Ajit was tall, dark and handsome alright. Everybody said we were a good match. I too fancied so. Especially in the bed. His athletic body and the head covered with thick curly dark hair crushed my breasts and like in the famous descriptions of sexual satisfaction I had many orgasms—at least I imagined many. His long fingers combing through my thick brown hair would almost pin me down under him and he would robustly enter me again and again wonderfully exhausting me and almost crippling me under him. He would fall aside with eyes open and his hand resting on my breasts claiming me, laying hold on me. He wouldn’t let me move till he dropped asleep. Then I would pull myself up and gaze at his face languishing for his light embrace and soft caressing touch after he had drained me completely
Days flew by. Romance cannot be frozen in a static time frame. At the most it can be fossilized. I wondered if that happened with every human affair. Ajit happily galloped with his ambitious career. My job saved me from jealous and anxious longings for my tall dark and handsome husband. In fact, I felt relieved whenever he had to go away for his work for then I had my books and my intellectual sojourns all by myself.
Then Chinu was born. That I believed was a mutual affair. We both wanted a child. So here it was!! Ajit moved ahead with the job done. I wrapped myself in the ideal motherhood cloak. The ultimate fulfilling motherhood deprived me of the satisfaction of readings, writings, teachings. attending seminars, conducting workshops. Everyone told me Chinu was a wonder baby-after all he was Ajit’s son-so no wonder he was so cute!!! I felt like a cow feeding him on his demand. The unpredictable waking hours made my brain so light that the books could hold me no more. I was worried how I was going to cope up with the post graduate classes after my maternity leave was over. Nimish, my colleague discussed so many recent trends in criticism that I thought a day rose up with a new theory. At times I felt that the theory was flourishing because there was no robust literature around. All literary giants had become nostalgia of the heroic age. With the assertion of ordinary life came ordinary routines and ordinary worries. For example, looking after a three-month-old, crying, tantrum-throwing, demanding, amazing and yet helpless live parcel that strained your strength to the maximum was supposed to be the most fulfilling job. What story of motherhood would I create when I didn’t sleep for the whole year almost – first three months went in throwing up; then getting heavy with the kicking life inside and then feeding for hours till I was sucked inside out which meant almost a year of sleeplessness. It was pretty exhausting. After the strain you would go on with a sheer submission to life, to the sheer humbling pain called life. How did people address larger issues? But then there are no larger issues as such but your connection to life alive.
I was amazed to see Ajit’s capacity to sleep undisturbed even when Chinu was crying at the top of his voice. I was tired of feeding him. He had almost sucked me dry. One night Chinu woke up when Ajit was furiously holding me under him. I was trying to escape. My breasts were tight with milk and I was tired. Chinu was six months old and I had joined the work. It was tiring. Six hours of duty, cooking, travelling for an hour and then picking up Chinu from the childcare centre -all was getting almost unmanageable. We had more frequent fights:
“When it comes to sex you are tired.”
“I am tired otherwise too.”
“You need not go to job. I am earning enough.”
“It’s not only for money Ajit, try to understand.”
“Fine! You have your reasons and I have mine so let us be happy.”
“It’s not the question of your happiness alone I don’t enjoy sex now.”
“When did you ever?”
“Alright, never – I don’t want you to hurt me. penetrate me, it pains you know.”
He would go ahead all the same with vengeance. The vaginal stitches had left their marks yet hard and painful. The breasts would get hard when filled and they would be filled during night for I was away at work during day. Touch would make the tender breasts more painful. Even Chinu’s sucking would hurt them.
I was dead tired that day. I looked helplessly at Chinu. He was full no doubt. Ajit was snoring softly. He slept soundly after the intercourse. I looked disgustedly at his naked body. I wished I had a knife sharp penis to penetrate him in his sleep. I lifted Chinu and lulled him softly on the shoulders. He became quiet. His curly head dropped on my shoulder and his clenched fist loosely spread on my breast claiming it softly. I put him down on the bed and looked at him enviously. This innocent helplessness would assume a hard erection with equal aloofness of the father.
