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aeon /ˈiːən/ n: I feel old. I know I am not wizened and ancient, yet I feel like I have lived for ages. Sometimes I see young people, their faces smooth and unlined, hair shiny and sleek, luminescent with youth. And they look wise and experienced, like they have seen everything, felt everything, learnt everything. I am forty-two, this strange age between juvenescence and old age. I feel young sometimes, my hair whipping around me as I swing on the rope in our garden. But I feel old too, my eyes weighing down on me when my memories inundate me: memories I didn’t know I had, memories that I want to forget but at the same time remember. There are so many things I recall, that it seems like I have existed for decades. Centuries. Yet I feel like I am ageless, not easily defined.
benediction /ˌbɛnɪˈdɪkʃ(ə)n/ n: I remember the day my daughter was born, holding her small wrinkly body in my sweaty, tired hands. How I had longed for this day, to be able to create something out of my own cells, my very own matter. Something alive and wriggling, something that needed me, wanted me. Something that clung to my little finger like it was a lifeline. I named her Nalika: lotus. Those soft pink hands and delicate pink mouth. Soft like flower petals, delicate like them too. Floating on ripples of water, dancing gracefully with the pond. Thank you, I thought, lifting my head up to the hospital ceiling, hoping to see the gods smiling down at me. They were not apparent, but they had given me a daughter, hadn’t they? A blessing.
chanteuse /ʃɑːnˈtəːz/ n: The small platform was dimly lit, yet lit enough so that I could be seen, the flush on my face visible to any viewer. My first hen party, embarrassing and strangely exhilarating. Inebriated, I sang Kim Wilde’s “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” pouring my soul and passion into it. One could really believe I was talking about a misleading, cruel lover. In all that drunken haze, I can only remember a young man, his ebony black hair wildly curly, approaching me after I stumbled off the stage. “Your voice is beautiful,” he told me. “Oh…really?” I said, blinking rapidly to focus on him. “That’s lovely to hear.” “I’m Aengus,” he said, his Irish lilt lacing his words. “I’m Lekha,” I replied. “Gosh, that’s a pretty name,” he said. “Perfect for a chanteuse like you.” A year later, we were married.
damask /ˈdaməsk/ n: The walls were coated in damask, the table shrouded in a heavy damask tablecloth. “The owner must really like damask,” Aengus whispered in my ear as the estate agent showed us around the house. “Shhh, be quiet,” I whispered, trying not to giggle. Aengus was right, though. The owner had a fancy for the thick, heavy material. Looking back on it now, the walls looked like the 221B walls in Sherlock. It was bold, yet elegant. It gave character, life to the house. “We’ll take it,” we told the estate agent, after two days of deliberation. We didn’t change the wallpaper or the tablecloth (which the owner so kindly left behind). We called the house Damaskus.
elision /ɪˈlɪʒ(ə)n/ n: Can you feel anger and joy at the same time? The emerald hand-ring bracelet seared and cooled my hand, the green gem glittering. “But Aengus, you shouldn’t have done this!” I cried. “This must have cost a fortune – we need that money to buy new furniture!” My face was hot, my jaw firmly set. “Lekha, darling, I bought it for you. I saw it on the way home and I couldn’t resist buying it. Look, see how it radiates on your delicate hand,” he said tenderly, lifting it to press it to his lips. “But all the money we saved,” I sobbed, wiping away a salty tear. “How will we get it back?” He shrugged, his luminous green eyes sparkling. “I don’t know yet.” “I hate you,” I told him, giving him a dark stare. Then as the emerald winked at me, I flung myself into his arms. “I love you, you gorgeous fool.”
fable /ˈfeɪb(ə)l/ n: “Do you know what that chaffinch is saying?” Aengus asked me, his head on my shoulder, the weak rays of sun dabbing our skin. “No, you tell me,” I said, smiling. He looked at me with his large lucid eyes, his face solemn. “He’s saying that he’ll miss our garden and all the flowers we’ve grown. He loves the seeds we keep for him in the feeder and the way we watch over him lovingly.” “He’s like my little son,” I said, tilting my head slightly to look at his puffy, miniscule body. “He’ll be gone when it starts to snow.” “But he says he’ll come back,” Aengus replied. “He’ll come back unfailingly, loyally, ready to start a new life in the spring. He doesn’t want to go anywhere else. Our garden is everything he loves. Even if it changes, even if we’re gone, he’ll come back here because he doesn’t have the heart to go anywhere else.”
