LAST DREAM

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LAST DREAN

This
                           book is dedicated to my father
                           and mother.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

 

 

A

for Anita Patankar and Ashok Pall, lifetime friends who have always understood my wild imagination.

 

M

 for Marcelle Samuel, who ensured that all my i's were dotted and my t's were crossed.

 

N

for Naresh Khaledkar, who never wanted me to stop writing.

 

R

for Roseann Hubbard, who took stock of my proofreading.

 

V

for Vinayak Bhide, my friend and well-wisher.

 

V

for Vinayak Varma, my young and bright artist who took all efforts to design my coverpage. I would like to say, "You can paint a sun and make it look like a yellow spot, but a true painter will make a yellow spot lok like the sun."

 

X

for (name of publisher), who had the courage to bet on an unknown horse.

 

 

WORDS AND WORDS are not enough for Dilip Ray, my friend who took me on this optimistic journey of publishing my novel with patience and hope.  There are some people who live in a dream world and some who face reality, and there are some like Dilip who turn other’s dreams into a reality. THE LAST DREAM would never have been possible without his help.


 
THE LAST DREAM
 
IMAGINATION
 
What if you slept?
And what if,
In your sleep
You dreamed?
And what if,
In your dream,
You
                           went to heaven
And
                           there plucked
A strange
                           and
Beautiful flower?
And what if,
When you awoke
You had the flower
In your hand.
[S.T COLERIDGE]

CHAPTER 1

I watched intensely the potter moulding a pot on his wheel.  His wet, mucky hands had mastered the shape of the forming pot.  His fingers moved artistically as though they were feeling the contours of a woman’s body.  I could see my nostalgic past weaving through the fast spinning wheel.  It was a story within a story, filled with sex, lies and guilt.

Time had fluttered by like the seasons of the year; each day in my life had left behind a haunting memory.  Those holy ghostly moments shifted in and out of my reverie, even as I watched the pot taking final shape.  My brown eyes focused to the centre of the potter’s wheel.  It became the crystal ball of my past.  The greyish-black clay suddenly looked a fiery red as though flames were reaching the heaven—and I saw it all—frame by frame.  I felt as though I was John the disciple seeing visions of Christ’s second coming.  What I saw were deep set memories—wounds that tended to bleed even after getting superficially healed.  It was all fresh after so many years had passed by. As the wheel gained speed, I felt as though my soul got shunted to a different period. It was not thousands of years back—it was my yesterday—it was related to me—the smug pot maker. As the wheel gained speed I felt as though my soul had got shunted to another world—it kept going round and round like the blades of a rusted fan.

I felt as though I was back home sitting in my dilapidated veranda, rocking myself like an infant in a cradle.  The old rocking chair creaked under my weight.  Nobody had bothered to oil its old bones as it was falling apart like the garden ahead of me.  There were no more roses, lilies, dandelions, asters, hypericum, hyacinths or wild orchids.  Nature died a natural death with the departure of my mother.  What remained throughout the year were the cactus and the itchy congress grass.  The backyard had a few surviving trees of cork, whose seasonal white flowers hung gloriously like earrings on a pretty face.  Sometimes it formed a virginal white carpet on the ground, making it easy for the girls to pick and smell them.  A lone eucalyptus, whose bark seemed to be peeling off like diseased human skin, stood firmly in the centre of the barren garden.  A broken pond, which was shaded by a tamarind tree, had become a watershed for the cattle in the locality. Nothing had changed—broken roof tiles, cobwebs, black lizards clicking their sticky tongues, cockroaches crawling out of the open drain, and urchins running across to search for gems in the overflowing dustbins. What they found were saline bottles, used condoms and decayed food that had some enviable fungus growing on it.

I saw another frame featuring in the crystal ball—my mother’s photograph that hung lopsided in one corner of the house. The wooden frame decayed with the leakage of rainwater from the rooftop.  No one remained to take care of this haven where warmth and love had once existed.  It had broken apart with a lousy sister-in-law and a brother who lived in a fool’s paradise. A deep crack could not be cemented back to its normal status.  Tears flooded my eyes as I saw the blessed smile on my mother’s faded lips. It was a smile that still consoled my weeping spirit—and I lived with it day by day.

Some of the apparitions who visited the imaginary crystal ball seemed blurred.  I saw a faded picture of my ancestor’s tear-stained face hanging around the decayed house, which had been built by selling coconut oil.  Now the wandering spirits saw paint peeling off, broken windows, plaster coming out, floor tiles ripped open and stolen, drainage pipes rusted—the huge courtyard became a resting place for stray dogs and donkeys.  It was a miserable sight.  I sighed at the loss of old memories, which soon faded away.  Visions entered the crystal ball with great speed and vanished in the same manner. My eyes feasted once again on my past. My eyes became sore and tired at some of those gory tales from the past. I could not hide from them. I felt like screaming like a mad woman when I saw the past.

Then I saw the face of my notorious father who got reformed by joining a band of kinky American missionaries.  I heard that he was preaching the gospel and converting the downtrodden to his religion.  He stank as his moral teaching did.  How could this man be redeemed from his earlier sins?  Would his chosen God forgive him for neglecting my ailing mother, stealing money for an extra peg at the local arrack shop, and sleeping with a whore when my mother was gasping to live?  He was not even present to see her bedsores oozing with pus nor had he come on time when she was laid to rest.  He arrived when the coffin was sealed, lowered and the mud mound built.  He fell on his knees and wept like an injured sea beast.  I wanted to kick him on the face for his betrayal.  Now the bastard had turned into a gentleman, teaching people the way to salvation.

I wanted to brush aside that scene when white cassock-clad missionaries stormed into the fireball.  They made me sick.  What were they teaching the masses? “Follow the steps of the Almighty—surrender yourselves from sinful ways.”  It was a religious political party where people kept breaking from one denomination to form another.  You saw some liberated ones who, instead of housing God in its four walls, believed in forming new groups—”Believers,” “Body of Christ,” “Jehovah,” “Born Again,” “Jesus Calls,” etc., and they strongly felt that they did not need the guidance of the Church nor the Bishop.  I always wondered how authentic their praises to God were?  All these holy men gathered small congregations in their backyards singing praise to God and talking about the second resurrection of God, and I remember someone sane saying, “We have more preachers and hear more sermons than anytime in the history of the church.  But where is the message of the Lord?”  How true it sounded.  How easy it was for these preachers to sway the people away from the teaching of God to be corrupt under its holy banner.  A time would arrive when they would devour and destroy each other and that would be the second coming for me.  “Beware of these heathens who move away from the Almighty,” my mind screamed.  This place stank of holy fever, men and women in white cassocks praising God.  The whole sect was politicised by these white-skinned men to whom we wretched Indians bowed.  Their white colour seemed like a lizard’s peeled off skin.  How I hated them from the core of my heart.

You were always afraid of this tribe who associated themselves with the West.  Hollywood had built an unsophisticated image of them—cheap roles of tarts, alcoholics, pimps, adorning garish clothes with crosses in their ears and round the neckline showing off thighs and cleavages.  The converts had been given the position of minorities in secular India, and the politicians did not care for their security.  They had become like the dalits, getting attacked by the fanatics of the country.  Yet this liberal clan with their rigid concepts and holy confessions had lead the so-called free Indians into temptation by letting them imitate their lifestyle and mannerisms.  I saw the nuns from the convent pass by.  A chill ran down my spine as I watched their vision looming in front of me.  Their robes hung loose over their ankles and the old order kept to the tradition of Roman sandals, bloomers, loose bosoms and shaven hair.  I escaped from their clutches like a rabbit from a snare and dedicated myself to making clay pots.  I utilised my energy by becoming independent rather than by standing in choirs singing hymns and eyeing the good looking priest.  My work sang a different theme—a holy nun I could never have become.

The chimera in the crystal diverted my thoughts from the holy order to the cemetery where my mother lay.  The raw mud mound had not been swept away by the passing monsoon.  The dry flowers that had been placed as tributes from loved ones had decayed.  The wooden cross stood erect with an epitaph on it.  “Here lies Christabel—may her soul rest in peace.”  I doubted the peace bit as she died a miserable death.  My hand stretched out to a wild shrub that sprung near the grave with pink blossoms.  Maybe it was she in disguise to give me inspiration to survive.  I reached out to pluck a few flowers and then withdrew—she would never have appreciated that—and I heard her say, “Let them grow in their natural surroundings instead of placing them in a glass jar.”  Right now I felt like an uprooted plant that was left to die in the scorching summer heat.

This was a place where I could sit surrounded by my illusions and sob out my sorrows. The next time I visited this place I thought of building her grave—but it never happened—the mound remained a mound in all my dreams.  My pained eyes roved the graveyard. It seemed as though the dead were caught in a marshy mesh—uprooted trees, grass, broken pipeline—where the water had surfaced, flattening some of the mounds, leaving the cross to identify the dead person’s name.  Some of the engraved marble tablets had been stolen.  Nobody really bothered about the dead.  The place of the dead had become a public entry for thieves, cowherds, cattle and human excrement. The graveyard was my so-called Christian world from which I had run away to seek myself in the wet clay.

The crystal ball seemed not to smoke anymore of my past.  The fire and images died down.  The potter called—

 

“Memsahib”. I didn’t hear.  I was taking time to focus back on reality.

 

“Memsahib,” he said louder.  A spark seemed to suddenly get cut out from my preoccupied mind.

 

“Yes, Ramu,” my voice sounded in a trance as my pupils were hazily dilated to the centre of the wheel.

 

“Memsahib, someone to see you.”  My eyes caught sight of the pot that Ramu’s hand had created.  My mind started working on the lavish colours that I would be using to make this greyish clay look vibrant.

 

“Memsahib, someone to see you.”

 

“Who, Ramu?”

 

“Piroska”

 

“Ah! Piroska,” and I looked forward to meeting the Red Riding Hood.


