Meerut, December 2017
The cold dreary Dark-Grey weather was reflected in my heart. Many a time in the recent past I had contemplated ending my life to escape this grey. Only one thing had stopped me – my precious daughter, the very breath in my lungs, every beat of my heart. How could I leave her alone in this cruel Salem-Black world? I could not, so, I plodded on.
Suri, my daughter, she is the splash of Canary-Yellow in my Ash-Grey life. But even with her splash, our life at best is like an old Straw-Yellowed photograph of yore. A dull yellow, which ebbs and flows with the sun. The sun sets, darkening our life to Midnight-Grey and heralding the arrival of my alcoholic husband. Even the yellow leeches out. If he is given food, television and quiet, the grey remains undisturbed, but occasionally it explodes into Crimson-Red.
Till Suri was born my life was all shades of grey. Then she came into my life and I saw this new color. It was bright and beautiful. It lifted my heart and spirit. I loved this new color and named her Suryakiran. Appropriate isn’t it? Just speaking her name brings a smile to my face.
Now my little splash of yellow is growing. She is twelve and has her own ideas about how things should be. He didn’t want her to wear jeans. When she whined, he got angry and we had the burst of red. He pounded his greys into me for not teaching ‘my daughter’ to never argue with her father. Everything was no; going to friends’ houses, sleepovers, birthdays, laughing wholeheartedly, singing loudly. It was like my life was being repeated, this time with my daughter. My father always used to say ‘Sit properly, don’t talk loudly, why are you talking to boys, what is the need to study so much graduation is enough, teach her cooking instead.’ Now Suri’s father was beginning to say the same things.
When I was young, I used to see other girls laughing loudly, going out, buying trinkets. Sometimes their colors would splash on to my mood too, purple, pink, lavender. But once I got home those colors would ruthlessly and systematically be beaten or jeered off. The de-coloring done mostly by my father was painful. It left me raw and bleeding. So, I decided to stick to greys.
That is why Suri and I made the most of our time together.
“How was your day?” I would ask her everyday once she returned from school. That was her cue to go into a detailed description of the day at school. Perhaps more than her, I enjoyed this time. Not only because she was sharing her day with me but also because I was living my life vicariously through her joys and experiences.
One evening we were returning from the market.
“Suri, we will get your Durgaji* in that shop,” I said pointing at ‘Vertika’s Vintage Shop’ across the street.
“Yessss…” she clapped her hands enthusiastically. “And I will pick up a statute exactly like the one I saw in my dreams.”
“That may not be possible honey,” I cautioned incase she didn’t find what she was looking for.
“Don’t worry Ma, have some faith,” she looked at me with such conviction that I had to swallow past my choked throat. I could only manage to nod my head.
In the shop I let her take the lead. I browsed around. The shop was divided into two sections. The front section was all glass and gloss; selling items that tourists wanted. The other section at the back was dusty and dull. It was here in one of the long glass displays that I saw it. It was the most beautiful key I had ever seen. Made perhaps of oxidized silver it looked to be two-and-a-half inches long and one-fourth of an inch broad. At its head was an exquisitely carved filigree lotus. Each of its five petals had a stone – blue, red, green, violet, yellow. The rectangular body had intricately carved paisleys which tapered down to a dainty swastik.
“Would you like to see it?”
“Huh, no. I probably couldn’t afford it,” I said smiling sheepishly.
“No money for seeing,” thus saying the old man – I assumed he was the owner – removed the key and put it on a small black velvet tray and extended it towards me.
I stared at the key as it rested on the tray for a few seconds. Then I gingerly reached out and picked it up. I had expected it to be cold, but it felt warm to touch. I was mesmerized. Then I looked at the old man with his wise and kind eyes.
“Warm to touch, is it?” he asked with a smile.
I could only nod.
“Then I think you should buy it.”
“But I don’t have money,” I said and reached out to put the key back on the tray.
Half way through the old man cupped my hand in his and closed my palm over the key. I looked at him astonished and a little suspicious.
“How much do you have?”
This led to a bargain and I got a deal.
And just like that, the most beautiful key I had ever seen was mine. He packed it in pink tissue paper and I paid for it. Suri didn’t find her Durgaji and said it was ok. She would find her one day.
Few days later I found myself standing in front of our storeroom. I was looking for the key to unlock it. Amongst the bunch of keys on my key-ring I saw the lotus-key. I was still grinning like an idiot when Suri came up to me and waved her hand infront of my face.
“Ma, you are supposed to get mango pickle from the storeroom for my tiffin,” she smiled at my smile.
Laughingly I said, “Yes, yes, my little one.”
