Colors in the Sky

The blazing sun cast a glare upon the land.

Damn these stilettos…She grimaced, stepping on the twisting path. Past the brown, bent railings, the weekly market buzzed loudly, and somewhere a cuckoo called out.

Well, this isn’t Knightsbridge, and I’m not Mrs. Sania Shekhar Dalal—no, not anymore. She smiled wryly and stepped ahead, sand crunching underfoot. Must be such a flurry back home. The Adoption would premiere about now. No, it wasn’t home, not any longer. Had it ever been? She shook her head. But okay—the inner circle, Shekhar’s secretary Miss Rose, the pretty assistant directors, the hanger-ons, the tribe she derisively called “The Yes Ministers”—would be flitting about, black tie events, interviews, publicity snippets. Promo tours and parties. The Red Carpet. Photo-ops. The rush of adrenalin building up…

Not her business anymore. She could do as she pleased. A free bird, free to breathe. No more Mrs. Director, perfectly poised, not a strand out of place, dolled in Versace or lace, flashing a smile and holding hands for the fashion pages. Attending page-three events and parties just to get noticed, always perfectly groomed. “Can we step out here and walk? Just once?” She’d asked her husband as they were returning from a late party, watching families strolling on Carter Road promenade. She’d glanced at his sullen face as he looked up, distracted from his iPad and said, “No, never mind.”

She could do all that now, she was free.

She adjusted the strap of her Nikon. Great light, so much like a radiant halo that she’d seen around a cathedral in Europe, like something from the Old Masters. Maybe she’d get in a long shot, capture an artifact or a withered face in a frame. Or unearth some decent bargains, interesting wood or classic glass or…You never quite knew what found its way here via a network of merchants from the state’s many districts, cities and villages. This Sunday bazaar, the Ravivari, probably functioned in the same way when Emperor Shahjehan began it, five centuries ago.

She trained her lens on mirror work in a medley of silk threads. Past this, wheat was displayed in clay bowls. An array of perfectly burnished brass vessels shone like a King’s ransom. Clay pots, with handmarked designs—a bird, wheat stalks, the sun. Stacked gunny bags heavy with pulses and grain. Stalls that stocked spices, and cures for all the ailments on earth. But above all the hubbub, the frenzy of everything…

Looked like a bazaar in Marrakesh or Cairo, or some place on the silk route.

Anything could happen, here magic was as real as the haze in the air. An enchantment that she’d been missing for so long. If only she could grab this sense of possibility…

She waited a moment at the top of the track before it sloped sharply to the chaos of the market. A silver trickle, somewhat obscured by the haze, lay serene in the distance. Rows of vendors began in all directions and ended abruptly. Perhaps they followed some mysterious classification code? Colors, light, drama, the buzz of a crowd, dust storms, it had that bazaar feel. Now if only this scene were a film shot… She’d pan from the sky downwards and zoom in. She shook herself. No, filmmaking was not her business. Not anymore. Perhaps if she’d understood this, confined herself to interior decoration and shopping and makeup and parties like a good wife…

She drank in the textures as she walked past vendors displaying a jumble of wares. Rich colors, scintillating, heady. But ordinary, she had to admit. Nothing esoteric about this. Not one-of-a kind, nothing that was limited edition, or brag-worthy. Not packed in designer ware, no strategically placed lights for emphasis.

Piles of second-hand clothes, a vendor with spices from distant lands, sets of polyester salwaars, sarees in garish colors, unani and ayurvedic herbs for unexpressed or whispered at-only illnesses.

“Sit down, lady, try some of our special tea. Cures all ills, guaranteed. No more life problems…”

She smiled and gestured for a cup. A tea, a magic spell, a potion…If only she’d known, if only she’d paid heed to the gossips…she would have—would have done what? Worked at a remedy? Worked at being a dutiful wife, obedient, not speaking until she was spoken to, instead of her usual bohemian self? Perhaps switched to sarees and covered her head with a veil, like some stereotype wife from prime-time family serials?

A wizened man with a turban and a broken set of spectacles held together with a wire called out his wares. She turned away with a shake of her head and a smile, though his gleaming brassware collection did seem interesting. “At least take a look! You have to first see! How can you decide unless you see?” he called out.

Take a second look. Perhaps she should have done that—given her marriage and Mr. Hot Shot Director a second chance—instead of politely packing her bags and leaving. When she found that painted trollop—his latest heroine—lolling in his arms that one time she’d returned too early, she should have roared like a tigress and scratched her eyes out. “You bitch, man-stealer, louse!” Spoken the words out instead of thinking them, fought, marked her territory, taken to the gossip press.

“You have to fight for what you own, you know,” that Society editor had said sympathetically, switching off her recorder, “Don’t let it slip away.” Perhaps she was right.

She moved towards a vendor selling old magazines. Stopping at a pile of Popular Photography, she picked out the most current issue she could find.

Mira Desai lives in Mumbai, India, and in addition to a day job in pharmaceuticals, she translates and writes short fiction.