The past has a knack of feeling surreal; as if it belonged to someone else at some other time. But yet undeniably it is your past. The person in the black and white flash backs sure does look like you, but does not feel like you. The future on the contrary, which you have actually been no part of, feels more real, more familiar than the past; an extension of what you are in the present.
Mira hailed originally from Pune. She was no small-town girl, but the big city always intimidated her. Mumbai, where careers soar and people break; where dreams are buried and nightmare comes to life; where love might depart but the one thing that forever exists is hope – the hope that you will come even against all odds. So, when the brother, of her mother’s third cousin’s wife’s sister’s husband said she ought to come to Mumbai because he believed she had potential, Mira began to hope.
Had the lure of fame brought her masseur to Pune? Was she so filled with frustration because the city had not lived up to her expectations? Would she compromise on her standards, just in the hope of hitting the jackpot? One look at the masseurs’s weather beaten, tanned face and Harni got her answer. The lines etched on that leathery skin were not there because of temptation and greed, they were result of determination to abide by a certain set of rules and never bend.
Mira’s skin was flawless. A pale buttered complexion that seemed to glow even more ever since her commercial days. When asked about that stint in some interview or the other, she had given an embarrassed laugh and said, “Everybody has to begin somewhere.” And then came ‘Kathputali’…
“Here right here,” said the keeper pointing towards a luxurious rocking chair, “she would sit right here, with a glass of wine in her hand, rocking to and fro into the darkness. She would hear me arrive and cease the rocking.
Kamana, she would say to me, life is full of choices. You can either be the kathputali and let someone pull your strings and make you dance to their moods or you can control the strings. Life is full of choices, but its like that game at the mall. The one which has claws, where you move the claws from behind the glass window and make it plunge, so that it can pick a toy for you? You never succeed in picking up one of those toys, but from the glass window, it looks like all those toys are there for you to take. Though you know there are choices, they are not there for you to choose, someone always chooses for you and you get stuck with that choice. Kamana, who am I ? The Kathputali or the string controller?
I would never answer. She would look at me for one long moment and then lean back and continue rocking.” There was a stretched silence as she stopped speaking. Harni let the silence linger. She could see Kamana, the keeper lost in the folds of time. She could sense the silence following her there, clearing the path, so that when she spoke again, the sounds would be loud and clear.
“This was after she met Ravi Sirji. Seven months after she met him. When she first met him, she was very happy. Like the school girl who has her first crush. Excited and full of energy she did everything he expected her to. She would wear the clothes he likes, drink the drinks he made, everything was about him. The rest of the world ceased to exist. Ravi Sirji never came home that often, but Madamji started staying out more and more. Sometimes she would be gone for days, though she didn’t have a shooting scheduled, sometimes she would return early in the morning, but with every passing day her smile grew shorter and shorter.
One day she returned at four in the morning. I was woken by the restless pealing of the bell. I was a bit frightened too. When I opened the door Madamji stumbled in, she was crying, her make-up running down her face with the force of the tears. She ran into her room. I followed her. In the dim light of the dresser I saw her examine her bruised face. Her right cheek was swollen up and her lower lip was bleeding. She caught my reflection in the mirror and turned around
What are you looking at? She screamed. She had never screamed at me before. Do I look ugly to you now? Is that it? She then began slapping herself and screaming there! Satisfied! Do I look ugly enough now? I just stood there. I felt as if I was watching one of her on-screen performances and if I reached out to touch her, I would grasp only thin air. She slumped on the floor then and cried till the heavens started crying in her pain.
The next morning she came to me and said Kamana, forget last night ok? Please? And don’t mention it to anybody. I was just a little…upset, ok? Nothing else… I nodded my understanding. She looked at me for one long moment as if deciding whether I really understood and then went on ahead to get dressed.
Ravi Sirji came home that afternoon. There were flowers in his arms and dark sunglasses on his eyes. They spoke in muted tones and the only words I heard were from Ravi Sirji saying For heavens sake! It was a mistake! Do you really think I would ever hit a woman?