Sri’s house was always full of sounds. Its little dimensions and the fact that she lived alone only accentuated these sounds, giving them a theatrical touch. Everything in the house somehow managed to get in touch with some other thing and resulted in a noise. Legs of her bed screeched when they skidded over the floor, the chair creaked every time she sat on it, the utensils in the dilapidated dish container would slip off their regular positions and strike against each other, and then there were some rats, housed inside the soft cushions of the sofa that she had brought along with her from her father’s home. They nibbled persistently on the foam and the little leftovers that they managed to carry to their safe place. But this nibbling was something she had, grown used to, with the passage of time, like her husband’s snores and the weird sound that he used to produce when he orgasmed. The sofa with the rats nibbling inside it, in a sense, was a constant reminder of her marriage and of her husband.
Rattling in the kitchen woke Sri up, and soon, all the utensils that she had cleaned the other night and had placed on the cabinet were on the floor. ‘I must do something about the rats, today it is the utensils, but in the days to come it might as well be the Gods’, she mused, thinking about the photo frames of the Gods placed precariously on the top shelves in the kitchen. Yawning, she fell asleep again.
Some time passed and then her mobile phone rang. She had always, or at least for so long as she had had a mobile, been woken up by the same tone of Krishna’s flute. The tone that she had gotten saved on her mobile phone by Ashok, the mobile vendor in her locality. It was the first time she had talked to a stranger about a subject she knew almost nothing about, and she had waited for her husband to come back from work, to tell him everything about the conversation, and let him judge if that was appropriate of her to talk to an unknown man like that.
After she had come back home from the mobile shop, her thoughts had invariably strayed to the night of her marriage. The night when she had sex with her husband. She had known so little about sex then. And there she was decorated for it and was supposed to do it with a person about whom she knew even lesser. The details came back to her vividly. How he had feigned a smile at her, had waited for her to speak something, and then as if bored, had begun to undress her, removing all she had on her body, one after the other, her saree, the jewellery, the underclothes, and as if that was not enough he had then put his erect penis in her soft hands. How a pang of fear had rushed through her body, just like she had felt before entering the exam hall she was ill-prepared for. What had followed was a sensation so cold that her body had chilled, convincing her that she’d never be able to move her limbs. ‘Be shy about everything you are asked to do inside the bedroom’ her aunt had advised.
‘About what?’ she had asked.
‘That you’ll know tonight. But remember, shying away always comes to the rescue’.
And so she lost the grip of the penis and turned her face away. When she had looked at her husband’s face, he had looked so disappointed, and she had wanted to hold it, just to please him, to amend something that was not even wrong.
She had, upon her husband’s request, kept her bangles on, and when he was inside her, pushing his body against her as if the next thing he was about to do was to roll her over the bed onto the ground, the bangles had clanked against each other, all while the sex, near her ears. Those sounds, the clanking of the bangles, her husband’s gasps, the screeching of the bed, and her own enfeebled moans have stayed in her memory, together, and no matter how hard she’d try they refused to separate. He had asked her to do certain things that had then seemed quite abnormal. It had puzzled her as to why would any girl take the organ from where the boy pees into her mouth.
That night, he had come on her bare stomach twice in short gaps. She didn’t exactly remember how she felt and how long he lasted but that was because she didn’t know if the act was also to pleasure her, as if the prolonged penetration was capable of enhancing satisfaction. She was only told of the responsibilities. Be shy and be responsible. And she had won on those lines. A rat raced from across the room and started to climb using the quilt that was touching the ground. She gave the quilt a jerk and the rat took a detour disappearing into the sofa. It was time to get up, she thought.
She got up, joined her palms in front of her breasts, mumbled a prayer, used her right leg to bring the slippers out from under the bed, and made her way to the kitchen. She took her slippers off at the kitchen’s door and scanned the top shelves for the Gods. The frames were intact. She bowed before them and then bent some more to pick the utensils up.
