Written as an entry for the MSN She Competition around a quote from the book The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.
For one second, she paused. The kitchen towel bloomed with flowers of crimson. Tendrils of blood crept to the corners, snaking across like vines. Turning pink at first, the white gradually turned colour, reminding her of paintings, and for a moment, what it really felt like to be alive.
She could see the red creeping in between her fingers and settle in the crevices of her wedding band as she scrubbed the kitchen clean. She observed all of this dully, with her dead eyes, not even for a moment blinking in surprise.
Momentarily distracted, she wiped up the mess and hung the kitchen towel out to dry. The kitchen had a strange metallic smell in the air. So she opened the windows and hoisted her husband’s body onto a bedsheet. It did not strike her until later that she wrapped her dead husband in the same bedsheet that he had gagged her with on their wedding night.
For years after that night, Kalpana woke up in fear. She spent the day in fear, and she slept in fear. Kalpana would take up a tiny little corner of the bed, and curl up like a bean. She would shiver throughout the night even though the blanket lay an inch away from her, and she would wake up in fear again.
She wasn’t a mousy creature, no. She was portly and matronly, and had the correct amount of fat around her middle to qualify as a mother. She had a tinkling laugh back in the day when she didn’t live in fear, and even her eyes squinched up at the corners when she giggled. Her children would do anything to make her laugh like that, and Kalpana would laugh at anything her children did.
But even before all this, there was a time when Kalpana was happy. It was a time before Kalpana knew better. It is a mistake that most make. Over and over again people would believe in real happiness, and over and over again, they would be proven wrong. In this delusional world, Kalpana remained happy. She would sing when she meant to dance, but it made her happy anyway.
She hadn’t dreamed when she met Shashi, that one day she would be stuffing his lifeless form into the ground, unceremoniously, without wearing white, or beating her bosom in loss. Without even taking the effort to wipe off her sindoor.
No, Kalpana didn’t do anything of the sort; she simply wrapped him up tight and left his face peeking above the sheet. An unconscious decision made of years of swaddling and tucking her children in bed.
Kalpana, quietly as ever picked up a book, switched on the night lamp and read herself to sleep. It had been an age old habit of hers to underline pieces of particularly unusual and interesting lines that she came across in the books. Tonight her tiny stubbly pencil had marked a dialogue.
“Now you’re just somebody that I used to know.”
It wasn’t particularly a stunning piece of literary work, but it conveyed her love for her husband, and that was that. Kalpana slept peacefully that night.
Meeting Shashi hadn’t been a coincidence of any sort. It had been carefully and meticulously been planned by her mother after months of matching monetary levels, sizing up looks and establishing club memberships. Shashi had miraculously passed all essential criteria. Pity there wasn’t a measure for potential abuse.
So the date had been set and the swashbuckling Shashi had entered their home and charmed everyone. He had sent Kalpana’s sisters into a fit of giggles, and watched the elderly party go red in the face at this blatant display of possible affection, when he took her hand and marched off to the garden as per the parents’ command.
Only Kalpana had winced when he crushed her hand inside his and pulled her outside. He had kissed her roughly, and let her ascribe her red, bruised face to shyness. Kalpana had just registered alarm when he told her how beautiful her eyes were. He told her everything about himself, and painted a fairytale for her. He even went on to name their children, which might have seemed like optimism, or love at first sight, but Kalpana later realised, was marking his conquest.
Both of them were called back in front of the parents to say their farewell, and in the moment they were heading back, Shashi had leaned in and whispered,
“I have seen you, maybe that will be enough for now.” She didn’t know how it was that Shashi knew her latest underline, but he did, and that sealed the deal.
He came to meet her sometimes, and took her out to see a world she didn’t know existed. She smiled shyly sometimes, and he looked at her with an unusual mixture of hunger and admiration.
That night, she marked, “Being with him made her feel as though her soul had escaped from the narrow confines of her island country into the vast, extravagant spaces of his.”
So the marriage was arranged and a smile painted on Kalpana’s face for her. Every single night, like their wedding night, Shashi had rolled over, groped in the dark, and made Kalpana yield to his demands. She would get up, bruised purple, and he would smile and tell her how lucky he was.
In one of those days, she had found “I will possess your heart”.
Soon, Kalpana discovered she was pregnant, she didn’t know if she should be scared of feel blessed. The night her daughter was born, Shashi had distributed sweets all around the hospital.
Rashmi was a blessing. She came along to save Kalpana’s life. A much needed respite from Shashi was granted, and she woke up with a smile on her face sometimes. Shashi spent a lot of time with Rashmi, and seemed to take good care of her.
So Kalpana marked “Let’s do the things we normally do.”
Although, she hadn’t been much accustomed to normal, this is as close as it got, she decided.