CHAPTER 2

The unruly summer sea wind unscrupulously undressed Piroska’s shoulders by blowing aside her loose muslin dress straps.  This action of nature exhibited her deep dented shoulder blades to the dimly lit mouthful of the sky that could be seen through the holes of the thatched roof. Piroska cared less for her nakedness, as she was proud to display her flawless honeyed skin to the dipping amber sun, whose soft eroticism made the dark blue sea waves blush.  She had no idea that someone across the bamboo shack was amused by her idleness, fascinated by her crossed tanned shapely legs.  He intently watched her with a sly grin, caressing the stem of the empty wineglass as though it were his lover’s face.

He gazed at her from his abated position and paid sincere compliments to her in his mind—she was traditionally a beautiful nymph, her skin from a distance seemed to be smooth and unblemished like a delicate sea mermaid’s.  He hastily gulped his peg of Mexican rum, enjoying the warmth of the liquid that gurgled down his macho throat lustily, his deep set, sunken hazel eyes laid transfixed upon Piroska’s visage.  She seemed to be different from the rest who visited Goa for a holiday.  Her face expressed moods of escapism from the mundane reality, her stark, stone blank looks staring, and she at times seemed nonplussed by the passionate sea breeze. Her pallor made him wonder if she was opiated by some drug—or had the mysterious sea mesmerised her to an over effective plane—he had to find out.  So occupied was she, that she did not see him get up and walk in her direction.

Piroska had been avoiding her mind to trespass into the dark past.  Her marriage to Ashok two years ago, its traumatic end was shadows that followed her like a ghost wherever she went.  All the horrors seemed as though it happened yesterday—her body quivered with pain and she barely bent her head for a lonely sob—when a sudden flash of a coin being thrown up captured her wandering mind abruptly.  Someone had tossed a coin for heads or tails, and Piroska had refused to avert her eyes from her bent position towards the noise of the rolling coin on the table further back in the shack.  Whoever it was had his or her own style of gambling—and this approach towards the street style did not bother her.

But something else tickled her delicate nostrils—the pungent smell of cigar smoke forced her to double up for an irritating cough.  She turned her face angrily to feast upon a lop-sided grin, on a stranger’s lips that had powerful pagan features.  Her heart trembled as any Eve’s would have at the sight of his dynamic and infinitely Herculean body.  The electrifying wicked gaze of the man made Piroska turn her head speedily back to the dark seawater, seeking comfort in the faded dusk and the silent slush of the sea ripples.  His presence disturbed her, and she did not want to mix with men who made her soft cheekbones seep up with blood.

He gave her no time to gather her scattered wits.  He pulled out a cane chair from her table, flopping gingerly into it without flinching his untamed eyes from her dazed face.  Relaxing himself into an eagle-spread position and showing off his sexy sinewy muscles, he seemed at ease in her fluttered presence.  There was a limpid silence lurking between the two strangers.  The man’s careless tranquillity, his acrid cigar smell, and his tight closeness annoyed Piroska.  Her confused mind raged like a storm to tell him that he was ill mannered and uncivilised for disturbing her solitude.  She opened her mouth only to close it, like a breathing gold fish as he heavily drawled into her face.

 

“Your flushed face assumes that you have been disturbed by my intervention, it is only a rare chance when I do get to refill a damsel’s empty glass.”

 

“The audacity of this wild wolf,” Piroska’s mind screamed—his uncouth mannerism, his ruthless method of continuously puffing the distressing smoke onto her fair face made her livid.  The creature seemed least alarmed by her bouts of coughing fits and her hands being flung around trying to breeze the smoke away like a Japanese hand fan.

 

“Keep that damn burning stick away,” she hissed like a snake harshly into his dense expressionless face.

 

He showed no reactions, his opaque hazelnut eyes shimmered with laughter at her feline mood.  She looked like an enchantress with eyes spitting fire, fingers tightly curled into her palms, baring the extra whiteness on her knuckles.  He blatantly ignored her outburst and continued to inhale the smoke by taking long sophisticated drags, making her more mad—how angry women turned him on mentally and even more physically, he thought.  This petite, pretty angel seemed like an over bubbling, hot mixed broth when she pouted out with courage, “Uncivilised barbarian—you suck!”

He showed no interest in her stern tone and it seemed as if Piroska had spoken to the wind God.  His silence irritated her and she felt like biffing him in the face.  Yet, she could not help watching the strong muscled column of his throat contract as the amber liquid flowed down in one rush.

 

“Do you gamble, Mr.  ……? “

 

“Yes, for dolls who make the muscles in my thighs vibrate.  Call me Yash, kitten,” he said, without thinking that it was necessary to introduce himself like an English gentleman.  Little was Yash aware that his presence annoyed every nerve in her body, and she wanted to be bitchy to him.  Sometimes she got into the mood of a snapper. She wanted to bark like a mad dog, growl like a tigress and hiss like a cobra. In such moods she had no control over her caustic tongue.

 

“I think you enjoy pulling chairs at wrong tables and love to blow that acidic smoke into faces of strangers till they choke with suffocation,” she mewed like a cross cat looking straight into his wild dancing eyes. A wandering goddess would have swooned to his feet. He was so bloody handsome.

 

“Control,” her mind seemed to warn. This silly mind of hers always interfered at wrong times.

 

Yash gave a hollow laugh at her incensed face, and his eyes roved around her white shoulders and finally rested upon her swelling bosom, making her conscious of her sweet bareness.  Piroska’s reflexive actions swiftly made her pull the soft straps over her semi-clad self—this man’s gaze was as sharp as Achilles arrows and they made her feel feeble.  Yash grinned to himself; enlivened by her shyness and vulnerability; he wanted to reach out like king Midas and touch the smoothness of her skin, but was afraid to turn her into gold.

Piroska watched his lips break into a broad smile, a wicked one it looked, as he hailed his glass (for what she didn’t know) in her direction, toasting her for her beauty and innocence. With that task accomplished, he abruptly shifted his position towards the deathly looking dark water, insulting her with his silence. The silence was suffocating as both watched the mysterious sea, waiting for the other to speak.

After a long sinister hush, he broke the calmness of his meditative mood with his icy drawl,

 

“Do you always look so angelically fresh and flushed and in the habit of dangerously permitting nature to flirt around with your body contours? Miss….!”

 

“Piroska is the name. Your careless barbarian method of flirting with me doesn’t give me much appetite to answer.  I must be going as your company stinks!” She said the last sentence with great difficulty.  Yash gave her no time to think as he blurted vehemently, raising his thick brows with sarcasm,

 

“Maybe had I kissed your red lips, and held you in my arms caressing your long spinal cord, you would have enjoyed my presence.”

 

Piroska rose immediately after hearing him, her cheeks were aflame like a budding pink rain flower, her pulse raced faster than usual, she had to keep away from Yash’s intoxicating presence.  Her steps were held back as he caught her wrist and forced her to sit down, not letting go of her hand.  His grip seemed like prisoner’s hand cuffs—and she felt netted in that hold.

 

“Leave my hand, you bastard, you are hurting me,” she screamed aloud, making the situation more embarrassing as a few heads turned in their direction.  She tried to pull her hand away but stopped dead as she saw a sudden change in Yash’s eyes.  It seemed as though Piroska had burst a colourful bubble.  She had uttered something amiss —as she saw the flames on his face reach his ears.

 

“Bastard, did you utter, little vixen?  I have seen many of your breed wanting to spread their legs like butter on bread and be humped.  You hurl nasty words only because the going did not work.  I can still take you behind the shack, and show you what a doggie position is—but what you deserve is not a screw but …,” he wrung her hands, making tears squeeze out easily from her eyes.  He had made her feel cheap by hurling those nasty remarks.  What did he think she was—a wayside whore who wanted a quickie from this hunk?  He was mistaken!

 

“Damn, damn you fu….,” she stamped her feet with rage and meowed like a frightened kitten who was confronting a bulldog.  “Let go off my hand, you beast!”

 

“I think, honey, you owe me a fucking apology for calling me a bastard.  Though my father fucked my mother in the shipyard and made her pregnant, he still got married to her to give me a name…understand, you bitch?” His sudden outburst made Piroska shudder with fear.  His brief angry spark got extinguished in no time, when he observed Piroska staring gloomily into his Grecian face.  He suddenly felt pity for those doe-like eyes that looked so petrified.  He let go of her hand that he had wanted to hold onto for a longer time.  Piroska scampered to get out of his sight, and in haste she nearly tripped over his stretched-out, lazy limbs.

 

“Easy baby, we don’t want to nurse broken ankles, or do we?” he said with a naughty smile playing on his lips.  Before allowing his eyes to undress her mentally, Piroska shuttled out into the inviting darkness like a misguided missile that had found its right path.

 

As she hastily walked on the beach, she wondered why she had been foolish enough to allow a stranger to walk all over her in that manner.  She inhaled a large gulp of humid air as she remembered his sardonic humour used on her, and the smell of musk on him made her feel giddy and wet.  She could feel the heat in her body as her bones were crying out to be lustily touched and crushed with a violence unknown to her.

She walked dreamily back towards her beach cottage.  As she unlocked the door she sighed heavily as if having an orgasm.  It had been a long time since she made love and climaxed with satisfaction.  She knew Yash would be good in bed.  He smelt of the rough sea, strong and powerful. He was so different and magnetic, unlike her fiancé, Ashara, whom she had to wed in another two months.

She wondered as she stood in the middle of her open doorway if she was really prepared mentally to go in for another marriage—another experiment with another arranged liaison.  Hell was going to break loose once again in her life.  Life itself she felt was one big confused circle and she, Piroska Bhat, the rich man’s daughter, was mercilessly caught in the centre of it.