Manu was born in all reluctance from me. She was a quiet baby. So, didn’t tax me much.
That night I had a different kind of fight with Ajit. Nights were becoming more and more tiresome for me. The tension reflected on the day-time routine. My usual positive attitude was sagging. The routine was getting more and more dreary. The routinized nights and sexual rites-hold the hands and do it fast type, told Ajit that 1 remembered Manto’s story on the times of partition. The woman mechanically loosened her waistcloth whenever she saw a man; for she believed that every man was going to rape her. Ajit was enraged. I asked him why he couldn’t love me and not my sexual organs only.
He twisted his mouth and asked wryly, “What else can I share with you?” That enraged me. I said, “I am more than that-talk, discuss, argue, imagine.” He pursed his mouth and said, “Love my toe, love my knee, and love my brain and not me.” He turned his back on me and went off to sleep. I shed my furious tears and tried to sleep exhaustively.
Here entered another prince charming in my story. It was strange that I should still expect a prince charming. Yet the romantic love always impairs you for the lifetime. You want someone to understand you and take care of you and love you– all that usual stuff, you know. Perhaps for me it was something else, I guess. I wanted someone to discuss, argue, exchange ideas, and be more than physical – romantic in its own way when it came to being a woman.
Nimish was absolutely brilliant. We had wonderful times whenever we met. We laughed and discussed and argued and exchange books. I enjoyed cooking with him around. His crisp remarks and penetrating insight made the life brilliant. He had a wonderful knack of appreciation which otherwise would have felt like flattery. His perfect attention to what I was saying led me to better analysis of the topics. I was revived. It was a process which made me whole. Otherwise I was getting a feeling of having two overdeveloped breasts and a cavemous vagina – a completely deformed body with a tiny brain and shriveled intestines.
I didn’t strike me that Ajit could notice change in my attitude. What even if he did? I went ahead with my newly revived self. I didn’t matter so long as it gave back my drained energy.
I was serving pudding to Chinu thinking of my discussion with Nimish. We enjoyed Shaw immensely. Especially his Arms and the Man. It was a sudden insight when I happened to say,
“The only problem with Shaw is that he shuns poetry.” Nimish said, “Rationality would certainly demand that. When you want to be critical of human affairs you have to be dispassionate.”
“I am not talking about romantic passion,” I said, “It’s the insight that certain perceptions are beyond reason. Shaw doesn’t lack passion. He has a tremendously passionate wit; and yet he cannot go beyond his brainy characters.” Nimish said, “You are yet to be relieved from Mills and Boon.”
I was startled and felt secretly ashamed as if being caught. I looked obliquely at him and we smiled.
Ajit asked for more pudding. I passed the plate to him and smiled again. Ajit raised his eyebrow slightly and smiled. I noticed but didn’t register. I was thinking of Eliza Doolittle while Ajit was eating heartily. Chinu and Manu went to sleep. I combed my hair, changed into a gown, took Pygmalion from the shelf and settled in the chair. The language chiseled away the course parts and carved out the personality of Eliza Doolittle. Shaw was a real master to make the pain entertaining and robust. I wondered if Eliza really enjoyed after her marriage to Freddy Hill. The common pleasures of life have their toll. Yet something still intrigued me, what would have happened if Higgins had petted her?
Why did she want to be thanked and petted and admired by Higgins? Did she want it really? She appreciated Freddy for it. I looked at Ajit. He was asleep. I read for a longer while and went off to sleep with Shaw in my head.