guttural /ˈɡʌt(ə)r(ə)l/ adj: My breathing was harsh and ragged; the world went by me in a blur. “Oh my God,” I gasped, straining to push even though I was weary and wanted to sleep. “You’re doing a great job, love,” Aengus said encouragingly. My head reeled, my vision shaky, my ears blurring out the doctor’s words. The sound of my breathing amplified until that was the only thing I heard. Aengus’s anxious face was the last thing I saw before the blackness. When I woke up, resisting my eyes that wanted to close, I saw Aengus sitting in a chair by the bed, his head hanging low, black curls covering his face. “Where is she?” I croaked, not seeing my baby in my arms. He looked up, his eyes glistening. “Too early,” he whispered, his lips trembling. “She came too early.” “Where is she?” I cried, my voice rising. “What have they done with my Dayanita?” Aengus looked at me, unmoving. The sobs shuddered their way up my throat and burst out into an agonised scream. It rang through the maternity ward, the corridors of the hospital, like it was trying to find my lost child.
halcyon /ˈhalsɪən/ adj: Those long Delhi days, winding through the bustling bazaar of Dilli Haat, jewellery in our hands that were adorned in henna. The lively chatter of happy shoppers, the ethereal sound of sitars and singers in the background, the smells of fresh naan and chaat. Those days were happily spent as I ensconced myself in colourful cloths, mirrored cloth lanterns, ethnic art. And those days on the terrace of our house, inhaling the sweet aroma of the small champa flowers, dancing to music of my own, of the pigeons and crows and car horns, as the golden evening sunlight doused my skin. Those days when I helped my mother and sister make sweets, drinking hot chai and eating soft pound cakes and flaky kachoris. Those hot summer days when my sister and I would skin fleshy mangoes and devour them with our hands, golden nectar dripping down our arms. Those days when I did not know words like heartbreak or loss.
ilantu / ɪlantu/ adj: My grandmother always told me she never felt ilantu, would never feel it as long as she had her family with her. Losing. Feeling lost, not knowing who you are. Such a beautiful word, isn’t it? But so sad. Tamil sadness, Tamil loss. That was who I was when my second child was taken away from my womb. Was ilantu. I felt ilantu too, didn’t know who I was, whether I was a failed mother or an unlucky victim. I would wander the hallways of the damasked house, losing myself inside them, not knowing which way to turn to go to my bedroom, to go downstairs, to go check on Nalika in her room. Outside, I saw happy parents with their happy children. And then I would look at my only child, darling Nalika, who lost the chance to be an elder sister. I would look at Aengus, who lost a daughter too. And then I would look at my flat stomach that Dayanita had ripped out of, only to be lost to me – to us – forever. Ilantu.
jasmine /ˈdʒasmɪn/ n: “Stay still,” my mother would say, trying to plait my hair into a thick, glossy braid, spangled with jasmine blooms. “You won’t get a proper hairstyle if you don’t sit like a statue.” I would sit as patiently as I could, breathing in the tranquil aroma of jasmine. When she was done, I would go to the mirror, twisting my head to try and get a glimpse of the soft white petals lying in my swathe of ebony hair. Jasmine, the flower that made everything look beautiful, smell beautiful. When Dayanita was in my womb, Aengus and I plastered jasmine wallpaper in the nursery and decorated it with jasmine flowers. And after she had gone, we hadn’t the heart to tear the wallpaper down. Only to remove the decaying flowers and replace them with new ones. But I couldn’t replace my pure, innocent daughter that I loved and had wanted to love even more. When I smell the jasmine in her room, visions fill my head: her crying, giggling, talking, sitting up, walking, me plaiting her hair with jasmine, growing up. And then I blink back into the present and realise I’m sitting in an empty room filled with dead jasmine flowers that need to be replaced.
