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The Unfaithful Woman
written by: Payal Phukan
What is your hobby? For many years of my life, the answer to this question remained “Colouring books” which later got promoted to “Painting”, a modified version of my interest that made me sound more artistic. Adding hues to the desolate characters staring back at me from the pages of my newly bought colouring book, gave me a sense of pride and joy. I felt like a rescuer bringing them back to life as I decorated their clothes with vibrant colours and tinted their faces with shades of pink, red and yellow. The lips were always filled with darker shades of pink and the eyes with the darkest black. It made them look happy which felt like an accomplished mission during those days.
It was a sunny afternoon. The hot air blowing in the room curled around my neck and woke me up from my post lunch nap. Argh, I hate summer! I rummaged through the underside of my pillow to look for a hair clip or rubber band but unable to find it, I pulled up my hair to make a hair knot. After that, I pulled the aanchal of my saree which laid on the mattress revealing my poor blouse which failed to conceal my magnificent breasts. I rushed to the kitchen and made myself a cup of tea. As I sat there watching television, a commercial reminded me of how we disputed over the remote control, esp. during commercials. Suddenly, an acute nostalgia choked my throat and the room seemed to be in dearth of air. I frantically turned off the television and proceeded towards the door. Despite the scorching heat outside, it felt cooler and better. It made me uncomfortable how frequent thoughts of him disrupted the tranquillity of my mind. Even after a year, things haven’t changed.
Born in a typical Indian middle-class family, I was prepared to be a “home-maker” from the age of 12. I was taught cooking, knitting, cleaning, washing and all other household chores. While I gained mastery over it, I never gave up adding colour to my canvass, instead, I began telling stories with my delicate brush strokes.
After 8 years of prolonged practice to be a perfect housewife, I was given the opportunity to display my expertise. Few ladies with two gentlemen arrived at my house soon after I wrote my last paper of graduation. I still remember how my mother made me rehearse sitting and smiling at people to the exact amount that makes me look shy, yet confident; how questions must be answered with little nods and few soft spoken words. I believe I demonstrated the expected behaviour because I got married to one of the gentlemen in the following month itself. My mother said that age makes up for some part of the dowry; the lower the age, the lesser the dowry. However, in my case I was extremely fortunate as the gentleman seemed to like me so much that he refused to take any dowry. That made me like him more too.
We were married for four years then. He often had to travel for business. I used to eagerly wait for him and paint. I painted pictures to gift him, to tell him to return soon. However, those paintings remained behind the sheets in the dark lit room that he built for me, which I called “My Gallery”.
It was one fine evening when I received a letter at my doorstep. The letter, though sent to the correct address, was written to some Kavya I did not know. But I could not resist the temptation of reading it. It spoke a tale of bereavement, of tragedy, but more than that it spoke of love; a kind of love that I had never felt. I chose to send him one of my paintings which pictured a girl dancing in the rain. I painted it when I was 15. It rained after a long time, that day. I rushed to the backyard to protect the half-dried clothes which were hung in plastic ropes to sunbath. After successfully sheltering the clothes, I began admiring the heavy downpour through my window. It created ripples on the land and released a fragrant smell of wet soil. I fell in love with that smell. Whenever it rains, I still look for that scent, but it dies somewhere along the path while travelling to my 12th floor apartment.
A week after I had gifted my painting, a man named Kabir came looking for me. I had made it clear that friendship or any interaction was not my motive; it was only a prompt and reckless response. However, he constantly insisted on talking to me, to which I gradually gave in.
He began paying me frequent visits and I began liking it. I learnt that he was a poet although he struggled as a salesman throughout the day. He told me tales through his poetry and I did the same with my paintings. We both had our own ways of hiding behind metaphors to depict the raw emotions that otherwise screamed in our minds. We gave each other a piece of noise from our minds which eventually became music to us.
“You know Pihu, I wish to be someone else”, he would often turn to me and say. And I would smile at him wondering who I wished to be. Every day brought me different ideas. One day, I would imagine riding an elephant and another day, I would want to go bird watching. But more often, I imagined myself drenched in the rain though the thought of the sticky saree, muddy feet and drops of water dripping from my hair to my neck down my chest made me discard the idea.
Kabir was neither my friend, nor my lover. But I could spend an entire lifetime watching him extract parts of him to mould a string of words. We often held hands, but that was the highest physical interaction that I had with a man for more than a year. Occasionally, I would rest my head on his shoulder and wonder if he would caress my face and run his fingers through the strands of my hair. I, often, dreamt of brushing my lips against his and wondered if his tongue would savour the hollowness residing in me and his warm breath would rush inside to replace it. But nothing happened because Kabir was neither my friend, nor my lover.
It was my birthday and for the first time I felt the urge to paint myself. I had filled my lips with the darker shade of pink and my eyes with the darkest black. I stood there admiring my craft when the phone rang. Some policeman from Sangamwadi had called to let me know that there had been an accident and a man whose mobile was retrieved to find my number, was found dead in his car. I was asked to go and identify his body. Chills ran down my spine and the corners of my mouth felt dry. I drew a thick line of vermillion on my forehead and went out of the house with shaky steps. I reached the hospital and as soon as I entered, I was alarmed by a shrill cry. Some patient in the ICU had passed away. I hurried towards the mortuary to find two policemen waiting outside for me.
“This way, Madam”, they said as they led me through a foul smelling, dark lit room where corpses were laid in an array for identification. The sheet over the face of the third cadaver was removed to reveal a ghastly face, half burnt and half bruised. I turned my eyes away from the face when they fell on his hands and the ring he was wearing. It was our wedding ring. It was him.
I quickly walked out of that place with my hands still trembling with fear and anxiety. I did not know what to do. I took a cab, went home straight and stood under the shower. I did not cry, I let the water wash away all the emotions that interfered with my breath. After the shower, I did not waste a minute and immediately called Kabir. I told him that I never wanted to see him again. He was in a state of shock and asked me for a reason. All I ever said was, “I wish to be someone else”.
A year has passed since then. Neither I called him, nor did he. I did not miss him but I often thought of his poetry. I haven’t painted for a year. I tried once or twice, but I could not find good colours. I do not know if it was the quality or it was something in my mind that the paint looked really dull. That took away all the fun from painting. Often, I said to myself, “Pihu, you were not unfaithful. You were just painting”. Indeed, I was just painting and I will paint again today. I will create a deep sea and a starlit sky, and when the moon comes up, I shall make them meet at the far end with the deepest of blue.