Book excerpt

The Lilac House

A Novel

Anita Nair

St. Martin's Press

Lilac House, The
STAGE ICYCLOGENESIS OF DESPAIRA child, awake or asleep, has no sense of evil. No presentiment of what may happen in the time to follow. A child's brow rests smooth, unlined, untroubled, until knowledge descends upon it.In the painting Infant Moses Brought Before Pharaoh's Daughter by William Hogarth, let us for once turn our eyes away from all the supporting cast - the maids and the Pharaoh's daughter; let us not dwell on the dark shadows or the building clouds. Instead, let us seek the child Moses who is a child as children should be, without the burden of a past or the knowledge of a future. It is that perfect moment when we believe all of us and all around us are in harmony. Only children know it, and the clouds and the seas.But even the clouds and the seas are not untouched. For with no real warning, with neither portent nor omen, it is quite possible for a quiet wave to begin within what is considered a closed system. A stream is activated. When the wave turns counterclockwise, it does so by turning on its head all that is known and understood, causing a deeply intense and unstable atmosphere.When despair strikes, it is the same. There is a mad scramble to make sense of what is happening. The mind whirls, turning every event over, seeking an explanation, a reason ... The only certainty about a cyclone or despair is the uncertainty it triggers. And as with despair, the cyclogenesis of a tropical storm is seldom announced. What is certain is the resultant turbulence. 
Professor J. A. Krishnamurthy The Metaphysics of CyclonesThe scream pierces the house. The lilac house. A long drawn out scream of terror.Meera wakes with a start. Her hand goes to her mouth. Has she been screaming? She waits for the lights to be switched on, doors to be opened. But there is only silence and darkness and hair that stands on end.Meera gets out of bed, pushes her feet into flip-flops and creeps into the corridor. 
A grove of shadows, where Meera who fears nothing can chase that shout of panic, shackle its goat legs and slit its throat. In all these years, Meera has forbidden panic entry into her lilac house.When Daddy died leaving very little behind, when a silver oak came cascading down on the kitchen, when Giri was laid off work, when Nayantara left home at seventeen, when Lily's ankle broke, when the septic tank overflowed and the mushy sweet pong of faeces began permeating their every breath, when Lily's maid and Meera's anchor decided that henceforth every new moon night the goddess of Melmarvathur, Parasakhthi, would seek her out as an oracle, high priestess and repository, when nine-year-old Nikhil's class teacher called Meera to say that he had smuggled in a bra to school as part of a dare and Meera didn't know whether to laugh or cry or worry if the bra was an ancient one with frayed lace or an extravagantly sexy red confection of nipple net and underwire hoist, when silverfish chewed their way through all the notes she had been making in the hope that one day she would do her dissertation 'on the role of water tanks in American fiction rooted in suburbia', when she discovered a lump in her breast and in Giri's briefcase a secret sheaf of bills - lunches, drinks for two, a bottle of perfume - each time the furies and fates disturbed the quiet fabric of siesta that was her life, Meera strangled panic even before it made known its presence. Who dares panic in her home now?She pauses outside the door of a bedroom. Her mother's. She can hear even breathing punctuated by a gentle snore. She smiles, a curl of grimness. Mummy, who actually claims that most nights she doesn't sleep a wink, and that's what causes the dark circles around her eyes. The next time she uses her sleepless nights as an excuse to get out of something she doesn't want to do, Meera will tell her. It just might wipe the smugness off her face for a second. 
Next, she pauses outside her grandmother's door. Two sets of snores heave within. The old woman on the bed. The maid on the floor. 
As she walks towards Nikhil's room, she hears the muttering. He is talking in his sleep. Meera opens the door and creeps in. The thin quilt he covers himself with is tangled around his legs.She caresses his brow. 'Hush, hush, baby!'Nikhil's eyes snap open. 'Daddy! Is Daddy home?''Go to sleep, darling. He'll be home in the morning, you'll see!''I dreamt Daddy's car was perched at the edge of a cliff. He was trying to get out before it went over. He was shouting for me to help him.' Nikhil shakes at the horror of it. 'I tried to run to him. But my legs wouldn't move. I really tried, Mummy, I did...''Ssh ...' Meera murmurs, cradling his head against her. 
Sheela, the woman from the PR company, had arranged for someone to drop Nikhil and her home. A man who was at the party and lived in her neighbourhood, Sheela said. He was perfectly safe, even if he was a stranger. She and he had been friends from their college days.Meera was relieved to hear that he was a stranger. She preferred that to going with someone she knew. A stranger would ask few questions and wouldn't speculate about Giri's going away.She had watched Nikhil's eyes scan the road. He searched faces, parked cars, number-plates. When the scream resonated throughthe car, the blood drained from her face. What on earth? Then she saw Nikhil's grin and felt as if she wanted to burst into tears. How could he?And Giri, she wanted to scream. What is this game you are playing? Where have you gone?As if from a distance, she thought she heard the man say something. And she heard herself replying on auto pilot, 'Oh, what you need is a recipe for a quick cold soup! A gazpacho, perhaps.'What had he asked? 
The car pulled up outside their gate. Nikhil and she stood watching it drive away. A little blue car.'Did you see the inside of his car? What a mess! He has groundnut shells in a paper bag along with a million books and files. Do you think he treats the back seat as his office?' Nikhil chattered.She listened without registering what he said. All she could think of was Giri and his disappearing act. What was it all about? So when he suddenly asked, 'Did Daddy text you?' she said automatically, 'No.' Then, because she was afraid of what she might see in his eyes, she said carefully, 'Nikhil, don't tell anyone yet that Daddy went away without telling us. You know how they are...' she finished, not knowing what to say next.'But where do you think he went, Mummy?' Nikhil asked, more curious than afraid.Meera shook her head. 'I don't know. Maybe he had an urgent business meeting to go to.''Why couldn't he have just told you that?' Nikhil said, accepting her explanation and kicking the gate open in one swift boyish act of innocence. 
Meera watched him walk in. She followed, wondering what excuses she could make for Giri's absence. Unless, of course, he was already home. She hurried in, the thought lending speed toher step. Maybe that was it. Something, the heat or the alcohol, had triggered a migraine and he had rushed home before it became unbearable and he couldn't drive. He knew, if he told her, she would have insisted on their leaving together and he wanted her to have a good time.He must be in their room with the curtains drawn tight to block the light and with the fan whirring at top speed. He would be lying there reeking of Tiger Balm, his arm over his forehead, as if only by this careful arranging of his limbs would he be able to leash the pain. If she were to even exhale, he would growl, 'Can't you keep it low? I have a headache!'The bathroom would bear the stench of vomit. That, too, was routine. The throwing up. Mostly, he cleaned up himself. He was a meticulous man. But if he was really unwell, then that too would be waiting for her.For once Meera longed for the growl and the irritation, the bits of food and bile splattering the toilet bowl. For the stench and for her own insides to heave involuntarily. Poor baby, Meera thought, rushing to minister comfort to the migraine stricken Giri. 