Nimish came in. I was busy. Chinu had fever. Manu had her exam. Ajit was in the midst of something important as usual. I had to call up the head and ask for a leave. It was two days now Chinu was still burning in fever. The doctor said it was not serious yet Chinu was all pale and parched. I looked at his cracked lips and inflamed eyes. His hairs disheveled, were knotted in curls. Ajit had called up in the afternoon. I had reported him about Chinu. Now Manu was back from the school. Chinu was moaning. prepared noodles for Manu and sat near Chinu. He was dozing. Nimish came in with more books. Manu went in her room. He was concerned for a while. He looked at sleeping Chinu. My eyes filled with tears unknowingly. The children should not suffer. I changed the cotton fold on his head and measured the temperature again. Nimish was shifting uneasily in the chair beside him. I wished he would relieve me for some time. Should I ask him to make tea? I was tired. The tension added to my exhaustion. I had not eaten since morning. Chinu didn’t leave me minute. Now it was telling on me. My eyes were burning. Manu had to be coaxed into studies after some time. She hated history and had to be pushed into it Should I ask Nimish to help Manu with her examination? I wished he would offer some help.
Nimish said, “Have you been to the doctor?”
“Yes, he said it is seasonal, not much to worry.”
“Thank God.” He again shifted in his chair.
I tilted my head on the back of my chair and closed my eyes. Did I want him to pet me? Admire me? I shook my head. Got up. Went into the kitchen. Put tea to boil. Called Manu and asked her to get her history book. Nimish followed me. Settled down on the chair. I wished he had sat near Chinu till I prepared tea. Nimish smiled at me and asked, “So, what do you think of Pygmalian?”
I crushed a slice of ginger and dropped it in the tea. Manu came in with her book. It was the Maratha history. I just marked a few random questions and asked her to write down answers. I looked at the watch. It was 7 p.m. I had to start cooking. It would have been better if I had finished it before Chinu got up. I would have to call the head about the arrangements regarding paper setting. The copies had to be submitted tomorrow. Had the copies been ready I could have sent them with Nimish but I didn’t get a good hassle-free hour to put the questions on paper. Ajit had said he would be back early which meant 8pm. The day was over in its newly gained burdens of ordinary life and here was Nimish wanting to discuss Shaw with me!! I sipped tea and looked over the cup at him. He was perusing the book he had got. He looked up and smiled at me.
“So? What do you think of Eliza’s decision?”
“Shaw has written a long explanation, read it.” I glanced anxiously at Chinu; he was still asleep.
Nimish said, “That is what Shaw has said. What do you say? You have fresh insights. I am eager to listen to them. The day was boring you know!!”
“And I am here to entertain you with my fresh insights?” I asked ironically.
That didn’t perturb him much. He smiled again and said, “Yes, go ahead.”
It was almost like Ajit claiming my body. I disgusted. I checked myself. I sipped tea quietly.
He looked at me again and said, “I have wonderful books on Shaw and Shakespeare. Have you read Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra? It is a pefect antidote to Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra.”
I stared at him.
“It was Caesar who made a queen out of her.” He chuckled meaningfully as if baiting me into an argument.
I held back firmly. I Gulped tea hot down my throat. I Always found Cleopatra tragic for negotiating her land with her body – first Pompey then Caesar then Antony. The land like the body was conquered and subsumed. She was enticing for all her wits and beauty but never was treated like a capable human who was trying to save a highly developed and nurtured culture. The sheer Power drive and naked ambition denuded it ruthlessly. I looked at Nimish and kept quiet. Why should I offer my brains to this man?
Chinu called from inside. I went to him. He wanted something to drink. I came in the kitchen.
Nimish said, “You are busy. I will come tomorrow.”
Why couldn’t he ask if I needed any help? Why couldn’t he say that he would take care of Manu’s studies or if I needed anything to be bought from outside? Why couldn’t he say if I wanted anything to eat?
I sighed and said, “Call me before you come.” Then I went in to Chinu without bothering to know if Nimish bad left.
Ajit came home at 9.30 p.m. I was running between Chinu and Manu. Manu finally finished her studies. With a completely bored brain she went to sleep. I was not sure if she would remember her history the next day. Chinu had eaten for the first time in the last two days and that was a solace. His fever fluctuated less. If Ajit had taken leave for a day I would have slept for twenty hours at least. I told Ajit to get his dinner and threw myself on the bed near Chinu. I prayed with the drooping eyes that Chinu should not wake up. I protested in mind why I alone should be responsible for Chinu every night? Why couldn’t Ajit take care of him? Why – ?