I pushed opened the door and flicked on the switch. The small bulb lighted-up the 5 by 10 feet room with Pale-Yellow light. I reached for the pickle jar on the top shelf. Anything required frequently was stored on the shelves near the door. The big drums filled with wheat, rice, spices were pushed against the far wall.
When I woke up today, I wasn’t feeling great. My head felt heavy and all I wanted to do was crawl back into the bed. But Suri and husband needed their tiffins. I also had a long list of chores I needed to do. Top of the list was cleaning the storeroom. I really wasn’t up to it today. Feeling groggy and a little dizzy I nonetheless opened the door to see if I could inspire myself to atleast start the task. Just as I unlocked the storeroom, I realized that I had used the lotus-key.
How was it even possible? My heart pounded and my body went cold.
Breathing heavily, I slowly pushed the door open expecting …. Not sure what? But definitely not what I saw.
It took my breath away. I stood there stunned. My headache and tiredness all forgotten. It was like there was an explosion of colors. Almost blinding me with its intensity. It was the most colorful candy shop I had ever seen. The walls were painted with dizzying wave-patterns of orange, red and green which swirled into their respective centers. Their constant movement was hypnotizing. I tore my glance away from them and looked at the shelves. They were made of red and yellow glass, like a mosaic. They cast red and yellow shadows. I let go of the door and stepped inside. I looked up and laughed. Even the ceiling was covered with colorful dots of varying sizes.
I felt like a kid in a candy shop. I looked at the colorful candies kept in the glass jars. Some were like M&Ms, some like jellies, some cut in shape and color of fruits, some with swirls, others with waves, candy sticks, lollypops. Gingerly I reached out and took one. It was solid. I popped one in my mouth. Oh God, the feeling was heavenly. I closed my eyes and savored it. Then I went around sampling a few and pretty soon I was feeling sick again, this time from the sugar rush. However the urge to stay was so strong that had it not been for Suri coming home I would have just stayed. Slowly with heavy footsteps I started walking back. I grabbed a red-white swirly lollypop for her. At the door I turned back to look at all the color riot. I kept looking at it till I could see no more. The door closed on its own. I felt a great sense of bereavement.
Taking a deep breath to calm the sobs building in my chest, I pushed open the door once again. I let the tears fall silently as I looked at my gloomy storeroom. I looked down at my hand, the lollypop was gone. I tried using the lotus-key again, but it wouldn’t fit the lock.
Suri sensed something was wrong. But what could I say? But the deprivation of the colors was certainly making me feel Pale-Grey-Blue.
The mood persisted and everyday Suri pestered me about it. Finally, I got fed up and took her hand and dragged her to the storeroom. I selected the lotus-key from the bunch and said, “I used this key to open this lock a few days ago. The door had opened into a beautiful candy store,” I said, then relocked the door.
With a concerned look on her face she said, “You need to rest Ma.” She cupped my check with her hand.
I felt such despair at the thought that I would never be able to see that sight again and would never be able to share it with her. But I knew I couldn’t give up. Holding the key, I stuck it into the lock and even as Suri gasped the lock clicked open. Suri and I looked at each other and held our breath. And expelled it with a whoosh at the sight. Suri laughed and raced in.
“Oh my God, Ma look at this? The ocean is so blue.”
Yes, the ocean was all shades from Teal-Blue to Azure-Blue and absolutely crystal clear. The sand the softest Pearl-White. But the sky, was the brightest we had ever seen. Cornflower-Blue with tufts of white clouds and the sun was reflected brilliantly off of the water. Under the gorgeous swaying palms were two white wooden beach chairs. Suri looked at me with wonder in her eyes as if asking, how?
“It’s magic baby. We have a magical key,” I said holding the key up. I took a deep breath, breathing in the fresh balmy air heavily scented with sea. Suri ran to play with the waves. I joined her and we laughed and ran. We tumbled into the waves and chased them. We built a sand castle. We got sand in our hair. We had no idea what time it was. But it seemed all too soon the sky grew dark and angry clouds came roiling in.
“I think it’s time for us to leave,” I said sadly, looking at the darkening sky.
Suri wailed, “No, please let us stay here. Let’s close the door.”
We tried closing the door but it wouldn’t. It always swung open. Reluctantly we stepped out into our kitchen and the storeroom door closed. We stood for a good couple of minutes, each lost in our thoughts and dealing with the loss and wondering…
Then reality came tick-tocking. It was a mad dash to cook dinner and finish house-chores before he returned. We were happy-sad. Throughout the evening we kept exchanging glances and smiles. It was truly our secret.