Meera walked into the house to hear Nikhil say, 'Dad's gone to the golf course.'Her mother said, 'Your father doesn't play golf!''Actually, he doesn't play anything.' Her grandmother laughed.Nikhil pushed his hands into his pockets. 'Did I say he was playing golf? He's gone with a friend.''What friend?' her mother asked.'He has no friends,' her grandmother added. 
She wondered if she should go to the police. The very thought was daunting. She had never been to a police station before. What did one do? What did one say? Then there was the matter of bribes. She could hardly slip notes into the policeman's waitinghand under the table or into his pocket while muttering, 'A little tea money!'From the movies, she knew that twenty-four hours had to go past before a missing person complaint could be made. She was panicking for no reason. He would be back soon. She would wait twenty-four hours before she worried, she told herself as she removed her earrings, sitting in front of the dressing table.In the mirror, she could see the bed with its coverlet stretched tightly across and the plumped up pillows resting against the bolsters. A pristine bed, strangely forlorn. 
At seven her mother settled in front of the TV with a notebook and pen. 'Please Nikhil, no chit-chat!' she told the silent Nikhil who was plugged into his iPod maze of 1756 songs.'Why don't you just ask me to shut up?' her grandmother said.'Please Mama, it's my favourite programme. I have a library meeting next week. I need to know what to recommend!''Rubbish! Do you think that man reads any of those books? All he does is read the back of the book! How can you be taken in by him? And I think he wears foundation cream. Can't you see that line by his jaw?' Lily mumbled querulously.'What do you know of books? All you do is watch movies or talk shows all day. I don't know how you can watch such mindless nonsense.''Better than those travel and living programmes you watch. Where do you think you are going? Or, for that matter, when was the last time you cooked anything? Ha!' 
The bickering continued. Meera rubbed her forehead. Her head throbbed. She wished she could turn and snap, 'Shut up! Shut up! Can't you see that I am worried? I don't need this as well.'But she couldn't. No matter what, Meera never lost her temper. She never flared or snapped. She was just not like that.Hoping to restore peace and some calm in her head, she intervened with a 'Lily dear, can I fix you a drink?'Lily dear gleamed. 'I thought you would never ask. And pour her one too. She'll say no if you ask and then steal sips from my glass when no one's looking.' Lily gestured to her daughter with her chin.Meera sighed.Lily pounced on the sigh. She scrutinized Meera carefully. The drawn face and the shadows beneath her eyes. Lily frowned. What was wrong, she wondered. Then she put it out of her mind. One of the benefits of growing old was this: being able to push aside any troubling thoughts that entered one's mind with, it will resolve itself or somebody else will do it! No need to get your knickers into a twist.Nevertheless, Lily reached across and touched Meera's elbow. 'What about you? You look like you need one!'Meera shook her head. 'I had plenty to drink at the party. Too much, in fact!'She caught Nikhil's eyes on her face. What was he thinking? 
Meera thought of the image they must make. Three women of three generations and a young boy, cast in a room of fading splendour. The pools of light, the shadows, the long convoluted histories of how they came to be where they were.In the 1930s, when Raghavan Menon began working in Calcutta, he fell in love with a way of life. Calcutta reminded him of his Calicut in many ways but there was more. Art flourished in every home and in one of those soirees he had taken to attending, he met Charu, a Bengali woman. When he married her, he became a born-again Bengali. Charu died some years later and Raghavan Menon decided to send his daughter Leela to Santiniketan. 'I want culture to course through her veins. I'd prefer culture to blood, in fact!' he told his brothers who advocated that he send Leela to study in Calicut instead.The brothers shook their heads in sorrow. If the girl had come to Calicut, he would have returned home perhaps and made a life there. Now, he was lost. Soon thereafter, they sent him a cheque as his share of the family estate.Then a well-known Bengali director spotted Leela, and Lily was born. Hindi cinema already had a Leela and so it was decided that the name she was called at home would be her screen name. Lily the actress did only offbeat cinema and just as the movie-going world was getting interested in her, she married Sandor, a Hungarian painter. They came to live in Bangalore in this house that Raghavan Menon found them.Saro was born. Saro was sent to expensive schools. Saro fell in love with her best friend's brother and married him. Sandor died, and a year later Saro was widowed when she was thirty-nine. It was to this house she came then, seeking refuge for herself and her nineteen-year-old daughter Meera.A window rattled, shaking Meera out of her reverie. She ran a hand through her hair and leaned back in her chair, pretending to be absorbed by the breaking news on TV. 
Lily and Saro had settled their differences and were sipping their drinks. The bickering was customary. Like Saro's book buying. One book of fiction preferably by someone who had just won an important prize, or was being hailed by the literary establishment that month as the voice of the century. And another of non-fiction, usually a biography or a historical account, preferably by an Englishman. Saro only bought books that had sold at least 100,000 copies or would post a major prize. And the books programme steered her towards these titles. It was completely beyond her to consider a book merely because the title excited her, a book no one had ever heard of. She couldn't take the chance. Her reputation was at stake after all. Saro liked to be thought of as a woman of taste, whether it was in clothes, jewellery or books.In contrast, Lily picked her reading by the book jacket. 'Give mea book with a man and a woman searching each other's eyes. Or one with a knife and a red blob. Or some such thing. I assure you it will be truly unputdownable. Though she won't agree, of course! She is such a snob.' She cocked an eyebrow at Saro, her daughter, Meera's mother.They quarrelled through the day. If it wasn't books, then it was a plant or a piece of furniture or a memory they both remembered differently, or a recipe that each swore was the authentic version. If they didn't, one of them was ailing or troubled. So Meera gauged the well-being of the old ladies by the vitriol they hurled at each other. That night, they were well enough. They didn't seem perturbed by Giri's absence. 