I opened my eyes. The blinds were kindled with soft orange glow of the rising sun. Chinu was sleeping quietly. My seven hours’ undisturbed sleep had woken me fresh. I thought of Manu’s examination. The door opened and Ajit peeped in. He asked, “Want tea?”
I nodded. Laid back thinking of Eliza’s routine after her marriage. Well, the marriage is middle-class sentimentality or was it the middle-class convenience? Here was Higgins promising a heaven of intellectual freedom. There was her father absolutely frank and free in his immoral heaven. Why should Eliza be tamed by the Mills and Boon love? She should have lived alone.
Would I prefer to live alone? I looked at Ajit with a tea tray. I decided to go to Agatha Christie – The Trap of the Tea tray – while sipping tea I looked at Chinu. He was still asleep. The orange glow was turning white so it must be around seven. Ajit usually left the house at Sam. I had to go to the college. My paper submission was necessary. Manu’s school bus would arrive at 8 a.m. She had her history examination today. She needed to be woken. I hadn’t thought about her breakfast and lunch preparations. Chinu would need something light and fresh. The bank had sent a letter that had to be attended. The washing machine needed repair. What text should I focus in the TYBA examination? Ibsen’s Ghosts was quite challenging. He did not have cock-sure brilliant solutions like Shaw. He knew average people needed a saving lie as a pretext for their happiness. Shaw frankly exposed it by guffawing the pretentions. I wondered what the students would choose. I came back to my house management domain when Chinu called me. I had to rewind the track of my actions. I went in the kitchen. Ajit sat near Chinu. I woke up Manu, prepared her for the school. Ajit helped Chinu to freshen up. I told Ajit that I had to go to the college. Then we had a fight again. He had to go for there was a meeting with their Swiss clients. I said the Indo-American company working for Swiss and Swedish clients should have some consideration for the sick child of their Indian manger. What I needed was only five hours to go to college and submit my papers. It meant some relief from the stress too. Ajit went to his work. The bliss of the tea-tray was washed out. I had to go for the submission of the manuscripts so I went to the college while Chinu was sleeping. The paper submission had eaten me up at home and sleeping Chinu worried me while I was in the college. I met Nimish in the staff room. He was busy discussing something with a student. I handed over my manuscripts to the head of the department. The head looked through them and asked me about the supervision schedule. I just hoped we finished the discussions and I went home. The clock was clicking in my head. I didn’t know if I should call up and see if Chinu was awake.
Nimish came towards me smiling, “So-finally relieved from the home bondage – eh?”
I was worried about Chinu.
“Let us go for a cup of tea. I have a wonderful proposal of a seminar.” The head invited us both.
I was worried about Chinu. I had locked the house from outside. He was grown up enough to call me after waking. But what would happen if he had fever again?
We went to the canteen. The head was excitedly calculating the possibility of the financial gains by arranging a national level seminar. With the global challenges to academics the universities were allotting generous funds for the academic projects provided they fulfilled the expectations of the sanctioning authorities which could be of any kind. Then for the greater common good the principal and the head had to chart out the balance sheet of net profit and loss. The global economy had its unstated spaces of bonuses. Those in Power knew them.
Nimish was all gaga over the project. He had exact ideas and adept proposals and very articulate manner of presenting them. He was a wonderful tool for executing any idea that the authority needed to execute. I wondered if this spending would help the students in any way. The American theme would fetch many resources for the seminar, no doubt. Would the students really gain from the theme of the idea of Power in American literature? I kept quiet. The colonized are so much conditioned to submission that the Power hardly appeals.
“This should expand our academic horizons sir.” Nimish told the head.
The head looked at me. I smiled and nodded.
I was worried about Chinu.