The next day I couldn’t wait for Suri to return. As soon as she came, we both rushed to the storeroom and used the lotus-key. This time we were in a huge shop. We rushed in holding hands and gawking at the display. There were different sections each dedicated to a color. There were tops, jeans, t-shirts, gowns and frocks. Sequin, lace, net, linen, denim, silk, wool, velvet.
We had a great time trying different outfits. We paraded the clothes as if we were models on the ramp. While we were ideating on a way to take atleast one dress home, the lights started flickering. Resigned we knew it was time for us to leave. But each time it was becoming difficult. Life in colors was beautiful and we hated going back to the greys.
That night I could manage to put a very simple fare on the table and he didn’t like it. “What is this? This is all you cooked. What the hell do you do all day?” I cringed in fear. He looked at me suspiciously. I was afraid he would see my colors and like my father would want to erase them.
The lotus-key never took us to the same place. From the Azure-Blues of the oceans, Shamrock-Greens of the rainforest, Flax-Yellows of the desert, to the bright lights of big cities and enticing stores from around the world. Every time Suri and I entered the magical world, we would bring back a little more of those colors with us. I could sense that neither she nor I wanted to live like this anymore. And my husband was beginning to sense that something was up.
Today was the third Sunday since we had the lotus-key. Sundays were difficult as husband was home. Not being able to use the key made us edgy. He noticed that. That afternoon Suri voiced my thoughts.
“Ma, how long can we do this?”
I seriously had no answer for it. I too had been wondering about it. I had no idea where it would lead or how it would end.
“I think Papa suspects something is going on. Did you see how he was looking at us?”
“I know, we have to be careful,” I said feeling an unknown dread squeezing my heart.
Today was 31st December and husband had informed me that he would be late coming home. I was very happy. This meant Suri and I could spend more time in the storeroom.
This time we saw a giant tree decorated with fairy lights. A table was laid-out for two. The white damask tablecloth touched the ground. In the center was a peacock feathered glass candle holder with a flickering tea-candle. Golden crockery and cutlery were set. Music floated in the air. This was the first time we found ourselves dressed in beautiful frocks. Suri had a Blush-Red sequin dress trimmed with delicate lace. I was wearing a Tiffany-Blue satin dress, cut in simple lines with pearl studs.
We enjoyed the sumptuous food that magically appeared on the table. We watched the fire-works, awestruck as they exploded into hundreds of tiny blue, green, pink stars. Suddenly there was a loud bang from behind us.
Startled we turned around to look and slowly stood up. Both of us were horrified to see husband standing there. He was drunk and there was murder in his eyes. Dizzy with fear I tried to hold on to the table for support. But there was no table. We were back in our storeroom. Even before I could push Suri behind me; he shot in, grabbed my hair and pulled it back. I cried out.
“What are you both doing here?” he screamed in my ear. Holding his hand that was pulling my hair and tears streaking down my face I told Suri to leave the room.
But she wouldn’t budge.
He continued to scream.
I could barely manage to speak. My head was hurting. Then suddenly the red exploded. This time he was not just grey, he was black. Pitch-Black with fury and hatred. The black rained on me. I cowered under the assault. Suddenly Suri let out a scream and launched herself at the black. I was horrified.
“Nooooo,” a scream tore through my throat. Absolute terror gripped my heart.
‘No, not my Suri. Not my sunshine,’ I thought. The idea that she would get hurt spurred me to retaliate. With strength I didn’t know I possessed, I kicked, bashed and bit into this black mass of madness. I kept telling Suri to stop and back away, but she wouldn’t listen. Suddenly I felt the intensity of the assault slacken and in that one moment of surprise the black lashed out at my yellow and sent her skidding on the floor to crash into the drums. For the first time in my life I was completely colored in black. I picked a huge jar of pickle from the shelf and even as he turned to me I smashed it over his head. He went down.
Sobbing I ran to Suri and touched her.
“Please, please,” I kept chanting. I cupped her face and willed her to open her eyes. My vision was blurring. I begged God to give me a reason to continue. Suri stirred and opened her eyes.
I wept with relief and joy. Hugged her and touched her. I held her and rocked her.
“My baby, my baby….”
She peered at me and smiled.
“What is it baby, why are you smiling?”
“You looked like my Durgaji,” she whispered.
For a second I was stunned. I sat on my haunches and something poked me. I took it out from under me. It was my key-ring. I looked at it and saw that the lotus-key was not there. I dropped the key-ring on the floor.
I helped Suri get up. Bloodied and bruised we walked out of the house into the Anchor-Grey dawn. But we carried the most precious thing with us.
Our VIBGYOR halos.
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