Nikhil worried her, though. He was quiet. Too quiet. 'Are you all right, baby?' she asked.He peered at her. 'Don't call me baby!'Then he asked suddenly, 'Did you try his mobile?'Meera nodded. 'Unreachable.''What will you tell them if he doesn't come home by midnight?' Nikhil whispered. They looked at the old ladies watching a programme that they both enjoyed. A talk show with a hostess who was sophisticated enough to satisfy her mother. And an ex-movie star, which made her glamorous in her grandmother's eyes.'No whispering in public,' her mother said.'Naughty secret, is it?' her grandmother added, speculation lighting up her face.Meera sucked on a melting ice cube. She hoped it would freeze the scream that threatened to erupt from her mouth any moment now.Her phone beeped. Nikhil looked up. Meera grabbed the phone. New Message. It would be Giri texting, explaining, apologizing, saying he would be home soon.It was an advertisement for ring tones. Meera dropped the phone and reached for another ice cube.'Can we order a pepperoni pizza?' Nikhil said.'No,' Meera snapped. 'You had pizza three days ago!''It's not good for you to eat so much pizza,' Lily chuckled. 'All this junk food will show itself twenty years from now. You will be a very fat man.''And a poor one,' Saro added. 'Pizza doesn't grow on trees. It's expensive. Do you realize your mother could buy groceries for all of us for a week for that much money?'Nikhil slammed the book down. 'We never have money for anything. What I can't understand is how we can afford to live in a house like this. Look at it!''Nikhil...' Meera growled. She looked beyond him and saw the stillness that had swept into the other women. She sensed it inch into her too. The house. The lilac house. Somehow it always came to that. The house.Meera asked herself, if it wasn't for the house, would Giri have lingered that first day?Had the house lost its power to enchant and keep? 
Meera kisses the brow of her sleeping child. In the morning, if Nikhil remembers, he will be embarrassed by how he clung to her. He might even deny it outright. 'You must have dreamt it,' he will say defiantly.But for now he is her little boy again. A little boy who doesn't know what to make of a father who disappeared mysteriously one Sunday afternoon, on a perfect September day.IIt had been a perfect September dawn when he saw her first. He said he had been enchanted. He said he didn't know if he wanted to collapse with laughter or lean against the gatepost and watch her forever. Giri said that was when he fell in love.'Imagine this,' he said, leaning forward to coil a strand of her hair around his finger, 'a girl in an ivory dress. The sun teasing glints of amber in her hair. A barefoot girl chasing a flock of geese through the grass!''A gaggle. Not flock,' she murmured.'Flock! Gaggle! How does it matter? All I knew was, that's where I want to be. With that girl and her pet geese in their lilac house.' He sighed and leaned back in the chair. 
His eyes swept over the house and the garden, the blossom laden trellises and borders, the trees and the carp pool with its little stone frog. She saw his eyes pause on her face with the same rapt pleasure. And she knew she couldn't tell him that the white dress was a faded nightie. Or that she had heard the geese in the front lawn and leapt out of bed and run out to chase them away before they trampled all over the newly planted aubergine plants. Or that the geese were merely biding their time as they were fed and fattened to be sold to Hamid Bhai in time for Christmas. (For every goose was worth its weight in gold or would at least help pay for changing the termite infested rafters of the back kitchen.) And that she didn't waste tears or sentiment over the geese as they were taken away to have their long necks wrung and their down plucked. That she feasted on the goose, with as much relish as anyone else. He would have been horrified. He called her his pet goose. Goose girl of the lilac house.She smiled. She liked being his pet goose. 
'All I could think of was, how am I going to get my foot into this door? I was the prince inching around the enchanted house, seeking to find a way in.''You just had to say hello and I would have hello-ed you back!' She grinned.He frowned. 'You don't understand. A hello would have been way too ordinary. I had to discover you, my goose girl of the lilac house.'So when the model coordinator suggested that we use this house for the photo shoot of Coconut Kisses, I didn't think twice. I said yes.'She saw it in her mind then. The inward jerk of the elbow, the clenched fist, the explosion of a yes as it conveyed from deep within the desire to discover her. His goose girl of the lilac house. And she gleamed in reflection of that yearning. 
The model coordinator couldn't stop beaming. She had never had it so easy. The location and props in one place, with a stylist thrown in for free. Meera had brought out the crocheted doilies and organza napkins with their delicate scalloped edges, the silver napkin rings and the silver tea service, the tiered porcelain cake stand and the Royal Doulton teacups. She had arranged the Coconut Kisses and even found a way to position the biscuit packet in such a way that it blended in, and then set the table. Meera heard the pleasure in the art director's voice. 'Gracious living! It's exactly what we had planned for!'Meera smiled. She wondered how much she could pad her bill for the props. Gracious living doesn't come cheap, she wanted to say. Then she met his eyes and she saw herself there. And she didn't say anything. She would talk to the model coordinator on the side and she wasn't going to budge from the figure she had in mind. 
But he had found reasons to not leave her alone. Again and again he lingered at her side, chatting between the shots. Could it be that a miracle had occurred? Could it be that he was drawn to her? When he came by the next day with a small basket of flowers for her, she laid out gracious living once again, just for him. It was her only weapon. Other girls showed the tops of their breasts or batted their eyelids. Meera had just this to offer and she wasn't going to shy away from it. And the old ladies, they played their parts.They sat there, mother, daughter and granddaughter, each one of them wooing him, and he didn't even realize it. Lily with her lace fan, fluttering it ever so often with an elegant little movement of the wrist. Saro in her pearls and crisp cotton sari and 'Shall I be mother?'Only Meera was as she always was. Uncertain, tremulous and hiding behind a façade of remote charm. She prayed her hands wouldn't shake when she offered him the cake. She so wanted it to be right. For Meera had utterly and hopelessly fallen in love.She crossed her ankles, laid her hands in her lap and said little. 