CHAPTER 3

Piroska lay awake that night, with her thoughts concentrated on her controversial life.  She always tried to escape from reality, but the minute hazy pictures of the past invaded her confused state of mind her body broke into sweat.  This uneasy feeling made her reach out to gulp an extra dose of pills.  She tried her best to keep away from those white granules, but not always could she suppress the burning emotions within her.  She always pacified herself, that a day would arrive when she would be able to transcend herself from the bitterness of the past.  That day seemed to be on the other side of Semihazah’s dominion now—that she would be granted freedom after the day of judgement, which seemed a long way off.  By then she would be tempted into committing many sins, when even God would fail to save her.  Her mind reversed itself into the nooks and corners of her not-so-succulent past—a reminiscence to be remembered and yet to be forgotten.

She recalled the day Ashok’s proposal came through.  The whole house seemed to be on a different plane except for her.  She wanted to rebel against the stranger whom she knew nothing about.  Her mother understood her feelings, but her father paid no attention to her laments.  “He’ll be a fine gentleman, an asset to our business expansion.”  Her father thought of nothing else but his business.  Her marriage date was fixed and she was afraid to go against her father’s wrath.  She had to parade in front of Ashok in a simple Mysore silk sari, which she chose instead of one of those heavy silks.  Her father gave her a disgruntled look; her sense of dressing did not seem to please him.  She did not care, as she was confident of her looks and knew that she could impale any man who came in front of her.

Ashok, to her amazement, visited them minus his mother.  He preferred take Piroska out, rather than have small talk with her parents.  She liked him for his assertive nature, having no hang-ups about his flourishing spice business.  Yet there was something about him that had made her very uneasy, his continuous jabber about his doting mother did not seem positive to her.  She overlooked it as Ashok being the “mama’s boy” as she was her mother’s girl.  Somewhere she had to compromise her misunderstood mind.

They got married after six months of no courtship, his widowed mother requested the dates to be pushed further away, which did not work out, as Ashok seemed to be in a hurry to get married.  Piroska took an instinctive dislike to her sophisticated ma-in-law, who always draped herself in expensive chiffon and took excessive care to maintain her looks and figure.  She loved to drool over Ashok, kissed him like her lover, and at times her long lingering kisses upset Piroska.  She always made him nestle his head on her heavy heaving, pear-like bosom and it seemed as though Ashok liked it.  At times, Piroska felt disgusted with her over affectionate ma-in-law, who totally ignored her when she was fussing over her son.  Her presence was made to be felt untouchable, and she had to slip away into her room without getting noticed but hurt.

What this lady could not understand was that Ashok physically and mentally was hers.  Her days of mothering Ashok should have been over when Piroska became his legal mate, then why the need for her to exhibit her love so unprofessionally in front of Piroska?  If she wanted her flesh to be ignited, she could have made use of the men who hung around her during the numerous parties that she organised.  Why did she make Ashok her scapegoat?  Many a times Piroska mentioned her ma-in-law’s uncouth behaviour to Ashok.  He just laughed it out with, “Piroska, she still thinks that I am a child,” and it was left at that.

Piroska’s wedding night had been disastrous.  She was a virgin and wept like a child whenever Ashok touched her.  He seemed composed at her rejection and would assure her that he would be gentle.

 

“Piroska, I’m not going to hurt you.  Stop this weeping.”

 

“I’m not prepared!” she sobbed.

 

“Prepared for what?  It’s like a puzzle that will fall in its place,” he said in a quiet voice.  Every time he tried to part her legs, she would tighten herself, not letting him do anything to her.

 

“Do you want me to switch off the lights?”

 

“No.”

 

“Then go to sleep,” and he marched out of the hotel suite in anger.

 

Nothing was mentioned about the episode the next day when they left for their honeymoon to Greece.  Piroska smiled to herself as she remembered the patient Ashok giving her lectures on lovemaking.  He went out of the way to buy the Kama Sutra, and told her that one day he would like to experiment with all those lovemaking actions of his ancestors on her.  Her shyness outgrew with time and this stranger became her friend more than a doting husband.  She fell in love with him and at times her ma-in-law’s over possessiveness made her sore—but then she reasoned it out; this was her only son and she had no one else to fall back on. This free liberty given to Ashok’s mother got Piroska into trouble.

Piroska switched on her cottage lights and blinked at its sudden brightness.  The clock showed past midnight.  She lit a cigarette to stump out her past; she seldom smoked on happy thoughts, as happiness only gave her misery.  She tried reading Dostoyevsky’s “The Possessed,” but nothing seemed to register, as Yash’s face floated around her like a friendly ghost.

She cuddled the soft pillow to her chest, and her inner conscience kept beating like a pulse machine requesting her to come to her senses.  Piroska knew that the only way to wade out of her heated nerves was to go for a swim.  She wore her short black bathrobe and slipped out into the humid air, feeling the coldness of the sand on her soles.  She walked in an unknown trance towards a gentle calm sea, which seemed to invite her, and showed its urgency to possess her beauty for the night by lapping at her feet.

Piroska dropped her robe on the sand and, elegantly like a sea goddess, she flung her nudity to the summoning sea waves.  She lapped around, enjoying the saltiness of the water.  She swam and floated under the canopy of God’s semi-lighted shade not bothered about time and feelings.  She swam vigorously at times, shaking aside her past and present.  She drowned Yash’s face by staying under water for sometime, but the wicked wolf’s image didn’t seem to disappear.  She loved swimming and learned sport at the age of three, when her father flung her into the pool and said that she would survive to her worried mother, who had witnessed Piroska sink and also watched her daughter’s instincts make her flap around to survive.  She loved to be in the water whenever she got a chance.

Thinking that she sunk out her thoughts in the deep sea, her head feeling a bit light, Piroska swam back lazily towards the beach.

As she firmly placed her feet on the sand, shaking the water from her body and hair, she allowed the flirtatious sea breeze to lick out the salty droplets on her lusty concaves.  The touch of nature on her body was just divine, and at times its brutal and yet gentle caress made her climax.  Her nerves quivered at the feel of the supernatural; seduction was possible even with the unknown, like in the case of the Virgin Mary, Kunti or Leda by Zesus.  She sprang out of that illusion when a strong familiar drawl boomed behind her, beckoning Piroska with a wild sarcasm.

 

“Here honey bee, wear your robe before you catch a common cold!” Piroska screeched in fright and speedily knelt down on the sand trying to cover her nudity with her hands.

 

“You horror!” she lamented from under her bent head.

 

He let out a reverberating laugh, “Oh, come on, you don’t have to be shy, as there sure is more to you than that fiery tongue,” he flung the robe in her direction and pretended to turn his Casanova face away, grinning at her prudishness.

Piroska’s flamed body got hidden by the sadistic black night.  She fumed at his insolent approach and felt like pulling his hair, scratching his face and biting him till he bled to death.  She felt so delighted at her adventurous mind that she wanted to dance in joy.  The cheek, the bloody cheek to creep on her like a wild tomcat—to maul her mentally—had it been physical. Her mind raced and a chill shiver feathered down her vertebra.  She seriously needed a shot of vodka to flush her insides.

 

“Here, have a gulp, you need some warming up,” it seemed as though he had read her mind.  She acted snobbish by ignoring the bottle that he held out in her direction.

 

“No thanks.”

 

“Come on angel, you need it.  Look at yourself.  You look like an ostrich trembling after being chased.”

 

Her eyes nearly popped out at that rude remark—calling her an ostrich when she had such a ravishing figure, hadn’t he noticed it?  She was sure he had!  That deathly pompous smile lingering on his rustic visage drew her livid.  Though it could not be seen in the dark, she was sure it was stuck on to his smug face.

 

“I promise, I didn’t see much of you in this light, just some friendly curves that the Prince of Darkness treated me to!”

 

“Beast!” she spat out.

 

He laughed aloud and his voice echoed in the silent night and the sea waves seemed to gurgle along with his impetuous mood.  “ Lucifer always loved to woo puritans in their angelic garb.  Have a gulp, this liquid would be better than warming you up in my arms.”  Piroska jumped at the held out bottle before he had any wicked intentions of grabbing her.  The large gulp made her feel good.

 

“Do you always sneak up behind people?”

 

“Women in general!”

 

“Unless your own sex attracts you better?”

 

“Of course they do…but beautiful butterflies like you give me an instant hard on.”

 

“Damn this man,” Piroska hissed to herself.

 

“Piroska, did you know that all the betrayed Eves adore the Adam in me?”

 

The last line rang a bell.  What did he know about her?  Her past life had been kept as a guarded secret.  He must have thrown that sentence carelessly into the dark night.  She preferred to return to the safety of her cottage than dig her own grave with this man.  But she couldn’t stop asking him,

 

“Why did you follow me?”  He said nothing and she continued with “I assume you think me to be a wayside waif who would jump into bed with every handsome man she met for a quick screw. Forget it! I didn’t come to Goa to get mixed up with unknown strangers.  I came here to take a short break.

 

“From your lover?”

 

“It’s none of your damn business.”  How had he guessed that.

 

“But what if it is going to be henceforth, Miss Bhat?”

 

How on earth did this man come to know her surname?  She never mentioned it to him.  Did her father send a detective after her?  Nobody at home knew about her whereabouts, except for her mother.

 

“Listen, Yash, leave me alone.”

 

“How can I, you remind me of a stray mermaid that needs guidance.”

 

“Thanks for your interest, I can find my own way around, and if you follow me again, I’ll call the cops.”

 

Yash laughed heartily at her threatening tone.  Nothing seemed to affect this man.  She decided to walk away when her body got pulled with ease towards his muscular chest.  He smelt of cigars and she felt its taste getting mixed with her saliva as he gently kissed her.  He undid the knot of her robe and crushed her nakedness to his body.  He placed his lips on her mouth and she allowed his hand to rove along her long vertebra.  He fondled her breast with a roughness strange to her and she liked it.

Piroska wanted to melt on the beach as he stroked her thighs, and continued to kiss her by pulling back her long tresses.  She moved her hand on his strong back and felt entangled in the thickness of his matted chest.  Piroska was so much involved in his passionate manoeuvres that she got a sudden shock when he pushed her aside and huskily said, “Go away, vixen, you trouble me,” and he walked away, leaving her gaping wide mouthed.

