery dreams materialize. On rickshaw, the distance is a mere fifteen minutes. The matinee show starts exactly in twenty.
As the screen is alight and the hall abuzz, I cast a sideways glance at Apa.
A handkerchief has come out. A white handkerchief, catching her happy tears, for a change.
Qazi Mustabeen Noor is an aspiring writer and an English Literature major from North South University.