I was getting dressed for a dinner date when my mother curiously entered the room. I was changing into something less comfortable, maybe a skirt, whose waistline would dig into my stomach all night making me gassy. Her eyes followed the trajectory of my pants down from the waist to the feet, then looked right into my eyes and asked, ‘Who and Where?’
Satisfied with the answer she turned away to the table and started clearing the clutter of objects, assembling the papers she could. In her pursuit she picked up my copy of Jejuri and looked at it as contemplatively as a person holding an object from a long-lost life. As if the ragged shoes of memory went jogging through the hills of the Western ghats once again, and returned shiny, rain-splattered and dewebbed. Something was clearly going on in her head. I looked at her for a moment, unable to decipher anger, sadness or joy, I moved on. Collected my essentials and was about to leave when she asked, ‘This book is about lord Khandoba?’
I said curtly, ‘No mumma, it’s a collection of poems by Arun Kolatkar, about a man’s pilgrimage to the temple town of Jejuri in Maharashtra.’
‘You know we have been to Jejuri.’
Shocked, I asked loudly, ‘What?’
‘Yes, your father and I were driving through Maharashtra in our late twenties visiting famous temples and shrines. Shirdi, Trimbakeshwar, Siddhivinayak, Khandoba. You were with us but very little. Don't worry, you still have the blessings.’
Of age four I have no recollection. My parents took me and my brother, our spindly little figures, into the turmeric town of Khandoba.
I forget everything and try to recall that week from my memory, decluttering UDAY, YASHODHA, WHITE ZEN, RUSSIAN, STOLEN TOY, FAT PENIS, SCOOTER, MIST, BABA, DITCH. It’s 2004 and we nearly die in the tsunami. My parents decide to take the family on a religious expedition to thank all the gods for this second life. We halt in a path lined with trees and my father shits behind one of them—
My mind constantly denies memories of him. I don’t remember Jejuri, I don’t. I’m sorry, I can’t remember!
‘Do you have any pictures of us in Jejuri?’ I ask her in a desperate attempt to imagine us from that time. But her face has changed. My mother has aged twenty years before me. The Old Woman from the poem brought the world to her feet when it refused to give her a home, an attire, a family, anything which would mark her presence. What does one resort to when a lifetime of begging still amounts to nothing? I always think about you, nameless woman. So what if our wallets are full of cash, it’s all yours anyway. We should politely give you what you want. You could make even the temple shake with shame, bring the sky down to its knees, how stupid are we to deny you, the very maker of us? How stupid is money, in front of the power of a woman?
By now my mother is playing with shattered jejuris in her palm.
I think the memories of that time stirred unpleasant emotions in my mother’s mind and so I never brought it up again. I did continue to think about it from time to time. My parents gay in love, having experienced near death together, turned to devotion and god. What a perfect thought. But was this the beginning of the breakdown of their marriage? Did god play third-wheel? Did my mother attain higher knowledge and finally start seeing through his family’s bullshit? Whatever it was, I like to think she got the strength to live her life free from his control, from the town of Jejuri. Maybe an old woman came begging to her steps too but they recognised each other’s prisons instead.
Gauri Yadav is a poet based in Delhi. She has studied English Literature at Miranda House and is currently pursuing Masters in Creative Writing from Ambedkar University. Her poems have been published in Muse India and Monograph Magazine.