.. an ode to Mina

The first man saw me when I was eighteen . We came to Calcutta to stay at my uncle's house . I was skinny so my aunt fattened me up with mutton and luchis fried to a fine puff , in Dalda ( whoever heard of oil in those days ), chholar dal , plenty of fish and fine basmati rice . They lived in a two room ground floor flat, with my grandmother, who gave up my room ,for my parents and me .

The first "boy" who came to see me was an engineer from IIT Kharagpur , one of the first batches to have passed out ; he worked in America . On the stipulated day , my uncle ,under orders from my father brought back pastries from Flury's which my cousin ogled shamelessly , the greedy thing . I strongly suspect he bought some cakes for her also because she disappeared shortly afterwards , probably to eat one . My aunt fried keema samosas and prepared trays with her best china .

My mother washed and oiled my hair and braided it , pulling out a few tendrils here and there , lined my eyes with surma , powdered my already fair arms and draped a pale blue Benarasi sari around me before taking out the gold jewellery - a long mobchain, jhumko earrings and bangles .   . My aunt was more casual in her striped cotton sari , her hair in a knot at the nape of her neck , no jewellery except for her bangles and small studs in her ears - but strangely enough when the family came they chatted more with her than with Ma and the "boy" kept stealing surreptitious looks at her instead of at me .

My mother did not like him because of that . .She liked my aunt even less - that tall , dark beautiful woman so at odds physically with my mother that she seemed like an exotic flower

Then came others - all well educated , based abroad mostly - there was one that liked me - my aunt chose to keep away from the drawing room , possibly of some diktat from my mother - no samosas were forthcoming this time - they had to do with store bought . My cousin , as usual , banished outside , pulled up the window and peered in unashamedly while we talked . The family went away in their blue ambassador , happy with their choice . I dont remember what the boy looked like , anymore , but yes he was tall   and they were happy to get an IAS' daughter for a bride . But then my mother said she did not want me to go so far away - what if I forgot her ?

Of course my mother did not like  any of the boys that followed thereafter . They were either too short , too dark, too tall - she never ran out of excuses to dislike then

So what with one thing and another , my youth passed and the stream of boys dies down eventually .I stayed on with my parents , first in Calcutta and then in a small university town where my father built a beautiful house and an even more beautiful garden .

Slowly somewhere down the line my mother died . At first I had this tremendous feeling of freedom , of shackles having broken , then s a strange disquiet , as of an ennui , a vacant space that was so huge it threatened to swallow me, a void in which I was free falling with nothing to save me - it was devastating , this sense of loneliness - I often found myself in the red harsh countryside walking along the tracks - ; I had to be rescued twice , not because I wanted to commit suicide but because I was unmindful .

I have no idea why my father got me married off when I was thirty five to a man at least  ten year older, when all the charms of my youth had disappeared ; not because I wanted to - sex had no charms for me - I had no conception of the act , nor did I want any man to touch me - the thought was repulsive .Touch and the violation and assault on my body ,however , was inevitable - not once ,but many times - a harsh buckling exercise that drained me and  culminated in my son being born .

Now I have no companions except for Tota , my wooden parrot . I have not stirred out of the house for over a year now , except sometimes, to buy staples . The man I was married to, lies on a string cot , dirty feet on view , nails long and yellow,snoring copiously , the loud gurgling long drawn snores of a drunkard .

I have not taken my medicines for a week now ,and memories of the past  engulf me to the extent that I am desperate to run ,  packing my clothes in a small bag , taking the keys from where the drunkard has kept them and removing all that is left of my jewellery . I also take some money , enough to buy me a ticket on the through train that will take me home .

I am clear , cogent and untramelled by the effects of the drugs ,that leave me dazed and confused . And I am out of the house -

For now, I am free .


Ruma said...

Loved this, Mallika..just loved this! So incredibly filled with feeling and sadness..

Unknown said...

In continuation of the conversation on FB:
I remember visiting a friend of Victor (most of his friends are older to him). His partner was an ex ballet dancer, somewhere between 52-55, then teaching in a school of her own. At 35, I was the youngest among the women. She asked me how old I was, and when she heard, she said "you are yet to come into full blossom!"

Thinking Cramps said...

This was totally worth the wait. So powerful - I read this 15 minutes ago, then came back to read it again before I felt like I could comment.

Sue said...

This made me feel awful, RM. Not least because I know a mother like this.

devapriyaroy said...

It is a very powerful piece M. And so vivid; so affecting. Every image lingers.

hillgrandmom said...

Beautiful Mallika!

Rajani Arya said...

Really a beautiful and effective piece i have read in long time dear.(Can't find any other word right now other than 'dear')
Thank you sooo much for writing and sharing this with us.