Chaand Bibi

Chaand Bibi

7 mins 32.8K 7 mins 32.8K

Chanda was seven when she was first made aware of the blob on her face as being somehow wrong. It was a nose, wasn't it? Functioning just as well as her Dada's did or as Chunri Bua's did. Sometimes even better. But Badi Amma said it looked wrong and since Badi Amma's words were set in stone - to Chanda, the nose was never right again. She learned the vice of staring into mirrors soon after that. Shop windows, steel plates, shiny spoons; Chanda would seek out her reflection every now and then to understand what exactly was wrong with her nose. It became the focal point thereon. She would ask all her friends to describe the perfect nose, to help her estimate the degrees of wrongness her nose existed in. Surbhi described one that suspiciously resembled her own, Aara though there was just one perfect nose in the world, on the face of some actress who had got it at a surgeon's and to Deepak the King of all noses would be the one that would never leak.

                    

Her friends were useless so Chanda sought her parents out. Her mother was hurt at Badi Amma's singling out her daughter in this fashion. She mumbled her displeasure in installments after that. Every new rebuke from Badi Amma would set her off. Her father, on the hand, had laughed. He was used to such stings. His mother had taken on to the role of Badi Amma quite well after his marriage and after years of being caught in a futile tug of war between his wife and his mother, he had settled into a complacency that annoyed both the women. United at last, he would sigh and chuckle.

Chanda idolized this attitude. Her father was immovable, the only constant in her whirlwind life of school, home and friends. Baba would know. He always knows. And he did.

"Chanda Jaan, the perfect nose is the one that can sniff out the deepest sorrows, follow the sweetest joys and turn away from the dirtiest secrets. The perfect nose has got to be trained. Why, its the one that can smell best." Chanda's eyes went round with wonder. The mystery was solved and her heart felt light seeing the swift smile that passed between her parents.

And so the training began. Chanda would make it a point to breathe deeply and catalogue all the aromas that struck her as unusual; pleasant or unpleasant. Her mind became a library of perfumes. Freshly mown grass, the minty scent of toothpaste, tickling masalas, horrid public urinals, the smell of dread in hospitals and of wealth at airports, safety of her mother's scent and the calm of her father's. She saved them all. And often she would recreate the sensations by sheer memory. However, this did not put her in the good graces of Badi Amma. She grew older and contact with the world, people, television told her what Badi Amma had really meant. She smiled at the endearing evasiveness of her father.

Years stretched on between the Chanda of frocks and scraped knees and the young woman who ran into Vidhu of college. Vidhu's part of the world was inhabited by severe men and women of hooked noses and stiff backs. So he found Chanda different. After a couple of weeks of shared smiles and cracked jokes, he found her pretty and the day Chanda put kohl in her eyes, she became beautiful and Vidhu was lost. Chanda, meanwhile, was giddy. She was beautiful because He said so and Badi Amma was a memory they had buried in her fifteenth year.

They got married soon after that. Chanda remembered the painful moment when the jeweller had punched a hole in her right nostril. With her everything is a fuss, Chunri Bua had grumbled. The piercing got infected and only after many treatments and prayers was her blob wedding worthy. To this day, she associated her wedding with an overpowering scent of the neem in her nose, henna on her hands and heady perfume of Vidhu's after shave. Chanda would think of herself in that life as a melting pool of happiness. A now fading memory of Vidhu's hands in her hair and breath in her dreams.

Their small apartment did remain a little haven of caresses and chaos until they had to move to Vidhu's Family Home. The hooked noses were as welcoming as they could be and Chanda bore them no grudge for finding faults with her 'peculiar' tastes. She could feel herself changing and impatience gave way to accomodation everytime she was confronted by Vidhu's presence in her Saasu Amma's eyes or Sasur Baba's tilt of the head. To Chanda the move had meant a reconfiguration of the very essentials of her life. She and Vidhu had held together like water and like water they took whatever form they were forced into. Her inlaws needed them. She had to give up the fruits of years of sniffing the vanilla of books to take care of Sasu Amma's gout and Sasur Baba's ill temper.

 

Chanda was drowned in the fumes of their sickness, medicines, discomfited heated bodies and felt an irrational anger at Badi Amma's comment and her father's advice. To balance it out she developed an obsessive interest in the kitchen. She would fish out recipes requiring the most unusual of herbs and spices. Wherever she moved, lingered a perfume of cardamum or mint. Her hands needed extra cleaning to get rid of the heavy scents of ginger, meats, garlic, onions. And when she would bake soft doughy breads and cakes of chocolate and carrots, Vidhu would playfully kiss her fingers.

To everyone outside, she was as remarkable a woman as could be. And in her head, incessant were the battles fought between aromas. The servile comfort she provided had saved her from the reproaches of a childless marriage. Despite the emptiness it caused in several lives, she was forgiven and even loved. Her inlaws passed away and silent severe Chanda became Chaand Bibi of the house. What were chores before were now habits. Chaand Bibi would treat her neighbours with all her delicacies and children loved her for the baking. In their big, empty home Vidhu and Chanda were always the hosts. At nights they would shut out the world and read sometimes regret and sometimes love in each other's eyes. She would meet people. Old people and young people who would look at her with admiration and suggest her to start a business, "No one can fry a baingan like that Bibi, I turn up my nose at the damned thing otherwise and drool over yours."

 

But Chanda would only smile and nod. She would feel her heart sinking and eating away at all the little happiness that was once who she was. Her life was simmering away at the dull pace of seasons. With quiet desperation she would welcome the first crisp winter and dusty summer breezes. Chaand Bibi, loved by all, adored by her husband was forgetting herself and would wonder at the strength stopping her from  screaming and falling apart at any moment of the day.

 

When she was diagnosed with a tumor in her brain, she was almost relieved. am not ungrateful, simply insane. Chaand Bibi had little recollection of who she was and what she used to be. Her husband was torn apart with grief and he would go around talking of how her depression and moodiness were symptoms of the disease  and he could've saved her, if only he had known. When the sickness grew it was already too late. Chaand Bibi had developed a feral temper and refused to talk to anyone. The treats, dinners and parties had ceased way back. The neighbours, initially concerned were now simply curious and soon indifferent. Just as her food had been a part of their lives once, so was her absence.

 

On her death bed, Chaand Bibi would often smile and mumble incoherently. In fragments and pieces she relived her childhood games, her father's hugs, mother's stories and Vidhu's kisses. She was held by a tether and could feel herself slipping away. Yet there was no desperation. All she wanted was for the pain to end and the memories to stop. And stop they did.

 

So loving and so loved; dead at fifty. Her relatives, friends and neighbours would sigh. Her nose was stuffed with cotton and she was put on display. They all came to pay homage to her cooking and faint memories of her laughter. Vidhu ached for his wife in a way he hadn't for years. With bowed heads they all breathed in the camphor  and incense; masking the odour an entire life decayed much before its end.

 

 


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