It was the middle of the night, the electricity had been knocked out by the ferocious monsoon storm now raging outside, and I was fast asleep. Tug tug tug. I must have been about ten and spending the night at my aunt’s house, the way I did most nights in the summer. Her husband owned factories in another town and spent every other week there – she usually stayed behind and would ask me to come give her company. Tonight was one of those nights. Tug tug tug. The hand on my shoulder was insistent – but I could sense that it wasn’t trying to wake me up. What the hell?
“What?” I asked, sitting up and blinking in the near darkness.
The room was lit by near-constant flashes of lightning as thunder rolled menacingly overhead. If a man with a bloodsmeared axe had appeared out of the shadows, I wouldn’t have been entirely surprised. It was one of those atmosphere filled nights.
My aunt was sitting crosslegged on her side of the bed (technically, it was her husband’s side of the bed but she took it when I slept over because my uncle had a bad back and had replaced his mattress with a plank of wood – no joke – and I wasn’t such a fan of sleeping on wooden planks). I could barely make her out but I could still see the sheepish expression on her face. “Come over to this side,” she said, after hesitating a little.
She didn’t say anything.
“Are you scared?” I asked. Her fright of thunder storms was legendary in the family. She was the person who wouldn’t answer phones when lightning flashed. She’d disconnect the TV. She’d find a room with the minimum possible windows (difficult because she lives in a quasi-modernist house dripping with windows) to sit in. She has a list of people who were felled by lightning, some of them quite closely related to us. And she’s never slept through a storm in her life.
She made this weird “phoosh” sound which meant she was too embarrassed or unwilling to talk about it. “Just do as I ask you.”
So I did what every caring niece does – I laughed. I mean, I sat there and laughed till I cried. I thought it was the funniest shit I’d ever heard: not only was she scared of sitting in a thunderstorm (something I incidentally love) but she was trying to tug me over to her side of the bed without waking me up in case the sneaky lightning came and caught me. Hilarious!
As you can see, I was not a very nice child.
It took me years to see that scene through her eyes. First off, she lives in the worst possible house a person deathly afraid of thunderstorms can live in and has been living there for about thirty years now. The master bedroom is perched on one corner of the house, at the very top. Since heat rises, the ceiling is rather low, and the room straddles an entire side, the architect decided to put massive amounts of windows on three walls, leaving just the wall that separates the bedroom from the rest of the house.
Worse still, the bed is positioned in such a way that it divides the room in two: the bedroom area and a dressing room area. The bed thus faces the front of the house, with its view of the road at the end of the cul de sac in which they live as well as the gloriously open sky above it. To maximize this effect of living on top of the world, the architect removed an entire wall and gave them a bank of French windows leading on to a balcony instead.
That’s right. Had I been living there, I would have loved it to bits and pieces. My aunt? Not so much. When it rains, she usually draws the (thick) curtains completely closed and lies there imagining the lightning strike to come.
However, this time around, I was in the room with her and the electricity was out. If she’d left the curtains as they were, the room would have become stiflingly hot. She was okay with this – anything to keep those ominous flashes out. But she wasn’t okay with it for me. This, after all, is a woman who used to feed me with her own two hands well into my teenage years. When the electricity would go out in the middle of the night due to non-rainy reasons, she’d sit up and wave a folded newspaper over me as I slept. Heck, my own mother would have told me to dream on if I’d asked her to do anything of the kind.
So she’d gotten up and drawn the curtains half open. She must have been terrified of even going near the French windows – she can barely move a muscle even when she’s with other people in the most secure area she can find, much less rattling around on top of a big empty house with a ten year old channeling Kumbhkaran for company – but she did it. And then she sat in bed, waiting it out, while I comfortably slept on. But the curtains being open on my side of the bed, I probably looked like her worst nightmare: someone felled by lightning as flashes lit my inert body.
People – like me, for instance – can be such assholes.