Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Heebie jeebies in a house of loss

Yesterday morning I was at the house of a woman whose husband committed suicide because he couldn’t pay his debts. As we say in newspapers, he is survived by his Belgian wife and 2 school-going daughters to whom he has left a pile of unpaid bills.

I had tagged along with people, who were interested in things she was selling things -- office tables, pool table, side table, dining table, 10 chairs, some sofas, 3 garden benches, other stuff, and also the house in which she had lived for the past 16 years.

I felt I was in curious surroundings, and playing memory games might take my attention away from wondering where he jumped from and constantly thinking how sad, how sad.

I shook her hand -- the widow’s. Didn’t say pleased to meet you, just hi-hi and big smile, my way of getting out of saying I’m sorry your husband left you like this. I introduced myself only when we were leaving and then said sorry, I should’ve done that an hour ago, nothing about her loss.

Lady had purple frames – no designer label, just a metal scribble at the rim from where they fold. Short grey hair – a blunt cut, kurti and light capris, black chappals – nothing fancy, and walking around with a notepad and pencil, practical, stoic, making notes of what these people were buying and the price she must remember to have quoted.

She’s selling the house, leaves for Europe in May to her parents, with the girls, might not return to India.

She hasn’t decided where she will move to. For now, the stuff will lie in a warehouse. The dogs will have to go, the two lovely German Shepherds, Yoyo and Lazy, father and daughter. I petted them. In her very stripped-down accent, she asked if I liked dogs. I do. They reminded me of mine when they were alive, except mine didn’t have such black snouts. I didn’t say that. She said I could have them both. I can’t, I said. I’d love to but I live in a flat. It’s not fair. Who’s going to take them up and down in the lift 9 times a day? I didn’t say that either. Smiles are such great substitutes for what’s really on your mind.

When we were outside, she pointed out the garden stuff for sale. Besides the benches and the flower pots, the garden tools and the winter heaters, there was a bright red wheelbarrow. Also a kiddie swing, shaped like a U, kind to the bottoms, not the flat phattas from my childhood parks that I remember swinging on. I might have been losing my memory game because seeing those kiddie slide, I was back to how sad, how sad.

Next to the play area, there were big packets of pampers, 9X Aloe and Chamomile. I’m not sure what they were doing there, especially if her kids were grown up enough to be in school. Inside, next to the phone, the green 90’s style landline, I saw one daughter’s name tag, a passport size photo of a girl in uniform and the name of the school. Pampers made no sense. These kids were too old. Maybe she got them for the maid’s kids. Hardly something that could’ve contributed to debt-death.

The office in the basement was had inbuilt cupboards, cubicle partitions, filing cabinets, two dozen computers, printed upholstery on swivel chairs, and box files marked Airtel Bills and Staff Medical. The guy, her husband, was Muslim. She is a Mrs Khan. On the wall of his office was a picture of the Golden Temple. Didn’t ask, didn’t know what to ask.

The air conditioner was on only in the living room. We went back there. She wrote down what pieces, what prices and phone numbers. There was bougainvillea snipped and kept in a steel glass on the dining table. Also an orchid, one stem, couldn’t tell if it was real, wasn’t about to go feel the petal. On another surface, lay a blackened banana. Breakfast was obviously over and no one cared to peel sources of overripe potassium.

Further away, on the T.V cabinet, cards were displayed. By the sombre flower themes, the given circumstance, and the overuse of pastel, they had to be condolence cards. Once, to answer a casual so what makes you leave, she said as much, My Husband Expired.

She had a bread making machine in the kitchen, and a blue packet of Quaker oats. Compared to the ten rolls of toilet paper on a shelf in the bedroom, the heap of at least 20 gift bags in the office, and the giant pampers in the play pen, the huge cloth carry bag marked Modern Bazaar, ONE packet of Quaker oats seemed very retail-shopper of her. Maybe the other packets of oats were stashed away.

