The old, the familiar.

When I was in Calcutta this winter, I went to visit my piano teacher, Shormi. I've known her since I was six, because that is when I started learning the piano. To this day she believes I have prodigious talent, despite evidence to the contrary, and has fondly planned my life for me: move back to Calcutta after college, finish off my grade 8, perhaps do my LRSM, and settle down to teach the piano to angelic little children, having married a suitable Bengali man.

But even Shormi - despite her affection for me - has long acknowledged that singing is not my forte. Nonetheless, she tries.

"Why don't you come and sing with the choir on Saturday?" she said to me, on my last visit.

"I can't sing, Shormi."

"Of course you can sing," she paused, and then added gruffly, "well, you would have been a lot better if you hadn't left the choir. I told you not to leave the choir."

I laughed nervously, and forgot to cover my mouth, which is something I've been doing for the past three years whenever I'm in her presence, because Shormi cannot bear piercings (the only reason my friend Kahini didn't get a box on the ears from Shormi after getting her nose pierced was because Shormi was still recovering from Kahini's tattoo).

Now the thing is, in my first year of college, I pierced my tongue. I'm not sure why. I think it's because Mawii pierced her tongue first and I admired it immensely. Piercing my tongue hadn't occurred to me before - I nearly fainted when I got my ears pierced.

But as I stood in front of the mirror soon after Mawii's triumphant return (her face was only slightly swollen) examining my tongue, already having googled the effects of a piercing in that vicinity, I thought to myself, why the heck not. I was in college, it was time to rebel. But then I realised that I didn't have anything to rebel against, so I changed my tactic. I was going to get my tongue pierced to prove a point - the point being that I was eighteen years old and away from home for the first time, and it was my tongue, and I could do what I liked with it.

So I got my tongue pierced. We went to a little shop in GK to get it done, and Mawii held my hand. When I was sticking my tongue out, watching the gun coming closer to me, going cross eyed in the effort to keep it in focus, I will admit, I was tempted to back out. In fact, I was just about to scream a protest when I noticed a group of school children gazing at me in awe. That did it. I kept my tongue out and the gun or needle or whatever they use to make holes in human body parts went in, and soon there was a little silver stud there, and all was right with my world.

I swaggered out of there my chin in the air, while the school children gasped in admiration, and I only let the tears fall once I was out of sight.

Anyway, to go back to Shormi - for nearly three years, I'd successfully hidden my tongue stud from her. I'd nodded violently in agreement, mouth firmly closed, as she deplored the various hooligans who went around with shiny bits of metal embedded in them.

It was a nice long run. She would have found out someday.

"WHAT IS IN YOUR MOUTH?" She said, as I laughed, loudly and delightedly, my mouth wide open in front of her face.



"It's nothing," I said feebly.

"SHOW ME." The thing about Shormi is when she uses that voice -  and all her students, even the ones above thirty, even the ones above thirty who are nuns, would know what voice I'm talking about - I revert back to being six years old, completely in her power.

So I showed her.

She nearly threw her mug of tea at me, but did not, probably because she thought it would be a waste of tea. And then she yelled a lot, and finally calmed down, contenting herself with telling me I'd get mouth cancer and describing mouth cancer in graphic detail.

"When did you get it done?"

"Last month," I said feebly.

"Are you planning on keeping it?"

"No, no. I'm getting rid of it next week." I smiled weakly at her, and she nodded and harumphed and turned the conversation back to choir.

"You should come for choir,"

"But I can't sing!"

"You know, I told you when you sat for your piano exam that choir helps you with your aural tests. Do you remember what happened in your aural test?"

"I made the examiner wince," I said sadly.

"Which is why you shouldn't have left choir," she said triumphantly.

I nodded in agreement.

"So," she said, changing the subject, "do you have a boyfriend now?"

"I'm not interested in anyone at the moment," I said with dignity, being careful to add that it didn't mean there weren't people interested in me. Shormi waved my attempts to prove my popularity aside.

"What happened to that Vikram?"

"You remember Vikram? We broke up years and years ago."

"Of course I remember him. He used to hide in my garden while you were in choir."

"He was terrified of you," I recollected fondly.


Shormi really does sometimes remind me of my mother.

Whenever I have a male friend over - especially if it's Man Whore Friend - I always warn her to be nice because she can be intimidating. Not that she's not fond of MWF, she thinks he's a very "together boy" which shows how much she knows and it's obviously not much, but to this day, she's convinced that he spends his spare time trying to get into my pants.

"Mummy," I say patiently, "MWF (except I don't call him that outside this blog) does not want to sleep with me. Anyway, he wouldn't dare, he's terrified of you."

This information, though shared with her many times, never fails to please her, and she always says, "good!" with great satisfaction, and proceeds to be extremely sweet to MWF whenever she sees him.

He's terrified of me, is her logic. He won't sleep with my baby girl. Not when he has me to deal with. Hah!



Somehow Shormi bullied me into making a vague promise to land up for choir. I hugged her goodbye, promised to visit again soon, and made my way down the familiar path from her house to her gate. The garden was still the same, the tall leafy trees framing the path were the same, everything was the same, and it always is, and that's one of the reasons I love visiting Shormi.


Of course, that Saturday, I called her and faked sick. Could not come for choir as promised, very very sorry, was on the verge of death. She grunted, told me to drink hot water, and hung up.

It was a story I'd concocted many times before, with Shormi, with Nondon, with Manjudi, and I'm pleased to say, I haven't lost my touch.

"Why are you looking so pleased with yourself?" said my mother, entering my room just as I'd hung up. "Stop drinking so much beer, you're getting fat. And how many times do I have to tell you to stop smoking?" Whereupon she proceeded to walk around my room, picking up random objects and sniffing them.

I lay back on my bed and valiantly told myself it was good to be home.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Nice... very nice... emotive without being soppy