For Earth Day: The simple lives people still live*

*From my forthcoming novel, ‘Inadequate Identities’

I hadn’t realized, till today, how much I’ve come to enjoy the mornings with Kamala. I watch her from my perch under the neem tree in her central courtyard. She chatters non-stop like the gregarious mynas and the belligerent little sparrows. Prancing to and fro like a deer, she hangs out the clothes to dry…clothes washed in soap-nut extract; clothes that will never lose their sheen. I look at my faded jeans: acid-washed, dyed in carcinogens, metonym of a world gone wrong …

I see the shadow of her breast on my pant: she’s stretching to pluck some neem leaves and jasmine flowers.  Bending waist down like a succulent plant, she swiftly mops the living spaces and leaves them fragrant as herself: smells of herbs and flowers that tease my nostrils and stirs me deep down every time she wafts by.

The smell of home-made coconut oil fills the kitchen and floats out into the courtyard, now stirring other more pressing desires – presently indulged. Sitting cross legged, opposite each other, in the manner of a married couple’s easy comfort, Kamala and I eat food that’s freshly cooked, not simply poured out from a packet:  greens and veggies, home-grown with manure from kitchen waste and animal droppings.

Brunch over, she tucks up her sari and sits on her haunches by the well, with the warm ash from the cook stove scraped off into a coconut shell and a handful of coconut fibre to scour the vessels. I draw up water from the well and pour it out slowly; the vessels begin to gleam like new. For a while there’s silence. The squirrels are busy nibbling the leftovers and Kamala doesn’t talk when doing the dishes; the ash gets into her mouth, she says.  I watch her puckered face and tightly closed lips, and fall in love with her womanliness all over again.


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