kalon /kəˈlän, (ˈ)ka¦l-/ n: Those blurry weeks, the skies seeming grey and cold when the sun actually shone and spread warmth. When flowers smiled at me, dipped their delicate heads in reverence, while I turned away and scowled because they were happy when I wasn’t. Staring down at my stomach, wondering how it could have nurtured a child so incorrectly that she didn’t live to know who begot her. I was damaged, physically and mentally. I was a failure. The dark colours crept out into the world, until I thought everything was bleak and ugly. And then, Angus and Nalika led me out of the gloom. “Do you know what kalon means?” Aengus asked, cupping my chin in his palm. I shook my head. “Tell her, Nalika.” My little daughter obligingly recited, “It means ‘beauty,’ Mummy. It means you.” “And it means the flowers, the tree, the rivers, the green meadows, and our little chaffinch in the garden,” Aengus added. Slowly the bright colours seeped back into my life. I saw the flowers as beautiful once more, the dull grey pebbles in the garden, the blackened tree in the garden next door. The black film had been lifted from my eyes.
light /lʌɪt/ n: The soft amber flame glowed on my sister’s face, highlighting the angles of her face. “Here,” I said. “Place this one outside the door.” She took the terracotta diya and placed it on one side of the entrance, carefully stepping over the kolam as she did so. The whole house was alight with flickering little flames, with joy and love. Our hair was plaited with jasmine, the sweet scent emanating from our hair. Our wrists, adorned with silver bangles, tinkled as we moved them. Our eyes, neatly lined in kajal, lips gently coloured with lipstick, hands decorated in henna. “Let’s have sweets,” my father said, stepping aside as my sister and I raced each other to the kitchen. “I want the first laddoo!” I exclaimed. We bit into those golden orbs of sugar and ghee, licking our lips in delight. “Happy Diwali,” we all wished each other. My parents took the sweets too, all of us standing in the glimmering kitchen. Outside, a glimmering world.
maya /ˈmɑːjə/ n: I tiptoed to Nalika’s room, gently pushing the door open, peeking in to check on her. Was she still in the bed? I crept in, trying not to make the floorboards creak. I breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing her breathing body tucked underneath the sheets. I counted her fingers and toes in the dark, checking to make sure she had ten. I counted her eyes, ears, lips, and everything I could think of lest they slowly dissolve from my view, a mere illusion that I had built my life around. I knew the power of maya, the Hindu illusion. I didn’t want that to happen to me. I went back to my bedroom, counted the digits on Aengus too, counted the black curls on his head, counted the little breaths he made. I made sure he didn’t fade in front of me. I tried to go back to sleep, but I was petrified of waking up to a cold, empty bed, an empty house. Maybe waking up in a ditch instead of a bed, not even in our cosy Bristol cottage, survivor of a car accident I didn’t even remember. I was scared that once my Dayanita was snatched away from me, my whole life would come crumbling to pieces, shattering to shards, evanescing into mist like it had never existed at all.
nascent /ˈnas(ə)nt/ adj: After meeting Aengus, I felt different – bouncier, more jubilant. And he opened my eyes to things I had not seen before. He took me to London, surprised that I was now living in England without ever having fully explored the glorious capital city. He took me to Dublin and Limerick, showing me a way of life I had never known. Teaching me random facts about random things. Showing me castles and museums and sculptures that were until then only familiar through pages of books. I felt like I was born again, bewildered, fascinated, innocent like a baby, absorbing everything around me. My first love, beautiful and intoxicating. And Nalika’s birth, leaving me wondrously exhausted, wanting to sleep, but desperately needing to touch her creamy skin, her tiny wriggling toes, her wispy hair, her button nose. Looking at her like I’d never seen a baby before, like I was a baby myself, seeing things for the first time. Losing Dayanita, feeling my first heartbreak, my first true pain, learning to reconcile with my loss, learning to smile and laugh and love again, learning how to wipe the tears from my face. I have lived so many times without dying.
