Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Secrets

Sometimes I suspect that everyone in the world knows a secret, and I don't. That there is some sort of newsletter that goes around, and I don't have a subscription. That everyone else has passed through some rite of passage that has completely, totally escaped me. Even in the lesser moments of my cynicism, I know that I have not fully caught on to the way of the world. But sometimes, I wonder whether I am not actually a rakshasi in disguise.

'Rajeev ispice, Rajeev ispice' comes a shrill scream from behind me, followed by a series of loud thumps, as one of the children enthusiastically hits the wall. I wish they would not do that. The paint chips, and falls on the floor, and it is inevitably my duty to clean them. I am supposed to be watching them, but I am not in the mood. Contemplating the nature of secrets has given me a world weariness that does not often come upon me, but if by the ages of six and seven they cannot play in the safety of their own verandah, there is no point in coddling them any further. They will grow up to be the same spoilt brats that their elder brothers and sisters have become, and they will leave for their foreign countries, and I will be lucky if that the last I ever see of them.

There are four of them, behind me. Rajeev and Rajni are cousins. Their fathers are identical twins, and if you did not know better, it would be just as hard to tell their children apart. Born a week from each other, they harass each other as much as any actual siblings do. Naren is Rajeev's younger brother, a bit slow, certainly, but very sharp once he does catch on, and his rather serious eyes make him seem much older than either of the other two. The last is Lakshmi. That is all we ever call her. Her actual name is something far grander, her Madrasi mother's influence, we snigger behind her back. Poor girl, we say, trying rather unsuccessfully to hold back our mean-spirited laughter. Why her mother felt the need to call her something that no one else will, we do not understand. We only know that it makes her the runt of the litter.

Just as I was the runt of my litter. I will not see my siblings in a very long time, probably not until either Ammi or Abba dies. I do not plan on seeing their faces, jealous with the knowledge that I am in Bombay, while they rot in Lucknow. They do not need to know the jeering that I face, of being called a village girl, even though Lucknow is a fairly big town. They called me the runt, and I am now grander than any head dog that I know back home.

And yet, in my blackest moments, I suspect that it is because of this that I do not know it, that which everyone else knows, but refuses to tell me. Lakshmi will be told, her money, and her beauty, apparent even at this age, will ensure it. But no one will tell me, for I have nothing to give them in return.

*

Sometimes I suspect that everyone else I know has been keeping a secret from me. My twin, whom I have known since before I was born, my wife, who has kept more than one from me in the past, my elder daughter, who lives in New York and does God-knows-what, my younger daughter, who should really be too young to know any secrets, even the servants outside, who watch us all as we live our lives.

It is not as if I have not kept anything from them. I funded Shruti's entire undergraduation with bribes from Arcelor-Mittal. Sirisha's gold habit is only fed because of the offerings from the Reliance people. The land on which my not insignificant house stands was a gift from a man who was very happy that he got the tender for more than one of the many flyovers that dot the city.  But to say this to anyone would be to condemn myself. I wonder at their stupidity. Surely they realise that a government post, however high, will never support a family, certainly not one with a penchant for holidays in exotic locations, and yet I know that one wrong word will kill any respect that my children have for me, and will destroy any left in my wife.

It is the same stupidity that makes Shruti ask me for more money every month than can possibly be spent on 'the expensive food here in America'. At least when I asked for money, I had the grace to pretend that it was my friends who kept borrowing it off me, not the environment in which I was placed. She has even picked up an accent, one that is rather fake, of the kind that some boys in college would affect even before they left India, in anticipation of their life there. Undoubtedly it did them a world of good. Whereas I was content to stay in Bombay, the city that raised me, that continues to take care of me.

I never wonder, what would have happened, if I had left my home. It was my home. It is my home. I shall never leave.

*

I know that people have been keeping secrets from me. Papa takes out the little ball chocolates from nowhere, and gives one to me only when he is happy with me. I think even Rajeev know where they are kept, I've seen him eat them even when Papa was nowhere to be found. He leaves the golden paper on the floor when he's finished.

When I grow up, I shall have my own factory, one that makes nothing but ball chocolates. And there shall be no more secrets.

*

I know all the secrets. The ones that are important, the ones that aren't important. Even how to tell the difference. In the end, they all come to me, and they bring their secrets with them. Some of them are scared, others are tired, there are even some fools who think they are being wise when they welcome me. I was created so that you would want to live longer, not so that you could wish for me. Even the ones who bring me on themselves are never happy to see me, in the end.

On the other hand, I hate mysteries. Being the starring character in most of them, I've been misrepresented to much of the public as violent, and sometimes even insane. I'd like to think I'm a peaceful sort, and quiet as well. I'm only doing my job.

And even that they're taking away from me. A thousand years ago, forty years would have been a good life. Now fifty, sixty, seventy years are normal. A thousand years from now, who knows? Maybe you'll become immortal. And where does that leave me? My bull needs to be walked every now and then, you know. This is why I hate mysteries. The future is a mystery, and even a god can't see the future.

*
You can only know a secret by that which it is not. Once you know a secret itself, it stops being a secret, doesn't it? And then it loses all its charm. A good mystery lasts forever, but once it gives up its secret, it ceases to be interesting anymore.

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