She could see he was charmed. Giri offered adulation as if it was a ginger biscuit on a plate. 'I love the colour of your house,' he said.Lily widened her eyes and began, 'The painting contractor...'But Saro cut in with, 'It is very pretty, isn't it? We have such trouble matching it each time we repaint.'Meera swallowed convulsively. Lily, she realized, had intended to bring forth the story of the painting contractor who had offered them the paint for half the actual cost. He had made a mistake elsewhere and was trying to salvage some of the cost. And they didn't have to pay as much as they would have had to if they had chosen the colour themselves.Meera rose. 'I need to check on something on the stove,' she said. Her heart wouldn't stop hammering. Would Giri be bored with them? She couldn't bear to see it when it happened.Lily was silent for a few minutes. Then she set about playing grand dame of the house. 'Meera, wait. Where are you running away to? She's such a shy thing and so conscientious.'Virtues any prospective husband would want.'You must tell him about the time David Lean was almost here, when he was shooting A Passage to India!' Lily began.Meera paused. 'Lily, it's your story... Go on, you tell Giri!'And Giri said, 'Yes Lily, may I call you Lily, do tell me.'And then Saro matched celluloid reels with stories of Meera's daddy's tea estates. Not once did they break the rhythm as anecdote followed anecdote.Lily's brief career as a movie actress in Hindi cinema. The scion of a minor royalty family who fell madly in love with her. The cluster of rubies he set in a ring and had delivered at the doorstep. 'On a cushion held by a turbaned man who looked like a maharaja himself,' Lily giggled.The meeting with Sandor, the portrait painter from Hungary. Their whirlwind courtship and elopement.'Saro was a good girl,' Lily said archly. 'None of her mama's madness. When her best friend's brother proposed marriage, she accepted. Meera's daddy was a very handsome man. And the bungalow they lived in at Coonoor, what a splendid house it was!''There were four house boys apart from a butler and two cooks,' Saro added. 'The parties we threw...!''Meera picked it all up then. How to lay the table and do the flowers, plan a menu and seat the guests. Meera will make an exemplary wife!' Lily leaned forward in a stage whisper to Giri. 
From where she stood by the garden door, Meera saw her mother talk in low tones to Giri. She could see that he was enchanted as the old ladies wove their spell around him. For a while Meera continued to worry. Any moment now, it would happen. He would see them for what they were. But Giri didn't. Giri sipped the tea and ate his cake. And Meera slipped into the chair alongside his.When Saro rose, he jumped to his feet. She smiled her imperious I-am-the-queen-of-this-fiefdom smile and gave him her hand to kiss or hold, but not shake as the rest of the world might be inclined to do. 'Come again, young man. Meera is such a shy creature, it will do her good to meet more young people like you.'Like you. Meera's heart trilled in joy. Mummy liked him. She actually liked him. And Lily, incorrigible rascal Lily, peered athim with a coy smile and said, 'And so handsome. Meera, don't let him go!'He blushed then and looked at her. What now? Meera wondered. 
'Such lovely ladies,' he murmured.For now they were the keepers of the gracious lilac house. And protectress of Meera, his goose girl waiting to be discovered.So when he leaned across and said, 'Would you like to go for a drive? We could stop for an ice cream at the Corner House!' Meera widened her eyes in pleasure, tried not to look at the remains of the tea tray, the sandwiches, patties and biscuits, cakes and crumbs. The thought of an ice cream sat heavy. But she wasn't going to let him slip away from her.She wanted him. Poor Meera. She never asked what he wanted. Her, the lilac house, or together what they represented.She let her lips flower. 'I would love to,' she said.Love to place herself and all she had in his hands, Giri read. 
Giri rose six inches high. What man wouldn't? He thought of the riches laid out before him. A bride with social graces and a beautiful old home. A grandmother who referred to Sir Richard Attenborough and Satyajit Ray in the same breath. A mother who breathed finesse. She even had a fork to extract meat ever so daintily from a crab claw.Giri had never known such people before. He thought of his father in his yellowing banian and dhoti in Palakkad. He thought of the old decrepit house and relatives as stringy and penurious as his father. He had been fortunate in his brains and a Maths teacher, Sivaraman Iyer, who had shepherded him away from home. First the Regional Engineering College, where his eyes widened at a world he never knew existed. Then the IIM in Ahmedabad. Campus recruitment ensured that he found a foothold in the corporate world.Giri had made careful plans about where he would be by the time he was thirty, forty, forty-five... thereafter would be the playing fields of his life. To accomplish this, he needed to round off the edges that still clung to him from the small-town, lower middle class boy he was. Meera would make this possible, he knew with certainty. Meera, who exuded upperclass-dom like the L'air du temps she wore. Discreet, elegant, and old money. 
Giri, on his jaunts abroad, spent many hours in the duty-free area, filing away in his mind accessories to gracious living as epitomized by designer merchandise in international airports. Mont Blanc pens and Burberry coats, Louis Vuitton bags and the crystal world of fragrances. It was here that he almost gave up. The eye could remember patterns and shapes but the nose almost defeated him. The nose was easily tricked. In the end, he got around that too. Each time, he chose a couple of perfumes that he liked the most and persuaded shop assistants to spray them for him on white slivers of cardboard. He would sniff at them diligently, keeping at it until the top note was committed to memory. Giri knew he had to acquire that veneer of polish Meera seemed to be born with.Giri exhaled. With Meera, he would be able to move on. Finally, he would be free of the yellowing past and the stench of making do. Meera. His. Like the lilac house. L'air du temps. 
Meera was to know an occasional qualm. Was Giri in love with her for all the wrong reasons? She thought of the young women who were part of his professional world. Tall young women who wore their suitability like their hair. Shining, groomed and never out of place. Why does he prefer me to them? she asked herself. They are smart, competent, and have careers. Whereas all I have is a postgraduate degree in English and stewardship of this house.'Don't be silly,' he murmured against her cheek. 'I don't want a journalist, a teacher, a brand manager - it's you I want as my wife.Let me assure you, it takes a really smart woman to be a corporate wife.'Meera rested her cheek against his. She would be that. A corporate wife. The woman behind his success. It was what she wanted. To be there for him. They would build their lives together. 
A few days before the wedding, Saro asked her, 'What now, Meera? Will you move out or will you live here? What does Giri want? Do you know? Have you two even discussed it?' 
Giri wanted them there. 'In the lilac house,' he said. 'Why would we want to live elsewhere? It is your home. Our home. Besides, after this, how can I ask you to live in a poky flat?'Meera felt another qualm. 'Giri, you mustn't get the wrong idea. I...we... don't have much. This house...' she began.'Ssh. I know what you are going to say. This house is all there is. It is enough, goose girl! Just you in this house is all I ask for.'Meera wrapped her arms around his neck. She knew what she would do with her doubts and suspicions. Pat them into balls like the tamarind they dried every year in the sun and put away with rock salt in a terracotta jar. Out of sight. Out of mind. 
Meera stands at the window and looks out into the darkness. There is a streetlight by the gate. A blue beacon that would show up anyone who stood at the gate.She is hopeful as she waits. Any minute now, the headlamps of a car will pale the blue light. Any minute now, a rattling, noisy autorickshaw will pull up.Meera continues to stand there. Suddenly, the streetlamp near the gate splutters and crackles. She watches it for a long while, timing the intervals between each splutter and crackle. Maybe Giri went for a drive to clear his head. His car had a breakdown; she knows how hopelessly incompetent he is when it comes to cars. He doesn't even know how to change a flat tyre. Maybe his phone ranout of charge or there was no signal. The outskirts of Bangalore have many such pockets. This is the only explanation, Meera tells herself repeatedly. What else could it be? She grasps as desperate women do at any straw to prevent her thoughts from going down one particular, obvious alley. A narrow, dark, fetid lane called the other woman. 