“You son of a bitch,” she screamed like a mad witch after him.  She wanted him to hear it and come back to her, pushing her onto the sand, and making violent love to her.  She wanted him to slide open her thighs and wring them apart like an oyster, she wanted him to pound her with his worthy piston and feel his aggressiveness inside her.  Yes, she wanted to succumb to him like a flame that burnt out a lighted matchstick.  It never happened.  What a fool she was!  She felt like a tramp when he pushed her aside.  Why did he not want her?  Why?

Piroska knelt and wept like a child, as her spell did not work.  She liked him and felt vulnerable at her own emotions.  She knew nothing about him—and yet she felt she knew everything about him.  She decided to find out about this wolf the next day.  “Why was she doing it,” she questioned herself.  She had no answer.  Did she want the second marriage to break and again let her life slide into a depression?

The first break wasn’t her fault, it was Ashok’s.  She started feeling uneasy as his stark body loomed in front of her.  Before the past could tempt her to regress into a mental trauma, she ran to her cottage, popped a sleeping pill in her mouth and fell asleep, leaving her cottage door wide open for the wind to sooth her disturbed mind.  The past always visited her in dark shadows, and her body shivered without her being aware of it.

She tossed and turned in her sleep; the naked body of her husband repulsed her in her dreams.  She saw it all, him lowering his hardened self into her arched body. She got up with a sob, and her legs felt cold as the bright sun peeped in through the transparent window panes.  Her head felt heavy and her eyes seemed in need of more sleep, but the only thing those heavy lids could do was to weep hysterically like a demented woman, possessed with agony not known to anyone around her.  Her tiredness made her go back to sleep again.  It bored her to live on those sleeping and anti-depressant pills.  When would she lead a normal life and dream about the stars, fairies, elves, goblins and sugar candy mountains. When will that day arrive? She laid her head on the pillow and dozed off, dreaming of becoming a cloud moving up and down dales.  As she saw herself turning into a cloud with wings, a black evil looking cloud swept nearby, making her wings fold in with fright.


CHAPTER 4

Piroska woke up late the next day with a heavy head and ruthlessly blushed, thinking about Yash’s adventurous hands, which had sought comfort over her parched contours.  As she stretched out her lethargic self, she became determined to encounter the untamed Yash.  She could not think of returning back to the mountains without having any information about him.  Not that dreaming of having a relationship with him mattered, as she knew it would never work out, but just the thought of never seeing him again shattered her fantasy.  She had a day left in Goa, and her mind whirled at the thought of returning to Lasa.  To be married to an oil tycoon’s son, whose kisses were like a mushy snail’s walk, and whose artificial life style stank like stale butter, made her nauseated.

Ashara and she had met three times after the second formal show of exhibiting the daughter of the house like a venetian cut glass at a raffle fair.  Their last date had ended in a flare over dress code, and over the need for woman to follow a modest conventional style of dressing.  The eel hadn’t approved of her sporting shorts and a bust buster to the pub.  She had barely cushioned herself comfortably in his grey Cielo when he started to huff and puff like an old steam engine.

 

“Don’t you have anything better to wear than this outfit?”

 

“You mean something less than this?”

 

“No,” he stormed, “ something more.”

 

“Ashara, I am comfortable in these kinds of clothes.  I have worn them since my childhood and nobody has ever objected to them.  Look around you, fashions keep changing; you have to go with the trends.”

 

“Which means when the time arrives for wearing nothing, my fashion conscious fiancée will be stalking around in fig leaves.”

 

“I think that will also be too much of a covering,” Piroska squealed with delight as she watched the colour drain from his face.  She wanted to provoke him a little more, but waited to reach the pub for a sip of rum ‘n’ coke.

 

The next twenty minutes’ drive held no conversation, both sitting like dummies as the car sped towards its destination.  Being a Monday night, the Otter’s pub was not suffocated with people and finding an empty barstool was not difficult.  Piroska gazed at her pensive fiancé’s face, which drooled over his drink like a moth with its wings cut off.  She was in a mood to be bitchy just to annoy him rather than comfort him.

 

“I really don’t see any valid reason, Ashara, for you to get mad over my attire.  What is your problem?”

 

“My problem, honey, is I don’t like men’s eyes popping out of their sockets when they first see you.  I don’t even like the idea of people gossiping that Ashara’s fiancée is one hellofa sex bomb!”

 

“That’s normal, I guess, for any man to admire a beautiful woman as long he does not harm her.” Piroska knew that she had provoked him.  She saw the seething anger bubbling like hot lava on his livid face, and it seemed on the verge of exploding at any moment.

 

“Fuck you!” he said and stormed out of the pub, leaving her alone amidst the drowning music, cocktails, and stagnant stags.  A few familiar faces around the bar gave her scornful and sympathetic smiles.  Kavita, the pub’s pussy, had the courage to slide up to her, demanding to know why Ashara left in such a huff.

 

“It’s none of your business!” Piroska snapped back in an icy tone.

 

“Lover’s quarrel, I suppose,” she said smugly and walked away gingerly smirking to herself, shaking her braless bosom and showing off her white skin through those stinking long side cuts of her skirt, making the loners at the pub lick their lips with lust.  Piroska wondered what Ashara thought of Kavita?  Maybe he did get a royal hard on with women like that.  Perhaps she would have given him more sexual gratification than the frigid Piroska.

As she sat alone sipping her cola at the Haystack thinking that Yash would arrive at any moment, her mind raced with agony thinking of herself getting dumped into another shamed wedding.  She could not identify herself with this liaison.  She never liked being with Ashara.  He was a real big bore who did nothing but boast about his petrochemical outlets.

Piroska hated him because he found her paintings to be leaning on an artificial plane he called them arctic and far from being near life.  He always lamented that her paintings needed more creative passion and were too ordinary and undersexed.  Anyone who ridiculed Piroska’s talents made her delirious, as that was the only creative form that had kept her away from old memories.  She was game for criticism of any kind, but with Ashara his criticism was to tease her.  He never gave her the encouragement that she needed.  What frightened her more was when he made statements like, “I hope you are not going to continue with this passion of yours after marriage.”  What did he understand was that art had become a compulsive obsession for her after her divorce and that she would never give up it so easily.  She needed it to forget her tormented past; this gift embedded into her by God had the need to survive.  He had no right to be hypercritical about her work as he knew absolutely nothing about art, he just loved to make a shallow senseless noise.

The memory of her divorce from Ashok started to make Piroska feel uneasy.  She felt like a tempted rattlesnake that wanted to spit out its venom on the victim.  Here, her victim was none other than Ashok, the man whom she had loved, the man whom she had cared for, and the man who betrayed her!  She became aware of going into a depression.  Sweat started to formulate on her forehead.  She felt as though someone was trying to reach out to her.  Piroska tried shaking away the fear of the aching grief that still continued to torment her inner soul.  She strived for a year to find a new meaning to life, but her grief was graver than any Greek tragedy.

No therapist could haul her out of her personal tormented hell.  Piroska began to hallucinate and an unsustainable anger began to build inside her, wanting her to scream and crawl like an ant on the floor.  She was afraid that her unsound mind would be capable of making her do macabre things.

Every man she saw entering the shack made her imagine that it was Ashok.  Not able to withhold her depression, her inner agony had surfaced to an exhausted brink when she flung the coke glass across the table, not thinking of the likely injury to the man sitting on the opposite table.

She thought she was walking briskly but instead, she was running on the beach with tears rolling down her face.  She picked up a remarkable speed tripping over her loosened trousers.  She was not aware of her sudden streak of madness.  Her outrageous panting did not bother her.  She just wanted to leave behind the dark shadows that followed her everywhere she went, like a second skin.  People on the beach stared at her in bewilderment.  It was only the possessed who were capable of running in this summer heat, they thought.  Neither the heat, the sweat, nor the people around her made her to stop.  Nothing made her ashamed of herself.

Piroska looked like a demented woman, her beautiful hair falling all over her face, her clothes smeared with wet sand, her lips parched like a dried Oasis—one would never have dreamt that this angel was an upcoming artist.  Her exhaustion suddenly reached a peak, her mind transcending into another plane could not carry her further than this.  She fell on the sand howling uncontrollably like an injured hyena whose baby had been weaned away from her.  Her tiredness made her to blank out on the sand.  The beautiful nymph looked like a fish left on the beach to be dried by the sea breeze.

Yash stared at her death like pallor as he carried her to his beach house, and wondered what could have upset her so much that he wasn’t aware of.  In this state of hers she looked so naïve, like a little shepherdess and he was tempted to bend and kiss her pathetic lips, but refrained from doing so in case she suddenly woke up.


CHAPTER 5

 

Piroska’s sudden disappearance from the house had not caused any alarm to Mrs. Sushmita Bhat, and if anybody at all was disturbed by it was her husband, Suresh Bhat.  He was perturbed by the small note that Piroska left behind, saying that she needed a break from her canvas and paints for a few days.  The note gave no sign of her whereabouts.  With a disgusted tone, he said,

 

“It’s high time Sushmita, that you teach your daughter some responsibilities.  Here, look at this note which has no address of the place that she is visiting.  Our daughter’s wings are not yet clipped.  If I have to say a few gentle words, she will not like it a bit.  It would be better if you handle her yourself.”

 

Sushmita Bhat kept her silence, she was aware of Piroska’s whims and fancies.  Her daughter was old enough to make her own decisions.  As usual, Piroska must have taken off to some sea or mountain resort to bury her disturbed self —to shake off her depressions of the past that clung onto her like a wicked leech.