Then one day, when Rashmi was several months old, her husband commanded that she return to bed. She had to listen to Rashmi’s plaintive cries, while Shashi finished. Her hurry to rush to her child made him sneer at her. Taken aback, she had scuttled to her child and calmed her down with haste, returning to her husband’s favour.
Soon enough, Kalpana was pregnant again. Shashi had started spending more time outside home than normal, he even spent more time with Rashmi than with her nowadays, so Kalpana thought that maybe, a new child would bring her husband back to her.
She had a boy. They named him Ajay. Unlike Rashmi, Ajay didn’t receive a bit of the attention that his father showered on his sister. Shashi didn’t even bother picking him up.
In this sporadic love of his, Kalpana had built a home. No one could call it a happy home, but it was a home. Her children would come rushing to her after school, and Ajay would cling to his mother while his sister was showered with fatherly affection. Ajay would never be asked to go on a drive, or have an ice cream, it was always Rashmi.
Meanwhile, Rashmi being the sweet elder sister, always saved some for Ajay. She never paraded her adventures with dad in front of Ajay. She didn’t even tell her mom about them. There was never a shine in her eyes, or an eager smile on her face to join her dad.
Shashi had come home one day, calling out about a present for his companion. Kalpana surprised herself by heading over to him. He pushed her aside roughly, and handed the present to Rashmi. Rashmi had looked at her mother, and given a wooden smile to her father and gone into her bedroom.
The book Kalpana was reading that night, she found these words, “Why do you let me stay here?”
Shashi had gone to office, like regular days, and come back home, on the regular time. He had even had too much whiskey, like his regular self. But Kalpana had a question to ask of him. She wanted to ask him to take Ajay out for some father son time. So she did. He, in turn, replied, his eyes unfocussed, if Ajay had a vagina.
Shashi slapped Kalpana so hard, for her impudence, that he clear knocked her out. Both her children came out of their rooms to plead their mother’s wellbeing. Shashi slapped Ajay too, for no good reason. He tightly clenched Rashmi’s arm and dragged her to her room. Ajay cried for his mother, clutching his scarlet cheek. He cried for his sister’s love too. But most of all, he cried for his father to forgive him, for a sin he didn’t know he committed.
Rashmi made not a single sound when her father took her to her room. She did not whimper in pain when he bruised her arm. She did not cry out when he slammed the door that hard. She didn’t even protest when he put his hand under her shirt.
“I know what you did. It makes me sick. I am going to tell.” Maybe not from books, like her mother, but this TV dialogue played over and over in Rashmi’s head. Like it did every time her father took her on car rides, or read her a story, or used any of the other reasons to get what he wanted.
Kalpana, meanwhile, was stirring. Even if he knocked her out to near death, she had always believed her children’s cries would save her. And it did, she clung to Ajay for dear life, never once having felt this humiliated.
She could hear her husband whispering, so she assumed he was spending time with Rashmi to calm down. But then she started to hear some familiar noises, noises she was accustomed to hearing every night.
Kalpana quietly opened her daughter’s bedroom door. She noticed her husband’s hands, where they shouldn’t be. She noticed his mouth, where it shouldn’t be. She even noticed her daughter’s clothes were where they shouldn’t be.
The last thing she notices were her daughter’s eyes, locked onto hers, while closing the door, which she shouldn’t have.
Quietly, Kalpana went over to the kitchen, and prepared dinner in the thick bottom pan she reserved for her best curries. She noticed when her husband came into the kitchen demanding dinner, and left a lingering kiss on her cheek. His compliment to her cooking skills.
Silently, her family ate the dinner Kalpana had cooked, dishes for an occasion. Her children and Kalpana herself, with a losing appetite, finished up quickly and headed into their rooms. Kalpana dedicated herself to serving her husband’s ignited appetite and served him dutifully. Kalpana spent some extra energy scrubbing the heavy pan when Shashi entered the kitchen to keep his plate.
He washed his hands of everything he had done that night. As he turned to leave, Kalpana’s hands raised the pan by themselves and brought it down with a formidable force on her husband’s skull. A ripping crack echoed across the kitchen; Shashi’s eyes widened in surprise and stayed that way as he slumped to the floor in a graceful manner. Two drops of water made it to the floor, one from Kalpana’s hardened enraged eyes, and the other from her hand, dripping soap.
After that night, Kalpana didn’t read a book for a very long time. She concentrated on bringing up her broken children in a broken home full of questions. She couldn’t answer their questions about their father, but she could assuage their fear about his return.
She couldn’t even hide the feeling of loss, but she did. Normality, had been upset again, but it had never been upset in a more wonderful way. She was bruise free for the first time in years. Her daughter’s reproachful eyes had started to turn studiously black, and her son had felt like a boy for the first time.
None of the situations were good, but they were headed in the right direction. So Kalpana finally picked up a book, and marked the opening line.
“It was a pleasure to burn.”