Had Hera sat thus? Meera asks herself suddenly.Hera, who had a wedding night that lasted three hundred years. Hera had known how to core the golden apple, scooping a hollow in each half. Into it she had poured all of herself: her fragrance and breath, spit and mucus, milk and wellness, sweat and soul. She had cut a quarter off the half and run it along her limbs, gathering into its juice all the sweetness of her youth and hope, and fed it to Zeus with her lips. His tongue snaked out of his mouth, and fed from hers. They feasted off each other and Hera thought, what other woman will offer him this? What goddess, nymph, mortal creature can match the extent of all I have given unto him?So Meera had thought when Neruda and then Pushkin first sat on Giri's bedside table where once Deepak Chopra and Thomas Friedman had. When Giri took to twilight walks out of her sight with his mobile hidden in his breast pocket as if it contained a rare pearl. She pretended not to see the changes in his wardrobe or hear his mobile as it beeped a spell first thing in the morning and last thing at night. The pink translucence of a youth rediscovered seldom lasts, she told herself.I am not Hera, she tells herself. I will not panic. I will not spew venom or make known my rage. I will not lower my dignity or shame myself. I can live with these shadows as long as it is me he comes home to. 
Besides, Giri is not Zeus. He isn't a compulsive philanderer, merely a middle-aged man who has had his head turned. Meeratells herself, don't panic, who else can offer him this cornucopia of elegance? Which other woman can lay his table as I do, or make a home for him as I do? The felicity of our lives may be shadowed, but will never be tainted or violated. Giri will not risk losing any of this. 
And yet, where is Giri? 
Meera squares her shoulders and decides to fill up the time until Giri comes home. There are books to dust in the living room. Hundreds of books Giri has accumulated with his Books & Periodicals expense account.One by one, Meera wipes them clean. But Giri is yet to come home.Meera switches on the computer. On a whim, she opens Giri's email account. He has forgotten to sign himself out and Meera enters his private world, heart hammering. But there is nothing for her to discover. All of it is empty. His Inbox, Outbox, Sent box... It is as if he has erased himself out of his own life. And then, in the drafts folder she finds an unfinished email. 
When the developers called again last morning, my hand shook as I wrote down their offer. It was serious money. I would never again have to eat shit with that kind of money in the bank. With that kind of security, I could finally do what I want to do. Start something on my own. M mocked me when I tried telling her. 'Oh Giri, first figure out what it is you want to do and then we can talk of selling the house.'You are being stubborn. No one will ever make such an offer, and for this old house? I said again.Sometimes I think I could strangle her. She refuses to listen to reason. I tried explaining it to her: Listen to me, Meera, if we did this, our lives would change.She stared at me with a strange expression. 'Why would you wantour life changed? It's perfect. I am happy. Aren't you happy? I thought you were happy.'I wanted to reach across and slap her face. Her face that she has slathered with half a tin of fucking Nivea cream. That's her greatest fucking concern. Wrinkles.Does she for one moment understand what I have to put myself through, day after day? Does she know what I have to do to keep my place on the corporate ladder? The endless dents to my self-esteem? The fear of being made redundant or, worse, passed over for a promotion? What does she know of any of this?'We have growing children. Can't you see that? You have to stay on in your job. You can't risk everything we have. We owe it to them to provide them the best. Besides, you are too old to play hippy, Giri. Organic farming is all very well. But do you know a spade from a hoe?' she said as if talking to a petulant six-year-old.Don't patronize me, I said.But what I really want to do is shake her till her teeth rattle and tell her, Fuck you and your fucking old house!But I can't stop seeing the figures the property developer quoted. There's nothing to be done but try again. She just needs to be persuaded. I will wait till I catch M in a more affable mood. There's nothing else to do. After all, it's Madam's lilac house. 
Meera stares appalled at the unfinished mail. Who was he writing to? And who is this Giri? Where is such rancour and bitterness coming from?Meera never dreamt big dreams. She had no desire for designer clothes, diamonds or expensive holidays. In those hard years after her father's death, she learnt to worship at the altar of enough. That was all she ever hoped for. Enough to keep the roof over their heads and food in their bellies. Enough to retain dignity and not have to ask reluctant removed relatives for a temporary handout. Enough to live as they did.Then Meera had her moment of epiphany: Giri. He was thegod of her enough. She hugged her relief to herself. The enough she had always wanted was hers.Only twice did she know pangs of anxiety that ruffled her sense of peace. Then Meera, the otherwise reticent Meera, bellowed out her pain in the labour room. The nurses had tried to shush her but she had screamed and shrieked to hasten the process whereby she could revert to her state of enough.When the babies were laid in her arms, the fulfilment she knew drowned her in its completeness. How could anything else compare to this, she thought as her eyes sought Giri's. 
Meera reads the mail again. She has been so blind. Giri had wanted more than enough.And suddenly she is overwhelmed. Meera, goose girl, corporate wife, had forgotten that suspicion, like tamarind, never loses its sourness. It knows how to wait. And when to emerge as a humming swarm with a sting.IISuspicions swarm and hover, ready to sting. Is this the place? How could it be? Perhaps the taxi driver got it wrong... 
Grey painted doors line the corridor. A regulation grey that makes the dirty cream coloured walls seem like watered down chicken curry. The mosaic floor is chipped and grimy. He follows the boy down the corridor, feeling his heart sink with every step. Why did she choose to come here?'There is only one other deluxe room. But that is reserved for the doctor,' the boy says. 'He comes and goes but the room is always kept ready for him. Now this is a very good room too.'The boy unlocks the door and pushes it open. A swash of warmfetid air rushes out. The boy switches the light on, and the fan. Jak looks around him.At one end is a bed with a batik patterned sheet stretched across it and a pillow on top of which is a folded sheet. There is a mirror on the wall with a wooden ledge beneath it. By the main door is another door. The bathroom, he thinks, postponing the inevitable shudder at what he would find. A tiny cake of Medimix soap and a sachet of shampoo. A threadbare towel, a grimy bucket and mug. And a toilet he would need to exorcize all his acquired American standards of hygiene to squat upon.'Tea, coffee, mineral water? Sir! Sir!' The boy's voice splices his thoughts. His eyes are expectant as he stands by the door.Jak pulls out a fifty-rupee note from his wallet, knowing very well that he is over tipping. The boy beams. He will be useful, Jak knows.He places his bag on a low wooden table. On the farther side of the room is another door. A grey door flanked on either side by windows. Grey window frames. Overhead, the fan whirrs, stirring air in the still room. He asks himself again, but this dump, why did she choose to come here? What on earth was she thinking of?Then the boy walks towards the closed door and with the aplomb of an amateur magician pulling a rabbit out of a black top hat, he flings it open.The tang of the sea. The boom and splash of the breakers. The salt of the spray. The skies. All of it gathers and rushes into the room. Jak walks out into the balcony. He feels his legs tremble. He sees the sea as she must have. And he feels that familiar crouching ache rise and stretch its muscles. She had come here chasing a memory. His memory of this little seaside town, Minjikapuram.He begins to understand now. He had described to her his first time in Minjikapuram, dredging out the only phrase he remembered from his Perry Mason days: 'Out there what you get is a lungful of storm!'He had painted a picture for her. The surprise of it, the grandeur. The overwhelming of the self by the sea and wind. She had wanted all that he had known. And so this. 