Her husband most of the time did not interfere in any matters of the house.  He was totally involved with his granite and shipping business.  Due to his busy schedule he had no time for his wife nor for his only child.  He always seemed to be in an uncouth hurry, attending conferences, parties and signing contracts abroad.  He was like a busy bumblebee seeking nectar in every beautiful budding flower.  He took risks and was adventurous in every new deal he made.  It seemed as though he was like a miniature Alexander, building empires at every opportunity he got. Having got himself caught in the centre of the business web, Suresh Bhat started drifting away from the responsibilities of his home front.

He neglected Piroska, due to which his daughter matured under the assertive shadow of his wife, and they both shared a very close relationship.  They were more friends than child and parent.  It was Sushmita who encouraged Piroska to become independent and made her fully aware of her feminine self.  She always told Piroska, “in this world you have to be educated and self sufficient or else you will have everyone walking all over you.”  Piroska took the advice seriously and launched herself into a world of dreamy colours a world that became part and parcel of her temporal life.

Suresh never appreciated the idea of Piroska taking up painting as a full-fledged profession.  He always wanted her to join him in the family business.  He was one of those unlucky businessmen who had everything in life but not a son.  He never dreamt that Susmita would sire a daughter, a beautiful one, though, but not useful to him.  Somewhere God had miscalculated his happiness.  He brooded about this to his lawyer who understood his sorrow.  The old man had three sons, all doing well in America.

“If only I had a son to continue and expand my business dominions,” he would lament to Mr. Gupta, his old family lawyer, who would nod his bald head in agreement with Suresh.

When Sushmita helped Piroska file for a divorce from Ashok, and when Suresh got to hear of it on the Ivory Coast, he blew a fuse.  He argued with Sushmita and blew his top in a cyclone rage and frustration, but to no avail when Sushmita didn’t listen to him.

 

“Get some decent sense instilled in my daughter’s head.  What will people say?  We’ll be the talk of the town!” he bawled.  He was more bothered about others opinions, than the happiness of his own child, thought Sushmita.  Had this man ever tried to understand his beautiful daughter?  Had the father in him ever tried to analyse the anxieties and conflicts that constantly hammered at her subconscious?

 

Had the role of the husband ever clicked in him?  Did he ever ponder as to why Piroska needed the support of both her parents and not just one of them?  No! He never had…he saw, ate and dreamt business!  How could any man ransom his home and family just for monetary gains?

Suresh’s non-interfering attitude used to infuriate Sushmita, to such an extent that she made it a point to hurt him with her silence and sharp abrupt answers.  She defended her child by saying,

 

“Piroska has her own personal reasons for leaving her husband.”

 

“Squabbling over petty issues, and then seeking a divorce—I don’t approve of it.  Walking out of a marriage is not in keeping with our traditional background.  Couldn’t she have tolerated the problems of marriage for some time instead of getting rid of that boy?  Every one has to adjust, Sushmita, try and see some reason,” he pleaded in a defeated voice.

 

Sushmita had maintained the policy of silence.  She seemed to be far away in her thoughts, as her husband continued with his sundry blabber.  He wondered if his wife registered anything that he fumed over.  Her deep silence seemed to be wrapped in an unhappy pensive mood.  He guessed right as to what she was thinking: what did this tycoon understand about women’s emotions and sentiments?  He had no values himself, and therefore, he had no right to demand that Piroska stay committed to her husband.  There were times when Sushmita felt repulsed towards Suresh.  He stank like an infected gangrene that needed medication.  She planned on a separation from him umpteen times in her mind, but the conventional binding of a Hindu marriage kept her from taking the crucial decision.  She was bound mentally to a value system that all Indian women hated to associate with.  It demanded them to bend down to a dominance that repulsed them.  No one made a hue and cry over it, as it was a system cradled into their bosoms.  What status did the Indian woman have but to be a slave in the role of a daughter, mother or wife?  Life would never change for her even if God recreated Adam and Eve as somewhere a Manu would be hiding, to tell the world that she needs the “blessings” of a man to survive.

Her husband was touring around Europe for more than six months with his glamorous lipstick coated secretary cum mistress, when Piroska was found on the streets in a state of mental shock.  She underwent deep psychological injury that needed long continuous treatment by a psychotherapist.  She withered into an ugly flower, her bones sticking out and her facial expressions always disarrayed.  She was mauled physically and mentally and went through a great deal of phobic reactions coupled with substantial psychoneuratic manifestations, due to which she felt discouraged and rejected for a long period of two years.

Sushmita never dreamt her bruised child would survive the pain inflicted upon her by Ashok.  What hurt Piroska was the callous manner in which Ashok betrayed her.  She still couldn’t get over the fact that a man who adored her could still find comfort in another woman’s sexual fancies.  Were all men the same?  Her husband was no better.  The God of “love” surrounded him with all “angels”.

It took time for Piroska to vomit out her traumatic state.  It had shocked Sushmita when the truth was revealed to her.  Here her husband was, giving lectures on marriage and ethics, when his daughter’s condition had not affected him.  She remembered those sentences spoken across the telephone, and the harshness of the emotions rang in her ears like an enraged temple bell that just would not stop ringing.

 

“Give her the best medical aid.  I am sorry I cannot rush back, as I have an important contract to sign.”  Sushmita did not want to hear another word.  She slammed the receiver with a wild vengeance, which must have definitely hurt Suresh’s eardrums.

 

She wept over her husband’s unemotional attitude, he was not like this when they got married.  He changed after he had got involved with Sarah, her best friend…and that was another story.

After Piroska’s emotional drama and seeing the attitude of the uncaring father, Sushmita became determined to concentrate on her daughter.  She kept the reality of her divorce a secret, and spinned a yarn for Suresh.

With the help of a good lawyer, Sushmita got her daughter divorced.  Ashok showed no retaliation towards the legal separation.  He pretended as though nothing took place; Sushmita admired his calm and composure during the court session of signing the papers.  It was Piroska who went hysterical when she saw Ashok. She associated him with the betrayal when he reopened the superficially healed wound, making her return to a state of the temporary regression syndrome.  Whether Piroska wanted him out of her sight or if she still felt emotionally attracted to him, no one could tell or read her puzzled mind.  Sushmita did all she could to help her daughter, she herself knowing what it was like to lose someone dear.  In spite of having a grown-up daughter, she could not forget some of the good times that she had in her life about twenty years back.

 


CHAPTER 6

 

The sunrays squeezed their way through the transparent windowpane and formed an exquisite square on the marble floor.  She took a glass of water and dropped a few drops on the neat square,-and found the glass beads dancing for sometime and then vanishing.  It seemed as though the raindrops from Sushmita’s eyes had suddenly frozen due to the reluctance of her mind to give in to the total submission of the past.

A submission of innocent love twined today by a serpentine hug.  A tightness of her soul to experiences which today were out of control.  She withered with grace like a holy blossom into the chill of an autumn end.  She still could see the horizons of her dreams, the circumferences of her fantasies, the visions of lost love.  Sushmita shuddered even to think about paving a path into the centre of these shadowy circles.  The tremor within her was worse than the war cry that Kubla Khan heard.  It seemed like the final call from the angel of death on Passover night.

Her whole mind seemed to have reached an unheard beat of drums.  It seemed as though Sushmita’s heart soared among noisy beetles.  These very pleasant moments brought about a feeling of want.  A hunger in spite of bitterness tugged at her heart strings.  It yet groaned for those warm sturdy hands, fingers that flipped her curls back, and she missed that blow of hot breath on her nape.  Time seemed to have lulled her mind and she became insensitive to everything.  She lived just for Piroska—her little Red Riding Hood.

It seemed as it had been only yesterday that she had met him.  He looked as though he had joined a monastery as he was wearing a wine red robe.  On the green wilderness of Lasa it seemed as though God had descended blowing rings of smoke into the chilled air.  They had been destined to meet and to remain together forever.  Her dreams were dreams of a child playing in the park, of watching a spider spinning a web, of observing a butterfly sucking nectar—and then everything choked.  The swing broke, the spider died, the flower dried up and time played havoc in their lives.

Sushmita did not realise how long she sat there on the seat and let the passage of the past whizz by.  Her wedding was an arranged one.  She had a traditional conventional marriage ceremony.  Suresh was unaware of Sushmita’s dark past.  She decided not to enlighten him, in case the after effects would lead to a broken marriage.  A marriage broken before it took place would be bad for her, especially in the rigid Indian society.  She would have had to walk around with a tarnished image.

She had a deep, unforgetful past and a faithful lover, who turned into ash but did not fade from her memory.  It all came back as she sat in front of the French glass windows.  It was springtime and her maiden eyes feasted upon the dichroism of flowers in her garden.  Life was filled with colours, and yet it had its realms of black and grey.

Her mind retraced its path to that dramatic day of December, when the cold winds at Lasa forced her to close the windows that overlooked into a fully blossomed rose garden.  Through the setting evening darkness, she could inhale the scent of the buds that bloomed into brides the next day.  She began to draw her curtains when she heard the hooting of the wise owl in the oak tree.

 

“Bad omen,” her grandmother would have spelt out through her toothless mouth had she been alive.  She always dissuaded Sushmita when she took immense interest in the night prowler, who occasionally seemed to be complaining to the Moon goddess with his hoot. 

 

Yet, she loved the sapient bird for his large marble eyes that shimmered in the deathly night.  They emitted a sparse light that glowed through the sprawling branches of the oak.  He made a fine silhouette with the moonbeams falling on him, surrounding him with a majestic sophisticated aura, which immensely fascinated her.  How silly her grandmother was to think this night watcher was evil.  These old mountain belles still had such strong beliefs that you could not change them. 

 

Sushmita remembered standing at her closed windows, parting aside the drawn curtains to search for her owl.  Her eyes squinted, as she had pressed her face against the glass pane.  It was at this time, that she had been called to the Lasa hospital, and the need to rush there had made her forget the wise owl.

The hospital looked deserted as she encountered the night watchman.  He was a grisly old chap with grey drooping moustache. 

 

“Visiting hours are over, Madam,” he said, spitting out a fountain of tobacco juice in one gush on the walls. 