obvolute /ˈɒbvəl(j)uːt/ adj: The days and nights, sometimes so chilly and lonely. Shivering with cold, aching with loss. Curling into a ball, foetal position, to keep warm. To comfort myself. To feel young and unworried again. And I would overlap with Aengus, our bodies entangling, trying to snatch the heat off each other. Trying to snatch our heartbreaks away. “Are you cold?” I would say to him. “Gosh, yes,” he would reply. Huddled under the blankets, we would wrap ourselves in each other, our hearts palpitating against our bodies as one. We didn’t want to be alone, wanting to be one being, blending into each other. In the morning, we would find Nalika in between us, her limbs seamlessly meshing with ours. Perhaps she felt lonely too, a loss that could not be healed. We spent our days as broken people, spent our nights whole.
panacea /ˌpanəˈsiːə/ n: A steaming hot cup of tea, mixed with elaichi, sugar, cloves, and a lot of love. The remedy for sorrow, loss, shattered souls. Holding the deliciously hot cup in my hands, I can feel my worries drowning in my stomach, dissolving with the scalding tea sliding down my throat. “How do you deal with a loss?” Aengus once asked me, his eyes red from crying. “How can you get over a brother, a best mate?” “I don’t know if you can,” I murmured candidly. “I don’t think I’ll get over it. It will haunt me, just like Dayanita.” As the tears slipped down his face, I slowly got up to make chai. I placed the cup in his trembling hands, watching him as he sipped it, taking deep shaky breaths to try and calm himself down. “Why does your chai always soothe me?” he asked. “It’s brimming with heat, warmth, love, and spices,” I said. “And tea is always calming, isn’t it?” He nodded, his eyes downcast, his shaking fingers gripping the cup handle. I scooted my chair closer to his, gently pried his fingers off the handle, lifted it to his mouth. I let the chai trickle down his throat as he let out a small sigh, his lips curling into the faintest smile. Then he turned to me and whispered, “I would be nowhere without your chai and you in my life. Both of you close my wounds, pick up my broken pieces, glue me back together. You two heal me.”
quiver /ˈkwɪvə/ v: I sat up in bed, my breaths rapid, my body juddering with fear. Sweat was trickling in rivulets down my face, chilly like ice water was leaking out of my insides. My eyes were wide open, trying to adjust to the dark room, scanning it for familiar objects. I hoped my nightmares weren’t real. I had lost Dayanita all over again, the pain of childbirth ravaging my body. I had seen Nalika’s battered body, victim of a terrible accident that occurred in school when I was not there. I was so scared to send her off on her first day of school; my worries crept into my sleep. And I had rushed into the hospital, down to the emergency wing, to be by Aengus’s side. His beaten face still haunted me, projecting on the bedroom walls like an afterimage. Aengus shifted by my side, and I looked down, trying to subdue my lingering fear. “Lekha?” he asked groggily. “Are you okay? Why are you sitting awake?” Tears suddenly flooded from my eyes, and I started trembling from the cold of fear. “I thought you were injured…Nalika dead…losing Dayanita…” The words could no longer form on my tongue. He sat up and rubbed me on my back. “Darling, it was just a nasty nightmare. None of it was true.” “I know,” I sobbed. “But I can’t help feeling scared.” I held out my palms, upturned. “Save me,” I whispered, desperately needing comfort. “Okay,” Aengus whispered gently, placing his warm hands in mine, swiftly felling me to scoop me closer to him. He fit me inside the curve of his lithe body, his warmth rolling onto me in waves. “Shh,” he whispered. “You’re safe now. Nothing can harm you.”
