Three generations—one of each, huddled around the living room at evening tea, our ancient shawls against the February chill of the countryside. A while ago, Ma had snapped at her old-school communist and Stalinist bapi: “So what if Ukraine was once a part of the USSR? War is bad, and Putin is horrible!” Her bapi didn’t agree, didn’t argue. A Bengali serial fills the empty space: poor single mother to a gymnast daughter, family and class politics, forbidden love—the usual. Idiot box, indeed.
My empty tea cup aside, I target mosquitoes, applauding them dead in single precise shots. Ma is amused when her bapi asks for the corpses. “Why dadu?” I tease my old man. “They’re food for the ants,” he says, unflinching; gathers the dead bodies strewn across the cement floor, lays them out on the window sill. “To preserve the ecosystem.” I wonder if it is the same sentiment that keeps him from reasserting his pro-Stalin stance. If families are ecosystems, preserving them is more important than shallow ideologues, isn’t it? I choose not to ask. A detergent ad fills the space.
Ma: Bengali for “mother”
Bapi: Bengali for “father” (the usual term is “baba”; “bapi” is a variation)
Dadu: Bengali for “maternal grandfather”
My Fading Reds
I can feel my reds fading, riding out of my eyes and into the wild, threaded around the splitting wisps of my soul, jumping ship before it inevitably sinks. Some of my reds are on a Gulmohar tree still blooming in my old school campus, hoping I will peel the red off the five sepals and stick them on my fingernails, transform into a little green-nailed monster in pigtails and a pleated skirt. Some of my reds are on a Rangan tree at the corner of the old children’s park, hoping I will pluck one flower off and suckle on its honey stem. Some of my reds are in expired pastels and watercolour paint tubes, hoping I will scratch amateur roses on white shirts and yellow sheets. Some of my reds are in hardened lipsticks, hoping I will leave a stain on a charmer’s jawline. The rest of my reds are looking for places to perch. They need roots, memories, but I have none left with red in them—all my love stories being unwritten, my friendships coming undone, and my blood unbecoming family.