 

“I know,” she shot back, shoving a few coins in his hands and scampered up the stairways before he could create a scene.  She heard him murmuring at the few coins that later jingled with the rest in his pocket. 

 

Sushmita charged down the dimly lit corridors in search of the general medicine private rooms. 

 

“Third floor,” said a sleepy ward attendant.  She found the night nurse there, nodding her head to sleep.  Her white cap fell off her head, and her mouth was slightly open in a smile as if dreaming of something unconventional.  Tired, she seemed to be in her dream world, and Sushmita had no heart to disturb her.

 

“Room No. 609,” she heard Raju saying over the telephone.  Her nervousness reached its peak when she heard a woman’s sharp wail, chilling her senses to a stage of numbness.  “Oh God! not now!” she prayed aloud.  She had to reach him before “Yama” arrived on the scene.  Tears had flowed down like the mighty Godavari, swelling to wrap its fertile banks in her wrath, blinding her vision as she flung open the door of room no. 609.  He felt her presence, and made an effort to focus his eyes upon her.

 

She remembered having silently walked towards his bedside and gently placing her head on his chest.  Her tears had soaked through his clothes, and its wetness mingled with his perspiration.  A feeble fragile hand had moved over her head to comfort her.  These hands once had been strong, but now they were like a dry branch that received no nourishment from its roots…limp and powerless they seemed.

Sushmita’s head laid there listening to the faint ticking of his heartbeat.  Her eyes could not be raised to look into the forlorn gaze that had become dull, glazed and dark, sinking into the depth of their sockets, like a ship wrecked by a sea storm that sank deeper and deeper into the womb of darkness.

He tried holding her face with his languid hands, making her stare into those withdrawn void eyes.  She ran her fingers over his face, wiping away the wetness of misery and fright.  He had a long journey to make at any moment.  He mouthed a hoarse whisper telling her that he always loved her.  Their tears mingled as she kissed his eyelids meekly and recalled him telling her that he would not live long.  She only laughed with, “you are too young to die, Raj.”

As she sat by his side, she could not will him to survive.  There was no hope left, as he had damaged himself beyond cure.  Sushmita had not hoped for a miracle, nor did she hope for one.  No mortal could dream of becoming immorta—as death had been created by man.  Every man dreaded it and yet knew it could never be avoided, as life and death were part of a cycle.  It would take man a long time to find the tree of life, in case he wanted to remain immortal.  It would mean a journey into seeking of the self, something that man was not yet capable of doing. He felt comfortable to live in his superficial world, rather than try to reach out for the truth.

A sudden convulsion sent him into a deep coma for a short span.  Sushmita had held him as his warm face gradually turned cold like a fallen tree branch.  Theirs had been a long-lived love story—meeting at Raju’s house, without a soul knowing about their torrid affair.

She remembered walking out of the hospital that night looking worn out, the wind whistling through her tangled hair and its coolness soothing her aching eyes.  A sound far off had made her stand still.  She heard a distant mourner and knew that she was not alone…as the wise owl consoled her with his low hooting.

Suresh Bhat was none other than Raj’s elder brother and due to this liaison the old one never seemed to have died.  A sudden sharp ring of the telephone got Sushmita back to reality —a rough voice cut across telling her that Piroska would be back in a day or two.  She did not ask for any explanation as Yash told her about her daughter’s illness.  A cough behind her sent a shiver through her body as she panicked.  How long had Suresh been standing next to her watching her lost in her sniffs?

He made no inquiries about her state of mind, as he came to invite her for a dinner party at the new “Fox and Geese” pub.  She refused with the excuse of having a headache.  No comments were made as he walked away feeling sad.  He was aware that his wife had not forgotten his dead brother.  The poor lady was under the impression that he knew nothing about it.  He knew all along about the two, his respect for Raj and his legal mate made him preserve the secret.  His wife had been no virgin as he had held her in his arms, where she acted stiff and scared.  Her passion for love making gave her away as she guided him like a trained horse to all the sensual areas of her body, which made her explode and simultaneously act coy while trying out various positions he liked.

He was aware of the pain inflicted on her through his affair with Sarah…but to him, his coy mistress was like a snake charmer, swaying him into a world of happiness.  She was very different in all senses.  He always liked Sushmita and did not mind getting married to her after his brother expired, but life at times paves different pathways for different people.


CHAPTER 7

Yash looked at the dumbstruck face of Piroska.  It had been three days since she laid in his master bedroom.  His doctor could not figure out the reasons for her depression.  He said that she was in a state of mental shock.  Yash wondered what this bubbly belle was suffering from?  He had not seen any pain inflicted upon her in Goa, as his agents had not let her out of their sight ever since they met.

Yash wondered if what he did to her two days back was the cause of this fainting fit?  Whatever he did to her was out of sheer anger.  He was no bastard, as he legally carried his father’s surname.  If she got upset over such a small issue, then he could do nothing about it.  He just had to wait for her to open her eyes and talk some sense.  Another thought flashed by—could she have got offended because he had pushed her aside when she had wanted him to make love to her?  She did come on strongly to him that night and was behaving as though some spell had been cast on her. Well, he grinned to himself all these pretty girls had the hots for him.

She seemed to be suffering from mysterious fears unknown to him.  Her face seemed as though her inner soul was ramshackled.  Her lily fair breasts sagged as in sympathetic depression.  Her eyes, which got illuminated like a fertile spring meadow, looked barren like the Autumn moon. Her skin, which glowed like the morning dawn, seemed struck by a desert storm.  She tossed and turned in her sleep and Yash could not perceive the anger that reigned within her.  Her silent tears made her pale with fear and her nightmares shook her body like a destructive earthquake.

On no account did Yash leave her side, as he realised this wasn’t a physical illness, but something psychological and right now what she needed was comfort and security.  She seemed to have been betrayed and there lay a confusion of truth and lies within, which Yash felt she was trying to shoulder off.  Whatever she was suffering or encountering in her subconscious, it was a kind of neurotic depression.  Yash wanted her to bounce back to life, and he saw to it that she did not sink into it any further.

Yash knew that when people suffered from acute depressions, some had the tendency to commit suicide.  Seeing her state, he wondered if this mortal being had tried venturing into death.  She didn’t seem the kind to do so.  The doctor advised no hospitalisation for this weakness of the nerves but had directed Yash how he should deal with this trauma.  “Have patience with her,” he said.

Piroska woke up and just stared at him, and her placid face did not even break into a smile.  An effort was made to get her into a conversation about paintings and landscapes to which she showed no interest.  She remained glum and gloomy like an old dug-out grave.  At times he felt like shaking her hard, to feel her bones rattling, and making her weep till she vomited out all her bottled up sorrows.  This woman did not understand the kind of craving he had for her.  He loved her from the time Sushmita Bhat made him an agent for selling Piroska’s paintings.  Apart from having an extensive garment business, he was an art dealer who promoted all young artists.  He saw the talent in Piroska’s brush, the eye for colours and the adventurous attitude of exploring the hidden side of nature.  Her paintings were always sold for high prices, and her exhibitions left the spectators wide-eyed with the kind of experimentation she carried out with paints.  Piroska had no idea who Yash was as she left the intricacies of her professional dealings to her mother.

When Yash had telephoned Mrs.Bhat and narrated Piroska’s illness, the lady became hysterical but then realising her foolishness she told him, “Don’t send her back till she recovers.” Yash wondered why she had panicked.  “She suffers from acute anxiety attacks and her pills are in her hand bag,” Mrs.Bhat informed him.  No other details were given to him as to why such things took place.  Sushmita was a good friend of his, yet what made her keep some secrets he did not know.

For Yash the behaviour of Sushmita left him puzzled, he expected the lady to rush down to Goa to be with her daughter but instead she gave him advice over the telephone and slammed the phone down.  Was there something wrong with this girl that he was not aware of?  Sushmita always made it a point to keep him informed about Piroska’s progess and love to do an extra bit of chatter about her pretty daughter.

Piroska stared at the ceiling as her mind eased out of its tensions.  She felt ashamed of herself for going into this hysterical state of mind.  Hadn’t she undergone a therapy for repression to push back all her anxieties into her subconscious?  Hadn’t she nearly succeeded in forgetting those unpleasant memories, then why suddenly did she go so berserk?  She could not even think of looking straight into Yash’s eyes as he had done a favour by taking care of her—a stranger whom he had met only for a few hours.

She admired him for not questioning her about her illness, but at the same time another fear existed, had she mumbled her sorrows in her sleep?  Was that why he did not intrude into her distressed self?  She did not even make an effort to ask him as to how she got to this house.  She was aware of the fact that she charged out of the Haystack running as if Lucifer was after her and then blanked out.  Piroska let her thoughts drift into a deep sleep.  She slipped into a swirl of mist that hid her days of turbulence, her foggy brain felt as though it were getting unfurled over the sea edge.  She slept peacefully, dreaming about the newly washed skies, where black clouds paved the way for white ones.  She dreamt about the wild mountain berries not yet harvested by the Billy goats.  She fantasised about the small green shrubs that caressed her when she strolled through the fresh green fields, she felt the wetness of the grass lick her exposed white toes.  So obsessed was she in the world of nature, that she had to descend from it with a loud shriek when she felt something wet on her face.

What she saw was a huge Labrador with his paws on her chest and his friendly brown eyes dancing with excitement at her.

 

“Burg, get off the bed,” Yash commanded, but the dog paid no heed to his master’s voice, and continued nuzzling his wet nose into her coal black tresses. 

 

“Looks like my dog has taken a liking for you,” he said, with a lopsided grin that made Piroska’s cheeks hot.

 

“I love animals,” she declared, burying her face into Burg’s huge soft silky face.

 

“Not their masters, I assume.”  He received no reply for that.  Piroska just glanced at him in a vague manner.  What did this man know about her feelings for him?  She wanted to be in his arms, and to crush him to her body.  She only kept away because she had a binding, a damn social contract that she wanted to break away from—but how?  She didn’t know.  The urge to hold him became so strong that she could not control her physical need even if it meant getting kicked aside for her immoral behaviour.  This whole scene in front of her seemed like a romantic Mills and Boon tale.

