Ian D Keating photo
“Where is my handkerchief?” My husband’s powerful baritone hit the ceiling of our small, but snug house.
“My handkerchief is lost and all you can manage is a pathetic “Huh?”
I bit my lips before another ‘huh’ could spring to them.
“Yes?” I asked, doing away with the ‘huh’.
”That is better.” I read his lips.
I had just returned from Delhi, only to realize, to my absolute horror, that my sweet home had been reduced to an earthquake-hit zone.
The helter-skelter confusion of the house, the colorful disarray, the organized mess which husband had managed to reduce the house to, raised my heckles.
“Just the other day, on my way back from the institute, I had bought half a dozen handkerchiefs; not one week has elapsed, and they have disappeared. I know, your fascination with ghosts – come on tell me, do you invoke some ghostly spirits who come and carry away my precious handkerchiefs to ghost land? But, come to think of it, I never came across a news item which says that there is a drought of handkerchiefs in ghost land, so you are saved!” he said with a wry smile which was dangerously close to a smirk, the moment I entered the house, and kept my luggage on the floor.
Many a story has been woven around handkerchiefs, but my story is different. Preposterously so.
In college, I always loved writing my answer to the question, “Can Othello be called the tragedy of the handkerchief?” Now, I was tackling the question of another handkerchief, nay, handkerchiefs. How would I answer it?
What tragic denouement would this story have?
“Well, I am no Desdemona and you are no Othello! You cannot accuse me of having misplaced your handkerchiefs – and anyway, they were not presented to me by you! And no Egyptian sorceress had given them to your mother to be handed over to the woman you loved! Were they woven from silk worms, huh? Were they white and dotted with the image of strawberries? No, so, why worry!” I said, lugging my luggage to the bedroom.
“You are underplaying the tragedy,” he said, miffed.
“I am not,” I countered, doubly miffed.
“There is something eerie going on here, I tell you.”
“Jog your memory, where did you keep the handkerchiefs?”
“The handkerchief! The handkerchief!” he bellowed, Othello- like, hurling a pair of trousers lying on the bed in the direction of the laundry bag.
“This is no way to hurl your things all over the room.” I tried to out-bellow him, but in vain.
Before he could exclaim “fire and brimstone!” [A theatrist, he remembers almost all the dialogues of Shakespearean heroes, having enacted many of those roles many a time], I raced towards the laundry bag.
An idea had just flashed in my mind. I flung open the lid of the laundry bag.
It was bursting with trousers of all shades. Brown, navy blue, grey, black- no, no not pink or red. I would have parted ways long back, had he owned any of those colours.
“The washerman has not been coming since you went.”
“Oh,” I remarked, pulling out all the trousers from the laundry bag.
“Why are you creating this mess in the room instead of hunting for the lost handkerchiefs?”
Ignoring his interjections, I thrust my hand in the pocket of one pair of trousers, and pulled out one handkerchief – and then another – and still another from half a dozen trousers lying in a pathetic heap on the floor.
Before I could raise a pair of accusatory eyes in his direction, I was disarmed.
“I have noticed that you have not been giving even a withering glance to the newspapers, and go into a tizzy over a measly handkerchief! Look, what the newspaper says, ‘Melbourne is the most liveable city in the world’, I better shift there, or maybe to Mars- what is the point of staying in a city where handkerchiefs keep disappearing? Will you come with me to Melbourne, or would you prefer Mars?” He asked me with a lopsided grin.
He is a Libran, and Librans, they say, are gifted with the most disarming smiles. He flashed so innocent a smile in my direction that I once again fell for his charms. Before he could bend down on one leg and propose anew, I headed towards the washbasin, hastily scooping up all the handkerchiefs.
I cast a furtive look backwards to find him putting back all the trousers in the laundry bag – brown, navy blue, grey, black –no, no not pink or red.
Dr Santosh Bakaya, academician, essayist, novelist, poet, reviewer, has been widely published, winning international acclaim for her works especiallyBallad of Bapu[A Poetic biography of Mahatma Gandhi],Flights from my Terrace[A collection of essays],Where are the lilacs?andUnder the Apple Boughs[two volumes of poetry].
Besides figuring in many anthologies, she has edited three anthologies of poems and short stories:
Umbilical Chords: An Anthology on Parents Remembered
Darkness there but something more: A collection of eerie Tales
Cloudburst: A womanly Deluge [a compilation of 28 lyrical voices from India]
Recipient of many awards, she has been invited to many literary festivals and was recently a delegate from India to SAARC SUFI FESTIVAL [Jaipur].
Her novella A Skyful of Balloons will soon be out.