reverberations /rɪˌvəːbəˈreɪʃn/ n: Mick Jagger’s energetic voice pumped in the background, directing my body to move twirl, leap, shake. Aengus was by my side, attempting to do a tango with me, but I had to tell him that the Rolling Stones weren’t exactly tango music. So we danced to moves we made up, doing air guitar, thrashing our bodies like rockers. A flood of nostalgia came back to me as I remembered hearing some of those songs on the radio in Delhi. Dancing on the dirty white tiled floors that were wanting mopping, impervious to my surroundings. Singing ‘Funkytown’ in my best sold-out concert voice, disco dancing in my bedroom. And now I was dancing with Aengus, dancing wildly, trying to lose ourselves in the flood of music. And then ‘How Deep is Your Love’ played, and Aengus got down on one knee and sang all the lyrics to my red, heated face. “Deep like a bottomless abyss,” I whispered, the words spilling out of me. He slowly got up, switched the song to ‘More Than I Can Say,’ and we danced slowly together until the world dissolved around us, leaving only our dancing bodies and the vibrations of music underneath our gliding feet.
saudade /souˈdädə/ n: There are times when I desperately wish I could transport myself back to my childhood, those golden days. I am sometimes doused with a wave of emotions, the strongest nostalgia and longing. Longing for my lost child, for Aengus’s brother who had been my great companion while he was alive. Longing for the first days of Aengus and I, when we only knew happiness. When I was only known as ‘Lekha,’ the young Indian immigrant with her whole life ahead of her. Now I am ‘Lekha, Mummy,’ the mother who outlived her second child. When I flip through photo albums of my younger days, the tears slowly seep out of my eyes, saddened for all that I have lost. All that I have become. My young, glowing face, emanating happiness, my arms around Aengus’s neck. December 2003, Christmas in Limerick. Me, grooving to some song at a party, beaming a hundred-watt smile. November 1991, Diwali in Delhi. Those days before I knew what was to come. Am I a terrible person for reminiscing about the days before my children? But how can I help it, if I am filled with a grievous loss that can never be returned? Oh, the nostalgia that shrouds me. Where have those days gone?
tellurian /tɛˈljʊərɪən/ n: The wind gently rustled the verdant leaves, my little chaffinch landing on a branch. He chirped happily, and I burst into a smile. My darling little chaffinch, back in our garden once more. What had Aengus said? The chaffinch would always be back because our garden was everything he loved? It was only a story he made up, yet it had come true. And suddenly I was so proud to be walking on this beautiful orb, lush grass cushioning my feet, the refreshing breeze kissing my cheeks, the symphony of nature wafting into my ears. The squirrels that frolicked and nibbled furiously, the dancing trees, the soaring birds and their enchanting birdsong. I felt like my eyes had been replaced by clearer, better ones. I was privy to such beauty, such unceasing rhythm. Nature stops for no one, yes? I passed a fat squirrel chomping on something, perched on a small rock. “Good day to you,” I said, giving him a wave. He looked up, his bright little eyes affixed on me, and moved his paw slightly. I walked on and he continued chomping. Just two neighbours, two small dwellers on this giant, beautiful earth.
ululate /ˈʌljʊleɪt/ v: The howl tore its way up my throat, out of my mouth, emanating from my body. So raw, so much agony. “How can he be dead?” I screamed, my eyes overflowing with tears, my nails digging into my hands. “HOW?” Aengus stroked my head gently, making soothing noises. “Love, it’ll happen to all of us. Fathers aren’t immortal. Neither are mothers, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends. Someday we’ll all be claimed.” “But how could he leave me like that?” I sobbed. “First my daughter, now my father. I can’t bear it, Aengus. How will I ever be happy again?” Nalika appeared by my side, my emerald hand-ring bracelet in her young palms. Wordlessly, she took my hand and slipped it on, stepping back when she was done. I lifted my heavy head from Aengus’s shoulder, staring at the jewellery. Oh, it was so beautiful. Just like Aengus. Nalika. A fresh batch of tears poured forth from my eyes as I clasped my family close to me. “I never want to lose you in my lifetime,” I whispered. “You two are even more precious than this emerald.” As I wailed in loss, my loves hugged me even tighter, murmuring me to quiet sobs.