The taxi driver had looked at the piece of paper he had written the address on. 'I'll take you to a better hotel. With cable TV and fridge in the room.'He shook his head. 'No, I want to go here,' he said, stabbing the paper with his forefinger.The taxi driver shrugged. Each to his own, but don't blame me if you hate it, the set of his shoulders bristled.The hotel at Madurai had arranged the taxi for him. 'The driver is from those parts. He should be able to find the place you want to go to,' the reception clerk said.Jak had nodded. 'Good,' he said. 'That will save me some time.''But sir,' the man's eyes had brimmed with curiosity, 'what is there in Minjikapuram? Why are you going there? Are you visiting relatives?'Jak shrugged. 'Research! Just research work. I am a cyclone expert. And there are some interesting developments on this coastline that I want to study.''Ah, I see!' the man said, printing out Jak's bill. 'After the tsunami, some scientists came here. They were on a research trip and were going further south, they said. But you know what I think...' He paused expectantly.Jak stood there silently, knowing he would hear it anyway. 'You can study nature as much as you want, but you can't ever predict it. Actually, there is nothing in life you can predict.' 
Jak remembered this as the car turned onto the market road. Had he ever thought he would come back here again? It was almost thirty-one years ago that he had come to Minjikapuram. After the hustle and bustle of Madras, it had appeared quiet and provincial. He searched the road for some familiar landmark. All he couldremember was the bus stand with a façade of shops in front. And the temple on the hill.'Do people still come to the temple here?' he asked.'Not as much. Everyone's rushing to Tirupati or Sabarimala these days. But the people around here still pray to Minjikaiyan and Minjikammal for the welfare of their children. My wife comes once a year and she insists on dragging me along. When it is for one's children, I suppose you don't want to take chances. Our children are our wealth, after all.'The driver's matter-of-fact pronouncement was something he had heard several times before. But now it had the edge of a gutting knife. It tore into him, eviscerating in one sudden turn. 
Jak scanned the shop fronts that flanked either side of the road. The familiarity of it all. Aluminium vessels in one. Sacks of grain in another. A barber shop and an old newspaper and bottle shop. Rolls of fabric at an entrance and saris draped from hooks on the ceiling. The glint of gold from a secluded interior. The fragrance of coriander and coffee that filled the air. The row of flower vendors with huge garlands of marigold and jasmine. A pushcart vendor frying pakodas in a giant frying pan. Beneath a tree sat another vendor with an array of brightly coloured plastic articles spread on a tarpaulin sheet and further ahead, a fortune-teller with his parakeet in a cage. Nothing much seemed to have transpired in the last three decades. It was still a town that happened to be there, going nowhere.Which was why Jak had been puzzled at first. Why had she even wanted to visit Minjikapuram? 
The taxi continued down the market road, past a church. The shops began to thin out and Jak could smell the ocean.'How far is the sea from here?' he asked the taxi driver.'Behind the lodge,' the man said. 'But it is not a sea you can swim in. The coast is dangerous.''I know,' Jak said. 'I have been here before.''Then I don't have to tell you to be careful,' the man said.'No.' He spoke quietly. If only someone had warned Smriti to be careful.When the taxi pulled up outside an ugly bleached building, he asked, 'Are you sure this is the place?' The driver stared at him blankly, then shrugged. 'This is the lodge. Not at all suited for people like you. You want me to take you elsewhere? I know of a really good place...'Jak held up his hand to pause the flow of words. He paid the driver and pushed open the metal gate. Somewhere in this dingy seaside lodge he would find the first clue, he thought. 
The reception clerk made him wait as he filled a register. There was a wall-mounted date sheet. 30 September. A line of red plastic chairs stood alongside a wall. A few men sat there, idly flicking through different sections of the newspaper. One man was talking on a mobile phone.He felt their eyes on him. The smoke from their cigarettes stung his throat. Were you here when it happened, he wanted to ask them. It was in the last week of February. On the twenty-eighth. Do you remember? Wasn't there something you could have done? Anything?You sir, he wanted to ask an elderly man in a cream coloured half-sleeved shirt and dhoti who was reading a newspaper, you look like a father, a grandfather; an educated man. Shouldn't you have said something? Asked her why she was here. Damn it, isn't that what we do, poke our nose into everything, probe and question all we see? She wouldn't have liked it. She may have asked you to mind your own business. She may have walked away muttering, 'Indians!' But if you had asked her... Maybe.As he walked away, he heard the elderly man ask the clerk, 'Who is that? Not the type we see here.'He heard the clerk mutter a response.'Who is that man?' Jak asked the hotel boy, feeling the elderly man's scrutiny brand his back.'He owns the hotel. Dr Srinivasan sir. He owns everything here in Minjikapuram. Shops. The hospital. The theatre. Everything. He is a very important man.'Jak nodded, feigning interest. He felt his thoughts crowd in on him again. 
Jak shifts in the chair and puts down the book he is trying to read. He has read the same line twenty times over and it is still only a series of meaningless syllables. He lights a cigar but it tastes bitter and dry in his mouth. He decides to go for a walk. The reception clerk pretends not to see him as Jak walks past. Jak wonders at the hostility of the man's averted glance. It makes no sense at all. They don't even know each other.He ambles slowly along the road. It is dark by the time he reaches the Minjikapuram main road. He looks at his watch. It is a quarter past six. He stands on the side of the road rubbing the bridge of his nose. What is he doing here? 
