DEAR MRS. NAIR Nakul Grover
Pennsylvania State University
Aunt Jennifer’s finger fluttering through her wool Find even the ivory needle hard to pull. The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand. --Adrienne Rich, “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers”
Old Mr. M.M. Nair anticipated his death for quite long—every breath was his last, every sunshine a new beginning, and so he lived alone in Delhi with a lizard that wasn’t his, surrounded by a billion people that he had learned to call his own. Solitude, as Mr. M. M. Nair saw it, was a choice, and in India, never challenging. He formed special bonds with the maid and the milkman and the postman and the gardener, slowly leaking into their lives. He had sponsored the postman’s daughter’s wedding, and purchased the diamond ring that sits on her husband’s finger. And of course, his problems became theirs. The milkman’s knees ached with Mr. Nair’s arthritis, and now and then, he would sit by him and massage the old man’s legs. Mr. Nair and the kitchen lizard inhabited the house. The lizard, with imposing black beads for eyes, never complained—the spice-cupboard had enough tidbit-delicacies to chew, and it had an excellent selection of mosquitos to savor after dinner while Mr. Nair watched the cable-channel on TV that played pirated new movies, and sucked ginger flavored toffees. No less than Ganesha with 108 names, the common house gecko had a unique name in every inch of Asia. Mr. Nair conducted ambitious but incomplete research in the hopes of drafting The Nair’s Dictionary of Regional Animal Names. In Bengali, his neighbor Mrs. Bannerjee informed him, geckos were called ticktickis for the tick-tock sound of their gait. “Should I call you Tickticki then?” Mr. Nair asked the lizard, taking its immobility for a yes. How to tell a lizard’s sex? For some reason, she was a she. Geckos possessed a mysterious, feminine air for him—possibly because they were called Chip-Kali in Hindi, like the court-dancer Anar-Kali known for her graceful movements, or because its black, monochromatic eyes showed no utterance. Tickticki had never spoken to him; still, they chose to never roam in the kitchen at the same time. He enjoyed Tickticki’s presence distantly—fearing that in proximity she may drop on his head or crawl on his body. Although he had never heard the sound of a lizard falling on the floor, he imagined a slushy pudge-pudge sound that he wished to avoid.