the shop and Riju were new to the neighbourhood, he had moved here just over a
year ago, and could still remember getting the flyer for its inauguration, the
name spelt in a mix of upper and lower case fancy faux-oriental fonts,
promising happy hours of shopping and a
mix of quirky and exclusive. He had read it casually and forgotten of course,
too raw from the break-up still, too self-absorbed in the puffed up
ramifications of it, with sorting out his new place both inside his head and
outside of it. He had not noticed anything for weeks, though the
banners on the shop window had screamed for attention every morning on the way
to work. He only saw it when the
mannequin was dressed oddly one day, an east-west fusion of accessories and
attire that somehow did not gel, the colours clashing just as much as the
styles, and he had stopped a minute in front of the glass window and wondered
what had gone wrong, his professional eye arrested, somewhat disturbed
even. That was when he had first become
aware of the mannequin.
was strange enough to see a mannequin like her, totally unlike the others used
in the trade, the plasticky uberslim dummies with impossibly shapely
pert-curves and unreal tummy-hollows.
This one looked like an actual person, her hips proportionately ample to
match her great height, her breasts showing a hint of sag, her smile revealing
one slightly crooked canine in a minute but significant acknowledgement of
reality. She looked as though someone
had taken extreme care in the making, a person with great eye for detail. And usually her entire get-up in the window
reflected the same observant eye, the colours in unusual combinations but
almost always near-perfect, the accessories bold or understated but always
pulling the look together, the props harmonising sometimes, at others in
striking contrast but always just
right. He had not paid attention to all
that before except most perfunctorily.
he had been astonished by the very faint frown lines, her smile that seemed a
bit forced, strained as if she was fed up of showcasing the slightly off
look. He did not know what to make of
it, was she always like this, or had she put on the look along with the outfit?
He thought his eyes were playing tricks and he looked away and quickly looked
back; and no, she was frowning a little harder even, there was a look of unmistakable urgency in her eyes. As if
she would say “Don’t just stand there, do something, you dumbass!” any moment.
He had stood unresolved for some seconds before he scribbled “Please
consider changing bangles to silver cuff.
Just a suggestion, please don’t mind,” on a post it note and put it into
the suggestion box shaped like a surahi
next to the door.
the time he had got back in the evening, she was wearing a broad silver cuff
and as he had drawn up close he had seen that it had embellished devanagari engraved on it. And that one little detail had changed her
from almost frumpy to funky. Someone had
painted “Thank you for your suggestions” on the surahi in bold fuchsia letters, or had that message always been
there beyond the sphere of his attention? He was strangely moved and unnerved
as well, but he had put it out of mind sooner rather than later. Too much going on in his life to pay
attention to the imaginary frowns of life-like mannequins.
that point there was still some small hope, albeit simmering low on a
backburner, that Yamini, or Yummy as she insisted on calling herself, would see
things his way and get back together. He
still remembered all they had done together, the anniversaries of privately
valued events, insignificant in themselves when they happened, but momentous
now after the break up. He had to stop
himself from calling her by reflex at odd hours in the middle of some
he would set two mugs on the counter-top and pour out the coffee while half
asleep still, black and rich like she preferred, and then come to when the dark
liquid splashed into the whiteness of the ceramic, and correct the number with
a stricken face which there was no-one to see.
He would hurry into the institute and perhaps an undergraduate student
with a swinging thick bob and a similarly crazy-beautiful shoulder-blade would
stop him in his tracks thinking that she had finally given in and come looking
for him here, and his heart would leap into his mouth and then sink instantly
back at knee level when the girl would turn her face and wish him respectfully
and she would be nothing like the one he had thought her to be, transformed
from his fantasy into his student after all, in just a half-swivel of head. He learnt to live with a residual level of
disappointment always swilling inside him.
Coping kept him busy, and distracted as well.
Meanwhile, the mannequin turned out to be habit-forming.He remained unaware, but his steps would automatically slow while he
passed the shop in the morning, she was usually dressed up, ready in the daily
ensemble, looking him in the eye as he ambled past.There was no fixed pattern that the window
dresser followed, and the mannequin showed off traditional attire as often as
she modelled western, carrying off the entire spectrum from demure to bold with equal aplomb. Without any conscious decision making on his part,
she became a mascot for his days, sending him on his way with a splash of
colours and a smile as a promise for the beginning of it, and marking it still
with the same smile when he got back.
This is an excerpt from my short story The Mannequin, inspired by a mannequin in Buzzaria in Delhi, though she is somewhat different from Riju's mascot :) and of course, she and Riju and their story is completely fictional.
If you haven’t stood still and smelled your
haven’t been walled in, contained, desperate
to freefall into fresh, swirl to someplace else,
tired of knocking against the bricks of wells.
If you haven’t dried into a narrow smudge
or a slimy thread of odorous sludge;
if you haven’t faced down that final threat
that sucks off moisture from each drop of breath
and hangs it up between deathlike and death -
you haven’t learnt what waters teach us yet.
The lotus blooms only when waters still;
and still can be rank, but also tranquil.
Even rankness is a gift, nothing to spurn;
waters flow, and still, and
stagnate by turns.
a friend posted that breath-taking waterscape, and the caption
on it ran something like "Let your life be like flowing water, stagnant waters
smell." And because I have been, um, slightly challenged in the smelling department for a long time now : )