The cinema theatre is where it used to be, ahead of the bus stand. Jak buys a ticket and enters the darkened hall. He has a seat in the balcony, right at the back. But the theatre is almost empty, so he chooses for himself a seat in the front row. He leans back, propping his feet on the parapet wall in front. He can't remember the last time he was in a cinema theatre.Appa had liked going to the movies. They would go for the night shows - Appa, Amma and he. It was the one weakness his otherwise austere father allowed himself. Amma wouldn't say it, but movie nights made her especially happy. She would dress in her silks and braid jasmine into her hair. Her laugh would echo through the house and she would cook something special for dinner. As Jak sat there watching the story unfold, of caring husbands and patient wives rewarded, of villains being beaten to a pulp and ofa life blessed with fairness, he wondered if in the movies Amma had found hope, while Appa had sought something else - respite from his everyday. Escape from the life he was condemned to. Or perhaps what he saw in them was the banality that strengthened his resolve to abandon this life. 
Late in the night, Jak approaches the bed. Did she sleep on it? Was she alone? Or was there someone else with her? Did they share this room that trapped the sea within its dingy blue walls? Did they make love here? Please god, he prays, let her have known what it is to be made love to gently, carefully and with tenderness. The horror of what happened will never be mitigated. But it makes it one fraction more bearable to know that someone loved her. And that she knew how to give, not just be ruthlessly plundered and violated.He slams his fist against the wall.He didn't mean to do this, go back to where it happened. Recreate each moment, examine and deduce. What is the point? Knowing the how and why isn't going to reverse Smriti's condition.But what is Smriti remembering? He knows he has to find out the genesis of that scream, the source of that terror.IIIAn undefined terror threatens to pull him deeper and deeper into the maze.He wakes up shivering, cold. Icy fingers clutch his toes.Smriti used to do that. Hold her hand under the cold water tap, come into his room, lift the bedclothes and grab his feet. When he woke with a start, she would crouch behind the footboard, trying hard not to giggle and give herself away. If he looks now, will she be there?The sea breeze has an edge. He stares at the sky. The clouds are the colour of brushed steel. He can smell rain. 
It has been a long time since he was in the field. But he has always had it. A stirring within him that warns even as the winds gather and collide. Kitcha, the reader of omens, the collector of warnings, the storm warning buoy, his professor called him, only half in jest. That was how accurate Kitcha used to be in his predictions. Then he became JAK. The guru of simulated cyclones. Shorn of his powers, deserted by that intuitive knowing, he didn't know that across the world, his child was being mauled and ravaged. Instead, he was in a Florida beachside home, fucking a colleague's wife against a wall.'You've wanted this for so long, haven't you, you bitch?' he growled in her ear. And she murmured her willingness, biting down on his shoulder. Bitch. Cunt. Whore. He knew with that unfailing instinct of his that this one was definitely not a blueberry muffin, sweet darling, or mon petit chou sort of a girl. That inside the quiet academic wife lurked a slut only he could excite with his magical incantations of filth: Bitch. Cunt. Whore.Did someone say that to Smriti? The thought wrenches itself out of his mind. He stumbles out of bed. From his bag, he takes out a blue denim shirt and a photograph. He swaddles the photo frame like he once swaddled her in a shirt, and takes it to bed with him. 
You never wanted a child. It frightened you, the thought of being a father. We bring to our adult lives what we learnt from the adults we knew as children. How could you be a proper father? It terrified you that you would be unable to keep the commitment a child would demand of you. That you would fail the child somehow. Just as your father did. Who knew, when the time came, how you would be? Would an innate selfishness emerge? And then there was the responsibility. What did you know of how to bring up a child?But Nina pooh-poohed your fears. 'You are not the first man to be a father; I am scared too. But this is what I want,' she said, pressing your palm to her still flat abdomen. 'In here is a life. Our life. Our child! Imagine, Kitcha!'When Smriti was born, you spent all of that first night gazing down at the sleeping child. Your child. You had never known anything like it before: this liquification, this snagging of your heart when her tiny fist clutched at a finger of yours. Mine. My daughter. My life. 
When she woke in the night, you would wrap her in an old blue denim shirt soft with many washings. She seemed to prefer it to the gaily patterned baby things Nina and you had bought at the baby shop. And you would take her into the living room. For a while you would walk her slowly, humming under your breath, and then you would sit in the rocking chair by the window and rock her to sleep. Slowly, ever so slowly, the softness of her baby cheek nuzzling the side of your neck, her baby breath of milk and sweetness fanning the skin, the warmth of her body seeping into you. In those dark solitary hours of osmosis you knew yourself to be one with the universe and your child. If her eyelid fluttered, you felt it in the beat of your heart. If her breath paused for even a quark, you felt your heart stop: My child. My daughter. My life. 
His eyes feel hot and heavy. His throat aches. The dampness beneath his cheek spreads. In the grey dawn, he lies, a man felled by a thought: why did it have to happen to her?He draws the sheet to his chin and turns on his side, cradling the bundle.A sound startles him. He has never heard it before. He hears it again as it escapes his throat. A whimper, a low call of helplessness, a querulous note of fear. And then, because he can't bear to be strong any more, he cries. Quietly at first, muffling his pain andanguish. Only, he can't hold it within any more. The hurt wrenches itself out of him. Jak weeps. 