I wondered how Manu fared in her history paper. Ajit wanted them to go in for private tuitions. I refused. Why did they need the tuitions at the age of ten and twelve? Ajit wanted every diligence in the education of the children. He had insisted on English medium school for them. It was the language of global business and economics he said. I was quite frustrated. How can the history interest Manu when it was in English? He had sneered and said I did enjoy literature in English. What would I say to it? And yet I felt that English literature was empowering but the English medium schools were not. Literature was a gate to knowledge but the medium crippled your sensitivity.
“Ashwini, you prepare a proposal for the seminar and Nimish would take care of the running about. You are going to Baroda next month, aren’t you? Submit the proposal before that.”
I nodded. My leave for the day was spent in the canteen.
I came home. Chinu was still sleeping. The cough syrup had strong sedative. Manu came home. She said her examination was good. We had dinner. I slept in Manu’s bed.
The doorbell rang. I was in the kitchen. I just deafened myself and tried to wipe out the bell ringing in my brain. Ajit was there in the sitting room and the children were playing happily in their bed room. They can open the door – I told myself. I pulled the dough in front of me and started kneading it. The maid had sent a message that she would not come for a week as she was ill. My paper was pending for its final draft and the head was insisting that I should finalize the list of the participants and draft a letter inviting papers on the theme.
If Ajit refused to take leave I would not be able to go to Baroda for the seminar. The paper on the Representation of Women in the Indian English Literature was almost ready. It was pretty exhausting to manage all. My initial grumble for not being in the decision-making role faded away in the negotiations for time management. The home front was equally hostile to the idea.
Organizing a national level seminar was no joke. The theme was certainly potent and yet Post-colonialism was falling out of fashion which was strange. Globalization should revive the perspective – but with ‘India shining’ – there was hardly any scope of receiving a paper from this perspective. The head would have his people whom he would oblige by providing facilities for three days’ and they would be paid substantially plus have a certificate of participation in a National level seminar. I eventually became a family affair. For it to earn a title of national seminar all it required was to have papers by two research students from the neighboring states studying at the university. The library budget would go in the stationary for the seminar though the students needed some reference books.
Nimish came in. Ajit peeped in to tell me so and then disappeared in the drawing room in front of the TV. He never missed his news bulletin. Nimish exchanged some formalities and came in the kitchen.
“So how is your paper going?”
“Moving on.” I said and smiled, “Tea?”
“Yes! With ginger. Something to eat as well. I am famished.”
I wondered if I would be so much at ease with him at his home. Would I tell him to make tea and order something to eat? I made tea and offered him some readymade market delicacy. He enjoyed eating.
He asked me, “Aren’t you happy with the theme of the seminar?”
I was slightly alarmed. By the time I knew Nimish should not be trusted. I fetched out my happy tone.
“What made you think so? It’s a wonderful theme. We need to know about Power. Certainly.”
Nimish hesitated and said, “I am not much interested in the theme. It’s all singing songs of male arrogance. I am planning to write on a female voice in American literature.”
I was cautious. Nimish had something on his mind. I waited. He sipped tea quietly. I started cutting vegetables. After some time, he said, “Is Ajit going abroad in near future?”
I was confused. I said, “I don’t know. Why?”
“I need some books. They are great and should update our critical perspective. They would be quite useful for us for the seminar. I wanted to know if he could get them for me.”
“You can tell the head to order them for the college if they are so relevant.”
Nimish said, “Why should the college library pay for my seminar paper?”
I was disgusted with his hypocrisy. I knew how many irrelevant books had been dumped for personal favours. Both the head and Nimish had their friend in publishing business.
I said, “If they are relevant then the students 100 would be updated with the recent trends before the seminar.”
“You are a mother incarnate, always putting children before anything!!” said Nimish and chuckled. “I Better go to Ajit directly.”