 

As Yash leant across her to straighten out her pillows, she just pulled him towards her,

 

“Kiss me, Yash,” she bellowed like a cow.  He looked straight into those vixen eyes and his lips came thundering down upon hers.  His fingers slid down, unbuttoning her shirt buttons, and his hands slid to find the warmth of her supple skin underneath.  His hands were steady as he held her perfect breast in his hands.  He saw those gentle eyes glimmering with a different want, and her body relaxed as he played with her brown nipples.  She held him tight, wanting urgently to feel his hardness, and with a slow ease she gave him soft butterfly kisses, which began from his throat and rested upon his navel.  She let her tongue roll into its depth and he groaned pushing her head lower.  He tore her shirt out, and she showed no reaction as he pushed her back onto the pillows, stretching out her hands and sucking at her armpits.  She loved his wetness on her fevered body, and he forced her to give everything she had to him. 

As they rustled their naked bodies, her swollen breasts purring roughly against his body, his hands moved down swiftly and took possession of what he thought was his.  She did not retaliate as she felt the force of his desire mingling with hers.  Her body quivered with piercing excitement, as both climaxed together.  He kissed her gently as he rolled off her.  They lay beside each other, not ashamed of their deeds.  As he lit a cigarette, he turned Piroska’s face towards him. “Will you marry me?” he asked humbly.  He saw a sudden fear come across her eyes, and they seemed to be screaming in a voiceless horror, as if viewing a nightmare.  He bundled her back into his arms, comforting her with a warmth that she always had been yearning for after her divorce.  Yash did not propose to her again, he let her sleep, watching those tender closed eyelids.  He was aware that he had to part with her tomorrow.  She had to return back to the mountains to her paints brushes and easel .  If he wanted to delay her he could have – but no, the girl was creative and was reaching her peak of fame in the art world.  He had no intentions of cutting short her inborn talents.  Yash sighed a painful sigh as he saw the engagement ring on her finger.  Did she really love this guy whom she was going to marry? Ashara seemed like such a pansy to him.  The passion that she emitted sometime back showed something else.  Was this act of love making an outlet for her frustrations?  Women, they were a difficult brand to understand!

Piroska’s snooze seemed to be a peaceful one and Yash did not cause any interruptions to wake her up as she huddled closer to him like a fetus in a mother’s womb.  He saw the expressionless face that was devoid of feelings.  He nudged her gently but instead of waking up, she snuggled closer to him.  He embraced her tenderly for sometime, knowing that he was going to miss her.  He watched her laziness waning out, and her hands reaching out to glide over his belly and clasping his sceptre of power, she asked him to make love to her again.  He could not help getting turned on, as she took the initiative of exploding her mouth on him captivating his.  She pressed hard onto his lips like a steamy hot oven that needed to blow apart.  She entwined her limbs around him like an octopus.

 

“Yash, make love to me, so that I’ll never forget you.” she said in an urgent voice.

He glided into her like a slow flowing river holding tightly to her belaboured bottoms.

 

“Yash, my Yash “ she said, panting like a thirsty bitch on the bed.  She knew that they made a romantic couple and people could envy their togetherness.  They continued making love till the wee hours of the morning.  They clung onto each other as they had only a few hours left.  Piroska’s tiredness tranquillised her into a deep sleep.  Next morning, she woke up to an empty bed—with a huge bunch of red opium flowers at her bedside.  A note read:

 

“Bye, Piroska, my angel.  Andrew, my driver will see you to the station.”

 

She suddenly became afraid, as she had no idea if she would meet Yash again.  How did she manage to fall in love with a stranger and allow him to make love to her?  Yet she felt that he ideally suited her.  Man sometimes makes mistakes, here it was no mistake as she was fatally attracted to him.  She did not feel guilty for having betrayed Ashara, the thought of him made her giddy.  Why couldn’t she just go back to Lasa and tell her parents that she had no interest in Ashara.  She was afraid of her father’s wrath, this marriage was to enrich his coal mine deals and she had been chosen the scapegoat.  Maybe one day [she hoped not] her father would even auction her out as the prize possession of the house, and Piroska shuddered at that.  The concept of this arranged marriage did not suit her nor did she have the courage to rebel against her father.  She was totally washed out with the failure of her first marriage.

At times Piroska felt that she was spineless, as she crawled on the earth like a slimy earthworm having no choice but to depend upon her surroundings.  One breakdown in her life changed her whole personality and meeting one deadly Casanova, she wanted to melt like an iceberg.  She smiled at the thought of Yash and felt herself to be a complex person.  What she wanted in life she didn’t know?

She did look forward to going back to Lasa, as she had left many painting orders unfinished.  The next few months she would be dipping herself into oil paints and water colours.  The world of colours always made her transcend to a higher spiritual plane of expression.  Art in its own form enriches your soul.  Her paints always made her forget her psychological problems as she totally devoted herself to her canvas, not thinking about the past nor of the future, but making her live only for the present.  Art for Piroska was a question of life and death, it was a passion created in paradise by God Almighty. She did not think painting to be a catharsis, but an expression that oozed from the best side of her. Her inspiration came from reality.  Nature spoke to her through paints.  It left her with a calm sense of joy and an inner fulfilment.


CHAPTER 8

Piroska stood on the Lasa Mountain slopes where the fading mist hung all around, wetting her soft oval face.  She felt its moisture on her bare feet, which were surrounded by tiny red, purple and yellow wild flowers.  They glowed among the dew washed, uneven green grass.  She saw an eagle descending on its prey with great speed, and as it glided down, it gave a high pitched screech warning the others of its royal presence.  Piroska had always admired his dominant presence in the blue sky, sometimes calling out to its estranged mate and at times flying like Icarus close to the sun.

She made herself comfortable on the damp grass, her buttocks feeling sorry for crushing the beauty of nature underneath her.  She drew her knees towards her chest, blushing unconsciously at the thought of him.  If only he had imaginary wings to reach her.  Why could she not forget his presence? Why did he hesitate to walk triumphantly into her heart? What was she compromising on? Why was it always she who got dragged into dirty slush—making her own life miserable?  There were so many questions about her after the divorce that she could not answer.  Her whole system of confidence faded out.  She left the answers for destiny to tackle.  Whatever has to happen, will happen! She would face it.

As she sat in great thought, plucking at the wet grass, her mind was contemplating whether she should continue thinking of Yash.  Why was it a crime to think about another man, when she would be getting married to someone else?  She tried to analyse the concept of attraction—there was no harm in admiring someone mentally or was there?  She pondered over this thought for sometime.  Why did we impose the stink of morality upon ourselves?  Weren’t there times when you got attracted to others unknowingly?  Wasn’t it human nature to admire the best in the other?  This was happening everywhere in offices, clubs and homes.  Did it not happen to her father?  In her case she was not attached to anyone legally, so thinking of someone was no sin.  As in her case she could not remove the image of Yash from her mind, his intense gaze made her stomach churn, his penetrating looks had made her forget Ashara all together.  Both were men, but one had to stand out from the other.

There wasn’t anything physically wrong with Ashara, he lacked the dynamism that Yash possessed.  Piroska had found Ashara to be very dottish, and most of the times they could not see eye to eye.  He always whined like an injured dog, when she put off a date to finish a canvas.  At times Piroska felt that he pretended to be possessive, especially when men from the world of art praised her for the magic created on the canvas and when they took time discussing certain issues.  At such times he would slip his hand around her waist when she spoke to other men while Piroska had the urge to shove him aside.  She hated his over bearing attitude in the company of others, which made her feel small and ridiculous.  He was an irritating pest and yet she was forcing herself to tie the holy knot.  Her mind blanked out whenever she tried to think this problem out to its logical conclusion.

Piroska’s distant thoughts were broken by the glow of the morning sun.  Its bright rays pierced the transparent mist quickly, drying the dampness around her.  She felt relaxed as the warmth of the immature rays tugged at her lethargy.  For many of the tribal folks the sunrise brought about redemption of the soul, as one considered the Sun to be God, and they believed that the coming in of light was like booing away the night’s spirits that everyone was afraid of.  Each one looked up to the Sun as a mighty force having power and showering an invisible kind of security on mankind.  The very fact that one could not gaze for long into his eyes showed his overwhelming strength.  Piroska had once presented the Sun in the female form in her paintings and had enjoyed the criticism provoked by her imagination.  The question always arose, why the FEMININE form?  Piroska used to feel pleased for disturbing the mind of her male clients and critics.  Sometimes she felt as though she was undressing their hurt egos.  Why should anything powerful be associated with the opposite sex?  She was no feminist but at times had a thought for such feelings.  She found nothing wrong to think differently.  The heat of the sun made her realise that she had to return to her house in the valley, a home that had given her shelter during her happy and unhappy days, a place that pushed her ahead to survive—to live for the present and to forget her past.

She wore her leather moccasins and trekked down the unruly manmade pathway.  Her hands lazily snuggled into her loose denim Bermudas.  The winding track ahead of her looked like a skinned python, and it seemed as if it was sunbathing in the morning sunlight.  The mountain air was fresh, and its gentle movements tied knots in her long black tresses.  Her gait quickened as the pathway steepened, making her breathless and raising her cheeks to the colour of corals.  She thoroughly enjoyed her early morning walks and after her illness it had become an everyday exercise, as up there among the bees, beetles, crickets, the flowers and the berries, she forgot the world of personal miseries.  It was a place where all the rusty memories that hung onto her like a grotesque paperweight slipped aside.