In the morning, he wakes up with a thought: someone would remember. He would ask around. Someone would know. He leaps out of bed and rifles through his bag again. In the documents pouch is the printout. He had folded it into four and thrust it there. Now he draws it out and smoothens it on the table.She had sent it to him two days before she arrived here. A smiling girl, and behind her, three boys. 'Papa Jak, these are my friends. Asha is not in the picture. The five of us are heading out on the "save the girl child" programme. I am sooo excited!' she had written.Jak looks at the faces. Where are these children now? The three boys and Asha. Why didn't they come to see her even once? Guilt, perhaps. He could understand that. That they hadn't been there for her.Yet, something niggles. A feeling of disquiet at such complete silence. There have been a few calls and even a couple of visitors. But none from those in the photograph. The invisible Asha hasn't been in touch either.What happened here in Minjikapuram?Lives changed. Smriti's, and his. That much he knows for certain.The knots will need to be undone. The knots of silence that seem to surround the days before the accident. But how and where will he find that first slack in the string?IVJak unties the string carefully. He opens the newspaper wrapping and within, on a banana leaf, lies the masala dosa he ordered forbreakfast. A blob of red chilli chutney smears an edge of the dosa. A composite wave of memory and aromas rides up his nostrils. The hiss of the batter on the griddle, the dollop of ghee melting and turning the batter to a brown crispness, the onion and chilli from the chutney, the fragrance of food wrapped in banana leaf. Jak feels his mouth water.Despite everything, despite the world falling around our ears, our bodies will never let us forget that we are alive and needy. That our hunger has to be appeased, our thirst quenched, our desires slaked; our lives spent. There is no escaping that, Jak thinks, as his hand reaches greedily to tear a piece of the dosa.The boy peers anxiously at Jak's face. 'Is it all right? I had the sambhar and chutney packed separately!' he says, pointing to two plastic sachets brimming with a green and brown fluid each.Jak nods. 'It's fine. What about you? I asked you to get yourself something too. I hope you did.'Swami smiles. 'Shall I pour the coffee?' he asks, unscrewing the lid of the flask.'How long have you been working here?' Jak asks.'Some months now. Why?''Nothing,' Jak says, feigning indifference. 'Someone I know came here earlier in the year. I was wondering if you remember her. She was your age. Nineteen. She came from Bangalore.'Swami shakes his head. 'There was some problem with that girl. A police case. They sent the clerk and the hotel boy who were here then to Tuticorin. But why? Why do you want to know?'Jak looks at the floor, schooling his features to not give anything away. 'Just curious. I read about the accident.'Swami begins cleaning up. 'I could ask Chinnathayi. She works as the sweeper here. She'll know, I am sure. She knows everything and everyone.'Jak thinks of the elderly woman he has seen sweep the corridor and knows a flaring of something akin to excitement. A feeling that has evaded him for a long time now.'Chinnathayi hasn't come in this morning,' Swami comes back to tell him.What do I do now? Jak asks aloud of himself. But Swami has an answer. 'Sir, why don't you go to the government hospital? All police cases are taken there.' 
The doctor at the district hospital glances at him as he walks into his room. He has the attendant call Jak in despite the long line of patients. 'Yes, yes, what can I do for you?' he beams, eyeing Jak with the rapacious hunger of a vulture waiting for road kill.When Jak explains who he is, the doctor's eyes drop. The smile vanishes. 'Please wait outside. I have a long line of patients, as you can see. Actually, why don't you come another day? I am very busy now,' he says, ringing the bell to alert the attendant.But Jak refuses to leave. He sits there, peering through a crack in the door each time a patient leaves, hoping to catch the doctor's eye. 
'Naked. I remember now. It happened some five-six months ago, right? First week of March, if I am not wrong. How can I forget? How can anyone forget? We were all shocked by the state they brought her in. You know how it is usually... we have to cut the clothing off an accident case but in her case, someone had just flung a cloth over her. It was quite obvious that she didn't have a stitch of clothing on her when she had the accident. It makes you wonder what she was up to.' The government doctor turns the pages of the file in front of him, each flick of paper suggesting the contempt he feels for a young woman who is so careless of her modesty and her NRI father who brought her up so. 
You stare at the man's bent head and want to punch his face. That's my child you are talking about. If it was your daughter, would you be as callous? Would you sit there exhibiting your disapproval and emanating this 'she deserved all that happened to her' attitude?And it wasn't an accident. You know that just as I do. They paid you off to turn it into an accident. Is that what paid for the expensive watch you wear, the mobile in your pocket, the car parked outside? You bastard!You clench your fist, restraining your impulse to haul the man up by his shirt and slam him against the wall.'Please, sir,' Jak grinds the sir out with as much servitude as he can muster, hoping to evoke a slightly less guarded response. 'We, her mother and I, still can't understand how it happened.'The doctor looks up and beyond him. 'Is her mother here?''No.' Jak wipes his forehead with the back of his palm. 'No, she is not here.''You see, that's the problem with you people. You NRIs. You don't understand that grown-up girls need to be with their mothers. You think this is America. You send your daughter back filled with all the permissive ideas you teach them in the West and then when something goes wrong, you blame India for it. She was here with a man, I hear. By herself.''She wasn't here with a man. She was part of a group. They were volunteers in an NGO programme,' Jak tries to interject.The man shrugs. 'A man, a group... Would any Indian girl be so bold? They may have been classmates, but she was alone and who knows what transpired? Didn't you or her mother teach her what to do and what not to do? If you ask me, I would lay the blame at your feet. Her parents.' 
Jak rises from the chair. He will not sit here, listening to this pathetic, corrupt creature lecture him on parental responsibility. What does he know about them? Or her? To him, she is just the naked accident case.'How is she now?' the doctor asks suddenly.Jak pauses. He stares at him. He sees the tapping fingers, the beads of sweat on his forehead; he sees the evasiveness in his eyes,the compromise he has made with his conscience. He sees a man who has doctored the case sheet.'You do know the condition she was in when she left here. What do you think could have changed?' Jak says, feeling his shoulders slump. 
'But hope is all we have. Don't you see that? You have to believe that somewhere in her, there is a part that is still alive. It tells her that things will change. It will bring her back to us. We have to cling to that thought, Kitcha,' Kala Chithi said in that low, measured voice of hers, which he knew so well and loved. All through his life, hers alone had been the voice of reason.They were sitting in Smriti's room the day before Jak left for Minjikapuram. 'Look at this,' he had burst out, demanding she see what he did. The room was filled with all the little odds and ends Smriti had collected in her lifetime. Postcards and pebbles. Feathers and paper clippings. Photographs and books. All day they played her the kind of music she used to listen to. On a wall were shelves of her books. And on all the remaining surfaces, the dolls. Plastic, shell, bone, terracotta, metal, rubber, poly-fibre-filled velvet shod dolls... All of Smriti's dolls that had lain in storage in Nina's attic for the last four years. Nina had complained when Smriti packed them away, 'I wish she would let me give them to the Children's Hospital. Why does she want to keep them?' 
Box after box of dolls from day one to age fourteen and two months, when Jak and Nina separated.When Jak sent for them. Nina's voice had cracked on the telephone: 'What perverse idea is this, Kitcha? What are you planning to do with the dolls? You are not making this any easier for any one of us... to handle this... to deal with this tragedy.''Tragedy! You sound like one of those plastic women in a TV newsroom,' Jak had snarled. 'She is our daughter. You do not get past her or deal with her. Smriti is our child!'Nina's voice was quiet when she spoke next. 'What about Shruti? Think of what this is going to do to Shruti. Do you remember you have another child? Think of h

Anita Nair lives in Bangalore, India. Her books have been published in several languages around the world.  Her last novel, Mistress, was long listed for the 2008 Orange Prize in the UK, and named a finalist for the 2007 PEN/Beyond Margins Award in the U.S. The Lilac House was recently adapted for stage and film in India.