In her village, across the street where Sri used to live, lived Mr Naresh. Till she was thirteen, she had thought that his name was ‘Seth Ji’ for everyone around her used to call him that. It was only when a few Christian Nuns had begun to come to her village, to teach students like her — poor and not so privileged — and when she had learned how to read, did she come to know that his name was Naresh. It was written in front of his shop above which he lived. Inside Seth Ji’s house was the television, housed inside the square wooden cabinet with tiny doors fitted for its protection. The only television in the village. It was on that television that she had watched the Bollywood movies, in parts, till as long as she along with the others were allowed to. Life had seemed so simple in the movies, eventful yet simple. The hardships that the actor underwent were always rewarded in the form of a beautiful girl. Love was never easy, the movies had taught her, but it was always a one-time affair. The pursuit, onerous as it was, resulted in a togetherness that lasted forever. Love ignited once, burnt forever; and beauty that managed to lure the lover, never seemed to fade.
By the time she was done taking care of the things inside the kitchen, it was eight. She came to the room and headed towards the calendar. She picked up the pen hung by the side of the calendar and stroked the yesterday’s date out. All the past dates on the calendar were stroked out. She looked at the television mounted on the tin can that contained wheat in it, and the Television had to be lifted off it whenever she ran out of the flour. So many days had passed since the television was last switched on. There was a time when it would be on for hours at a stretch when her husband used to watch cricket matches. But, when she thinks of it now, she realises that they have had never watched a movie together on it. He worked in a factory nearby, and by the time he came back home, he was energetic enough only for the sex. Not that she was not thankful for that, she loved his body over hers, even when he refused to take the bath and jumped over her as soon as he came back. I have learned a new position today, he said to her on certain days, and every time he said that she had wanted to ask ‘Where from’, but her aunt had admonished her against questioning on anything, at least till the permanency kicked in. But when Sri had asked ‘And when would that happen?’ her aunt had nudged Sri by her elbow, and so Sri never actually got to know if they had already reached that level of ‘permanency’ in their relationship.
She sat on the bed and picked up a notebook she had been practising handwriting on. She had promised the Nuns, who had taught her, that she would come to meet them, at least once every year. The Nuns, thinking practically, had asked her to just write something up whenever she missed them, and that if she did that, they would know of her love. How transforming has had the act of learning been for her, she thinks. And what would have become of her, had it not been for the Sisters who selflessly devoted their times to teach children like her? Especially after her husband had abandoned her for another woman.
She heads to the wall and takes the current year’s calendar off, the last year’s calendar surfaces. She shuffles its pages and reached to the first date that was stroked. June, 13th. On the night of 12th, her husband had announced to her that he had impregnated a woman, and that it happened by chance, he had added, as if having sex with someone was a happenstance. He had disclosed the news to her in such a nonchalant way that it seemed like a joke. Like the way couples in the movies tease and test each other. But in their marriage there were no jokes, he worked hard, all during the day, and they had sex in the night, some times before he had dinner and sometimes after it. On the same night he had told her about the woman, he had packed the trunk with his belongings and had moved to the other lady’s house. ‘She won’t be able to raise the baby all alone’, he told Sri, ‘she is only seventeen’. Flummoxed, Sri had wanted to ask, ‘but what about me?’ But then that would have been a question and her aunt had warned her against it. And before leaving home, he had told her that he would ensure to send her money, more than she’d need, every month. And that she could live in the same place and he’d pay the rent.
Sri misses her aunt a lot lately. Her aunt had died a year back. Sri wishes that her aunt were still around so that Sri could go to her and confront her one final time. To tell her how wrong she had been — all her advises, her disinclination to answer Sri’s questions, and her attempt to contain marriages in certain accepted notions. Notions that now seem as apocryphal. Bollywood movies weren’t any better. In life, what began in a smile didn’t necessarily result in perpetual laughter. And love. Love was tricky. The flame that once ignited, if not properly paid attention to, was often doused. But sometimes, she is convinced now, even if one pays all their attention to it, the flame is doused by a gust of wind that blows out of nowhere.
Akarsh Jain is an Engineer if one were to go by the long-abandoned degree that rests peacefully between the pages of a folder. He was born in Ashoknagar -- a town in the heartland of India. He works full time as an IT professional in Bengaluru, where he lives without any pets and without any wife but this is only because his work-life balance might be injurious to the pet and to the wife. He loves to read.