Thursday, January 10, 2008

Move Over Jhumpa Lahiri

My mother has only hit me once during my entire life. I was 7 and it
was early morning. We were on the way to the hospital to see my
father. I knew something was wrong but couldn't figure out why we were
in New York, alone, in an apartment with little furniture. I was
sitting on the dining table and my mother poured me a glass of hot
milk. i can still see the gray sky through the window overlooking the
fire escape. There was a safety gate on the window that made the
dining room feel like a cage. It was very different than our house in
Delhi which was open and free and filled with people to play with.
Here we were alone and I slept with my mother and I remember at night I
could only fall asleep if I rested my leg on hers. I don't remember
when I stopped this habit but I know that morning, in those times I was
still by my mother's side.

My mother was solemn and polite, not her usual alive self. I went to
grab the milk and spilled it and she slapped me. I started to cry and
then she broke down as well. It wasn't easy for her, I could tell, to
be all the way in this crazy city, not sure if my father would live or
die. My mother still tells me the story of waiting on the welfare line
and breaking down. We had gone from being very well to do; buying up
properties in delhi, to living in a one room apartment in Queens with
no money.

My father survived though he could no longer work because of his
health. He stayed at home and no longer had the strenght to pick me up
like he would everyday he came home from work. It became a ritual, I
would run to him and he would pick me up in his strong arms and give me
a present, a "surprise". it ranged from many silly gifts, plastic
tennis ball rackets and baseball cards. Every friday he would bring
home a box of ice cream cones. I had an obsession with ice cream cones
without ice cream. I usually ate them on his lap as he sat in his
favorite chair watching Peter Jennings. He would drink a coke with
ice, in a tall class that I would take sips from.

Now he had no strength and his hair had become all white. He would sit
in bed all day and I would pretend to play around him when I knew he
wasn't paying attention. Soon it was decided that my sister was to
come as well, from India, when it became clear we would not be
returning to Delhi. I longed for the trees. our garden and the park in
front of our house. It was that park which was the constant subject of
a recurring dream of mine. In the dream we would have a picnic, near a
gaping hole, and each time like clock work, I would be pushed into the
hole by my sister. From the bottom of the hole I would look up at her
as she laughed.

I have two sisters. Only one came, the one who didn't push me in that
hole. The other one stayed with my uncle, we called him daddy.
Growing up in a joint family uncles and aunts were daddy's and mummies.
My daddy did not have any children of his own. My father decided on a
whim to leave my sister, the one who throw me in the hole recurrently
in the dream, would stay back in india. My oldest sister was to come
to new york. I was young enough to have forgotten about her and when
she came I was over joyed to have someone to play while my mother was
away at work. She had taken a job as a clerk in an office. It was
little pay but great health insurance that paid for my father's

My father started to improve, little by little. He decided he needed
to do something, though he couldn't work consistently. He decided to
open a clothing store, Big Apple Fashions. it was a peculair boutique
and quite a transformation for a civil engineer to re- invent himself
as a salesman of sequinced dresses for plus sized black ladies. They
adored him and with time, there was a following of big black women that
my father would cater to in his store. He had found his niche.

My sister started working in this store and it distracted her from
school. She spent all her afternoons after school there helping my
father. My sister soon developed an eye for big black fashion. I
remember clearly our trips to the fashion district in Manhattan, and
coming home in a sea of garish dresses. The shiny blues, and yellows.
The women would try on the dresses in the fitting rooms and when they
would come out transformed my father's eyes would come alive and I
would see again his spirit renew. He would tell them they looked
beautiful, he would help them accessorize, my sister would be his
little assistant, my mother, worked in the office and she would go
there on weekends and work the cash register.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!