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Mynah Hands, Flying Fingers

 Mynah Hands, Flying Fingers
The rain fell,brick-like and relentless. It fell on the window panes and on the roof.  It fell on Tyrex’s heart till the wetness became unbearable. She could hear her parents arguing in the next room about whether or not they should visit Kausalya paati, Ranjit’s grandmother.
“She is in the ICU for heaven’s sake!” dada was saying, “What’s the point, Anu?”  
“How can we possibly not go?”  that was ma’s voice, “We’ve been neighbours for years. They are practically family – for Tyrex and me at any rate. And Kannan and Damayanti have been so good to us.” 
“You go if you feel so strongly about it. I can’t come – not today.  I have to get this story done. Or it will clean leave my mind.” 
I have to get this story done or it will clean leave my mind,” ma mimicked.  “That’s all you ever think about, isn’t it? Your stories. Do you ever think about Tyrex? Do you know how fond Kausalya paati is of her?”
“Look, Anu. I have no time for all your soppy nonsense.  It’s no earthly use hanging around the ICU.” 
Tyrex shut her ears and snuggled under her quilt.  Might as well have gone to school instead of this.  Outside, the rain was pounding away harder than ever. The way words and alphabets pounded away at her in school. That bully Miss Prabha saying in front of the entire class, “That’s no way to write R and just how does one spell “snack”, tell me, Rekha?  The word you have written is SNAKE!” Say it louder, Miss Prabha. Let them all hear and laugh.  They know anyway – how dumb I am.  Dumb is a word I can spell. D…U…M…B.  With a B at the end. There!
“Okay. I am going.”
“Take Tyrex with you then.”
“A hospital is no place for a child. You know that as well as I do, .”
“But with her around, I can’t work.  You know that Anu.”
“Well, you will just have to find a way to deal with that, Tapan darling.”
Take me with you, ma. I don’t want to stay here with dada.  Can’t you see? He doesn’t want me here. Take me with you. I want to see Kausalya paati too.   

In the end, ma never went.  She stayed home sullenly. For lunch, they had fish fry and dal rice. Tyrex’s favourite meal. But today she ate without interest, as if anticipating that dreaded phone call — Kannan uncle calling from hospital to say Kausalya paati was no more.  The woman with mynah hands was no more.  They would be bringing her home soon. All in a tizzy, ma made a series of phone calls and then set about preparing a gallon of chai.  Tyrex did not see the point of so much chai but that was grown-ups for you.  They often did these illogical things.  And moreover, Kausalya paati had always been a coffee drinker. Decoction coffee — thick and frothy.  

She had been deaf and dumb.  D..u…m…b. Yes, the same dumb. With the same horrid “b” at the end. Kausalya paati had always spoken with her hands.  It was not the sign language of deaf communities.  For the old lady had never been schooled in that.  Her hands, over the years, had evolved their own language, bird-wing language, and she had managed to say all she had ever wanted to. Tyrex thought of those hands now, moving swiftly and gracefully through the air like a pair of mynahs.If Kausalya paati was dead, it meant her hands were dead too. Those two mynahs were flown away. 

Tyrex and Ranjit were the exact same age, having been been born on the exact same day. November babies, both. Born on a rainy day like this. They had grown up together, been admitted to the same school, the same section even. St.Patrick’s Academy was a neighbourhood school run by nuns who believed that the only reason some children did not write was because they were cussed and stubborn and that they only way to get them to write was to rap them on their knuckles.  Ranjit had never once been rapped on his knuckles. But that was because he was a good boy and could write sentences by the time he was in first grade. Tyrex had been rapped on her knuckles more times than she cared to remember. It was a miracle her knuckles had survived the damage. She was a bad bad girl of course and deserved it.  Ranjit sat with the boys and since the law of the school dictated that boys and girls could not speak to each other, he did not speak to Tyrex.  But back home things were different. Back home, Ranjit of the dextrous fingers helped her with her notes and homework. Back home, Ranjit, unlike the other kids in their apartment, was squarely on her side. His hands were well-nourished and fleshy — unlike Kausalya paati’s. More like a pair of pond herons than mynahs. He used them to speak to Kausalya paati. 

Kausalya paati’s mynahs were a story.  One day, when her fingers started to cooperate, Tyrex hoped to write that story. If Kausalya paati felt that the dosa her daughter-in-law served her for evening tiffin was not hot enough,  the mynahs would swing into action.  They would point to her plate and dance flames in the air. Paati says her dosa is not hot enough, Ranjit and and Tyrex would chorus.  “That one was right off the pan and the old woman still complains,” Damayanti aunty would mutter under her breath. But for all that, she liked Kausalya paati. 

Then there was the day when Ranjit’s father, Kannan unclehad climbed a ladder to retrieve something from the loft. Half way up, he had been overcome by vertigo and he had had to be helped down.  Kausalya paati had watched this scene intently.   Later, she had done a perfect imitation of her son climbing the ladder for the benefit of friends and neighbours.  Grabbing at an imaginary ladder, placing one foot on the rung below and the other on the one above, looking downwards with eyes that pleaded, “Help! I am feeling dizzy!” What a perfect mime artist paati was! 

When it became clear that Tyrex could not write very well, that no amount of bullying by the likes of Miss Prabha was going to do the trick, she sank into a grey dullness.  She was dumb. DUMB dumb.  With a b at the end. There was no way she was going to learn to write.  And there was no point trying.  She would just wait it out till… “Till the school throws you out, what else? Must you be so difficult, Tyrex? Can’t you get those fingers of yours to hold a pencil the right way — like this?”  The anguish in ma’s voice — that was another thing Tyrex had grown used to. Even though, at first, that had hurt more than her own anguish.  More than her own fingers hurt after she had tried and failed to hold the pencil right.

They brought Kausalya paati home in the brick-like rain, all wrapped in a tiny white hospital bedsheet, her mynah hands invisible.  Damayanti aunty and Kannan uncle looked half-dead themselves.  Ranjit looked as if he had been trying not to cry. That was because he was a boy. Boys didn’t cry. Only girls did. But Tyrex never cried. Not even when Sister Priscilla rapped her on her knuckles. Tyrex snuck up with ma to peek at the body, for now, Kausalya paati was a body. Someone was talking about her — about its — eyes. Apparently, its eyes had been removed and donated to a blind girl.  It had been its — her — wish. Kausalya paati’s wish.  Sandwiched between a press of adults, Tyrex tried long and hard to get a glimpse of those mynahs.  But that was not to be. They were weighed down by rose garlands.  Ma barked at her to get out of the way. She was running around serving everyone chai.  Kausalya paati was a coffee drinker.  What would she have said to this? 

That night, as Tyrex lay beside ma,  she asked, “Did no one want paati’s hands, ma?” “Why? What an idea!” exclaimed ma. Tyrex drifted into sleep.  All night long, she dreamt of mynahs perched on her fingers, guiding them to write.  First, the alphabets. And then, the words. And then, slowly, those sentences like snakes. Those long, looong sentences.  All the while, Sister Priscilla bending over her, a sweet,  smile on her lips, “Good girl, Rekha! See, you can be a good girl too, if you try! Just look at your fingers flying!”

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