I kept chopping the vegetables. He put his dish and the cup in the sink. He went out. I dropped the idea of discussing my paper with him. He didn’t come in for quite some time. By the time I finished cooking, my interest in academic discussion waned. Chinu had his examination next week. Manu had joined a dance class recently which meant one more addition to my time management and pick-up, dropping services. My in-laws were coming to stay for a month. I cleaned the kitchen and went in the drawing room. Ajit and Nimish were happily chatting. Nimish got up and shook hands ardently with Ajit. Turning to me he said, “You have a fantastic husband. He is getting books for me.”
Ajit said, “I believe the academics should know the industry better. There is no concept of Power that exists besides industry.”
Nimish was all aplomb. I knew his reverent face. I had seen him discussing the seminar theme with the head. He said, “I believe we are very feudal in believing in our corrupt political lords. Industry would modernize and sophisticated our Power structure.”
Ajit smiled and said, “All that the politicians are required to do is to manage the state when we are generating the Power and that too they cannot do.”
“There is more than the management show – the politics has to abide by certain principles of greater common good and see to it that they are followed and believed in, do you allow that?” I asked.
Both Ajit and Nimish were quiet for a moment.
Nimish smiled and said, “What is greater common good? Pampering the useless, worthless masses? Come out of this sentimentality.”
“The industry at least has a solution. It creates jobs; what do your policy makers do?” Ajit looked at me intensely.
“They are useless.” Said Nimish with a glint in his eyes, “Ok, I will make a move. Thanks for getting those books for me. Ashwini is lucky to have the generous source so close.”
He left me wondering what made women deprive themselves from exploiting the generous source? Why didn’t I think of asking Ajit to get books for me? Why did I waste my time in pursuing the librarian and the head to get appropriate books for the students, keeping aside my aspirations? The library budget was spent on obliging the inner-circle publishers and friends I knew. I had to spend a lot of energy and time in getting a chunk of it for the students’ needs. Who were the useless and worthless masses? My personal ambition was so mingled with the betterment of my students that it never occurred to me that I could exploit the sources otherwise.
“What are you thinking?” Ajit asked me. He was coming back after saying goodbye to Nimish.
I sank on the sofa and said, “I was not aware that I had a generous source at hand. Nimish could tap it even before I did!”
“He is a hard-core careerist “Said Ajit drily. “He is, isn’t he?” I snapped.
Ajit Raised his eyebrows with a tight sarcastic smile. “I didn’t know your political liveliness.”
I neglected the remark.
“Nimish was saying you take a lot of interest in students’ welfare.” All settled on the sofa near me. Surprisingly he was somewhat distant in spite of being close. He continued, “If you want, I can get the latest publications ordered for you. But I feel you need to think more clearly. Unless you are interested in your personal welfare, you won’t really have a chance to flourish. You need to think of grooming Chinu and Manu as well. They also need your time.”
“Aren’t you grooming them?” I asked with my eyes closed.
“I don’t have time.” He got up to fetch the remote. “How will you get the books if I spend time here grooming children?” He sounded somewhat vicious.
“Nimish is getting the books from you.” I opened my eyes and looked at him.
“That chap knows the rules. I may send sponsorship for your seminar as well and you may get whatever time you want.”
Ajit started the TV news. The news was showing a grand function of some industrial collaboration. The CEO of some American company was promising the state education minister an international school in the city with exclusive infrastructure facilities.
Ajit looked at me and said, “The industry has better plans and potential for the common welfare.”
“I studied in a public school and that didn’t hinder my welfare.” I said.
“It would now. Our days were different. Anyway, have you finished cooking? Can we have our dinner?”
He changed the channel and I went in the kitchen.
Could we see Eliza’s act of preferring Freddy to Higgins as a preference of common over the imposing uncommon? It was certainly a question of treating a maid like a queen rather than treating a queen like a maid. With Ajit’s sponsorship, I would get back the chunk of the library budget and would be able to add some good dictionaries and cassettes for the students.
What a calculated turn my Mills and Boon romance had taken! I believed Shaw needed to be supplemented with Agatha Christie. Life humbles!
– Vandana Bhagwat
(Miloon Saryajani, March 2015)