vivacious /vɪˈveɪʃəs/ adj: “Let’s dance!” Aengus exclaimed, grabbing my hand. “We haven’t danced in so long!” I exclaimed, the music pumping through my bones. “Then it’s about time we did,” he replied, a boyish grin on his face. He grabbed Nalika too, chuckling as she squealed in delight. “Why are you doing this, love?” I giggled, allowing him to twirl me around. “Because,” he said, his breath hot on my face, “we haven’t lived in so long. We must inject life back into our veins, colour our cheeks red, make our eyes sparkle. All three of us, Lekha, have seen death. We cannot allow ourselves to prematurely wither away. We must live again.” I stopped dancing and stared at him. Stared at Nalika, who was humming to the song. I was blessed to have them. We were all blessed to have each other. Aengus was right. We must not die before our time. I clasped their hands and let the music cleanse my saddened skin, rush down my throat, warm my stomach. I let it control me as I danced with my beautiful family. I let it make me live.
waif /weɪf/ n: “Mummy, can we keep this poor kitty?” I looked down at Nalika, smudges of dirt soiling her face, her hands grubby with goodness-knows-what. A titchy kitten stared out of her cupped palms, its luminous azure eyes sorrowful. “My goodness, where did you find this?” I asked, ushering Nalika in. No one came to claim the kitten, so I told Nalika it could be ours. We took it to the vet, gave her shots, and made room for her in our home. Elaichi, we called her. Aengus and I loved her, always wanting to cuddle her. She loved all of us, yet she took a fancy to Nalika, purring happily when she came in the room. They would frolic together on the floor, laughing and mewling. They were like sisters, I realised. This little kitten had magically delivered herself to us, entered our lives to fill that void. The little kitten, capable of being so much. A sister. A daughter.
xenolith /ˈzɛnəlɪθ/ n: The first time I stood in Heathrow, I felt so insignificant. The airport thrummed around me, people walking briskly, looking smart in their neatly cut suits and their leather handbags. They all knew what they were doing and where to go. I had flown before, but having never been to Heathrow, I was lost. I was afraid to speak, though I knew the language well. I brought my trusty Wren & Martin grammar book, lest I forget all my English. I went through pronunciations in my head, trying to expel my foreignness. I have an accent now after years of living here. Britain is now my home. I love the people, the customs, the pastries, the beautiful countryside. Yet I am still Indian and always will be. I have allowed Britain to envelope me and give me a home. But I will always feel like some part of me doesn’t completely belong – that it rests in the land of beautiful colours, elegantly knotted banyan trees, eternal sunlight, and Ambassador taxis.
yajna /ˌyəjn(y)ə/ n: I opened the cupboard, the house quiescent, Nalika and Aengus having left for school and work. I would work from home today; there were things I needed to resolve. Alone. The gods stared back at me, waiting for what I had to say. I lit an incense stick, a sweet sandalwood aroma wafting around me. I placed my palms together and closed my eyes. Oh Holy Ones, I offer you my sadness. It is time I moved on, I think. I don’t know why you claimed my innocent daughter but I shall not question your decisions. I only ask that she is safe. So take my sadness and dissolve it. I will try to be happy. I will try to not regret my motherhood. I dropped to my knees, prostrate on the floor. Goodbye Dayanita, my sweet, darling daughter. Watch over your mother who has long grieved for you. Watch your mother bid you farewell. I felt her presence over me, watching with the gods. I felt something gush out of me, fiery yet icy. A catharsis. The purging of grief. Yet some still clung to my insides, remains of what I had given up. Oh Dayanita, how can I forget you? This is goodbye, yet it is not. The incense swirled around me. When the last plume of smoke curled around my face, I knew that she had gone.
zenith /ˈzɛnɪθ/ n: I reside at the top of a mountain. The mountain of my life. Mount Lekha. Slowly my eyes became more lucid and a feeling of wisdom began to trickle into me. I have seen so much – enough for nine lives. I am elderly in a younger body. And yet I am younger in an older body. I stand on my mountain and look down at my life. What I have done to get here. What I will do to get down. But I do not think I want to descend. I want to stay here reflecting on my life. I want to feel wise and ancient, the knowledge of who I am sunken in my bones. I want to twirl on the apex and shout “I am Lekha and this is my life!” I want to explore every atom that makes me. For this I shall stay.