The kids too were nowhere to be seen. On one of their bedroom photos, there was a Get Out pasted, along with a magazine cut out of Miley Cyrus or someone. Even though I’m sure I saw them both, I couldn’t tell apart Lazy from Yoyo, the 2 dogs whom I felt for. Must be wondering where on earth their owner vanished. The maid and her kid on the other hand, seemed to be everywhere. Maid’s kid had a sty on her eye. Two, it seemed like. I should’ve told her about homeopathy and Silicea, but I wasn’t speaking very much.

My focacia-baking friend had asked me to keep an eye out for a bed side table. I have that conversation recorded because on the drive to that sad house, my phone was acting mad. The voice recorder was working overtime, archiving every 3-minute chat. “If you see something nice, I’m sure you know what something nice is…” -- I couldn’t see anything nice in a house where someone killed himself. Or rather, even if I could see anything nice, it would get shadowed by sadness. I wouldn’t want to own any of it. I wouldn’t want to buy any of it for my friends, select colleagues, maybe, people in HR, sure, knick knacks for the workplace, perhaps. But the associations would never go. Assuming you bought some stuff for the house, and someone came over for dinner and complimented you on a lovely bedside table, and asked where you got it, you’d have to be euphemistic or clever or lie because it wouldn’t be nice to sip your cranberry juice and say, oh this? A garage sale of a woman who had to sell out because her husband did himself in and this was going dirt cheap.

I would not be comfortable buying a bed side table from there. Memories are everything. Why go out of one’s way to bring into your home someone else’s bad ones? Isn’t that why she was selling the house? Sure, it’s expensive. She needs the money. She has 2 daughters. It gets lonely. But why carry on in a place that got hit by unnatural death? I didn’t get no bedside table. There might even have been one. I hear myself sound medieval, unreasonable, illogical and unscientific, but there it is – prejudice, gut, doubt, upbringing, my ‘I wouldn’t’, and the victory of psychological over what’s practical. I have a feeling she’ll lose it and say, hai hai tera dimaag kharab hai?, but I must ask my grandmother what she thinks.


Janaki said...

Sad.. so sad indeed.. what will happen to the dogs.. is something I am thinking about the most.

Mumbai Diva said...

oh dear...i'm thinking about the dogs too.

Anonymous said...


The Unbearable Banishment said...

I hate to speak ill of the deceased, but her husband was a rotten coward for leaving them like that. And, no offense, but who cares about the damn dogs?! What are those kids in for?

Anonymous said...

"Don't hassle the dead, boy. They have eerie powers"

Nimpipi said...

Anon1: Bit insensitive, no?

TUB: Chap was an asshole.

Relatively speaking, the debt wasn't all that much. Not that if it were all that much, it validates his selfishness, but what a waste. The poor kids. Easier to sympathise with the dogs for the one reason, they're the ones getting abandoned. For the sake of the girls, I hope she starts afresh, gets out of here.

Anon2: Are you anon 1?

Anonymous said...


Pringle Man said...

Clearly you did get the heebie jeebies. Very matter of fact this blogpost, which in itself says something.

Except the banana potassium line, that was clever.

And it's not illogical pip, it's the most natural thing ever. Not everything comes from a happy place, least of all the food we eat, but if it weighs on your mind so much, than furniture be damned.

Pringle Man said...

Eeks, what is this pringle man stuff.

This is El by the way.

Anonymous said...

you write very well. There is a lyricism to your words. Please don't stop writing.

S Vardhan said...

Moving, and very well written. Suicide never seeks validation for selfishness... but was disturbed by the insensitivity of the "he was a coward" like comments. Sure its hard for the people left behind, but who is to know anyone else's mind, capacity, abilities and motivations; least of all the dead?

Your post skillfully (and to me, rightly) avoided that territory; unfortunately though, the comments page seems more than eager to opine.

Well-written, and well-felt