On her way down she met Bi, the local shepherd with his flock of sheep, who scampered so easily on the rocky mountain slopes.  Piroska loved their rough fur, and always lifted the little lambs to be kissed.  Bi was around fifteen years old and he knew the mountainside on the tip of his fingers.  He normally helped her to carry her canvas and easel to unexplored spots and watched with fascination as she transferred the beauty on to the canvas.  He gave her a wide impish grin, and Piroska rubbed his coarse hair lovingly as he passed by.  Apart from helping Piroska, he ran errands for her mother earning a few extra coins to buy himself some sticky candy floss.  He looked around wherever he was.  Piroska passed the bazaar, which had just stirred from its long sleep.  She loved Lasa for everything.

When she reached her palacious house, which had a sprawling garden, Piroska noticed her mother, who with great concentration was keeping an eye on the white side gate.  On seeing her daughter, Sushmita Bhat waved frantically in her direction, and sounded her regular dialogue as she kissed her daughter’s warm cheek.

 

“You are late, I have been worrying about your whereabouts,” she said.

 

Her mother loved her immensely and after the divorce the bond had become even stronger.  Piroska could never forget those days of pain, and how supportive her mother had been.  Two years had passed and yet the wound needed only a little irritation to bleed.  Some things you can never forget, no matter how hard you try.  Echoes of the past lingered somewhere in her mind, trying to surface when given a chance.  Though Piroska tried to keep her memories unsurfaced like the derge in a wine bottle, they got mingled with the clear liquid.  She sighed—such was life.

Their flashing silence was broken in by Pluto, her favourite cocker spaniel, who jumped in her lap when he saw her.  He licked Piroska’s face as she hugged and cuddled him to her body.  Many a times in her loneliness she spoke her heart out to this dumb animal, and it seemed as though he understood her. She noticed that he was always by her side whenever she was in those dull moods.  There had been times when she used to weep, and this adorable companion used to lick her salty face and whine along with her misery.  Her mother gave him to her as a gift on her twenty-second birthday and now she was twenty-seven.

 

“There comes your cousin Menaka,” her mother said.  Menaka was a real giddy woman of thirty, unmarried and lived life king size a great chatterbox.  She came to Lasa to spend her winter holidays from Bangalore.  Piroska decided to avoid her, but her cousin caught up with her usual.

 

“Hi Piroska, enjoy your walk?  Did you meet anyone interesting?”  She said in one sly breath.

 

“Yes, I did, Bi, and his flock of sheep!”  Piroska noted the grin on her cousin’s face, when she heard that.  Being a romantic by nature she was all out to get her married soon, though for her the institute of marriage was humbug.  She preferred the live in relationships with no legal commitments.  She was used to falling in and out of relationships.  Her life was very different from that of Piroska who believed in long lasting bonds.  For her cousin every new lover was God sent.  She loved the company of men and knew when to whimper when she needed them, compared to her Piroska felt like a nun.  Men made her sick and she had a reason to be like that.  Keeping Ashara company itself was an extra effort made from her side.

Before the deal with Ashara had been struck, her mother always wished that some prince charming would come and find Piroska’s glass shoes.  Piroska protested strongly against her mother’s wishes of a second marriage.

 

“No one will marry a divorcee and Ma, I am not prepared for another marriage.”  The talk of marriage itself used to upset Piroska, and Sushmita had decided that her daughter should be left alone on these thoughts.  Maybe a time would arrive in the future when Piroska herself would decide to get married.  She understood that marriage was not just a physical binding, it was psychological too.  Piroska’s trust in both had been jilted, due to which she refused to talk about the topic.

Excusing herself from Menaka, she hurried into the security of her bedroom for a hot shower.  She normally strolled out in the nude after her bath and creamed her long limbs, sitting erect in front of her long antique Belgium mirror.  Her reflection stared back at her; she was beautiful with a fair tanned complexion.  An oval face, brown eyes that matched her tinted black hennaed hair, her hands felt her long nape, and caressed her slender, slim shoulders that balanced her curvaceous figure.  She held her pear-shaped breasts in her hand, and felt its nipples get hardened at her own touch.  Her body was explosive and erotic; she had firm buttocks, which Yash had caressed gently.  The thought of Yash now made her body shift colours.  She wondered if he remembered her.  Why should he, as they were many strange women with whom he could sleep around.  She rated herself among one of them.  She was sure that he thought of her to be cheap and fast.  But then why did he ask her to marry him, she wondered.

Her reverie was disturbed by Menaka, calling her down for breakfast. Piroska could not follow the last sentence of her cousin, which had something to do with flowers.  Piroska quickly pulled on her tight jeans with an electric blue shirt, brushed her hair till it shone and dashed downstairs.  She nearly buckled on the last step when she saw Bi standing with a huge bunch of yellow opium flowers near the doorway.

 

“Piroska, missey, someone gave this to you.”

 

“For me?” her voice sounded hysterical.  Oh God! Please don’t let Yash be around.  He did not know about her engagement and he would unnecessarily create trouble for her.  Before she could ask Bi for any description, Sushmita Bhat encountered them.

 

“Oh, what pretty flowers!” she exclaimed with delight.

 

“I saw them on the mountain and requested Bi to have them picked for me.” Piroska quickly lied to avoid any form of suspicion.

 

“On the Lasa Mountain, these I haven’t seen before,” her mother said with surprise.

 

Sushmita saw her daughter’s expressions suddenly change.  Since Piroska had returned from Goa, she seemed to be in a romantic trance, and these flowers surely had something to do with Goa.  Had Piroska met a man?  If at all she had, wasn’t she aware that she was stepping into a coal pit?  Was it Yash?  But Yash was fifteen years older than her daughter.  Not that she would have minded the relationship, as Yash was dynamic and mature.  Sushmita Bhat put aside her thoughts and tried to scan the Lasa Mountains in her mind.  She was familiar with every crevice in the mountain, and no where had she seen these flowers that she was sure about.  She loved wild flowers more than the ones grown in the garden.  She used to force Raj to go orchid picking in the Lasa forests, and he thought she was crazy.  These flowers, which Bi had held in his hands, she had never seen in the mountains.  How come they suddenly bloomed?

If Piroska had met someone of her choice, then why was she keeping it a secret from her? Had she lost her confidence in her own mother?  This thought made Sushmita doleful.  She herself was not as fond of Ashara as she had been of Ashok, as both the men were so different.  If Piroska did not speak her mind and if she bottled up her thoughts and wishes, no one could help her out.  She decided that her daughter could solve her own problems and decided not to interfere.  She left Bi and Piroska to their own conversation.

 

“Bi, who got them?”  She whispered to the nervous boy who kept shifting his glances towards the door from where Sushmita left.

 

“I don’t know, missey—my father told me to give them to you.  Can I go?” and he scurried out of the doorway.

 

Piroska placed the flowers in her room so that it wouldn’t undergo any speculation.  Menaka would wean a love story out of it.  Why was Yash doing this?  To put her thoughts away she decided to finish her incomplete canvas at the den.  Her mother bought her a small den just for her to relax and paint.  It was one of those three-room cottages away from everyone.  It was surrounded by trees and was very cosy.  At times she got so engrossed with her canvas that she forgot to return home.  This was one place no one visited, except for Bi, who came when she wanted to paint an outdoor view.

Piroska was a gifted artist and she indulged in water colours, oil paints, and sometimes tried her hand at charcoal sketches.  Her work had the tendency to evoke the inner sensibility of the mountains.  They had a spiritual sentimentality reflecting the inner psyche of nature.  Whoever laid their eyes on her canvas could smell the freshness of the mountain air, feel the dizzy clouds and the dewy valley.  Her perceptions were very accurate—whether she caught a toad near a flowing brook, saw some bushy shrubs glistening with dew drops, or saw some ebbing stream of the clouds kissing the mountain tops and the cleavage of its deep valley—every image of hers beheld a mature passion of life and death.  She used combinations that were unusual.  The pictures came from within, her mind spoke out on the canvas, her work had a touch of romantic imagination and there was a freshness of colour and a new-born energy.

Piroska never indulged in abstract modern art, because the concept of the abstract seemed absurd to her.  What she basically relied upon was beauty.  She wanted her spectators to feel the truth of God’s creation, which held a concrete dimension to man’s life.  Wasn’t the cycle of nature associated with that of man?  We are so interrelated that one could not be away from the other.  Apart from painting landscapes, she used to indulge in images of the sea.

Her next exhibition that she was planning to hold was of thirty canvases relating to the sea.  She wanted to bring forth the idea that the sea had various images while conversing with man.  She wanted to paint water as the creative and the destructive force.  She had the wish to bring alive the image of the murmuring waves, the logical frequency of the tides, the sea in general suckling at the bosoms of mother earth.  Piroska loved everything about the sea, the gloomy and the radiant side, the mysterious side of it that no one dared to trespass, its mystical side, which made one fantasise about sea horses, mermaids, and sea goddesses.  Her last escape to the sea side was out of anger and also to capture the sea surface, but instead of thinking of white bubbly frothy bubbles, sea gulls, sea shells and crabs, she got herself wooed by a sea God, who managed to seduce her in no haste.

If at all she had to be grateful for her success in the art world, she owed it to her mother, who had made her persevere and had seen her daughter go through mental torture, divorce and an immature abortion.  Piroska had seen her mother go through a similar phase yet her mother helped her survive.  It took months for those dark days to see a sun beam, it took hours of patience to bring back the sparkle on her face, until her mother got back the sharpness of the falcon in her eyes.  All this took time with the help of a psychologist.  The insecurity that Piroska felt was regulated back to normal, but at times the past did swallow her back into the depth of reality.  She could not throw a dark blanket covering the fact that she had suffered mental and physical injury.  Whenever she felt low she visited her psychologist, who introduced new methods to forget her past.  She had advised Piroska to make an effort to forget the past.

Sitting with blue paint on her brush, Piroska felt ashamed for not telling her mother about Yash.  What could she tell her mother?  That she rolled into bed with a man whom she had met only for a day, and she loved the way he rubbed and pressed his lips on her moist, warm, rose-petaled lips, and how he left her limp and gasping.  Would her mother get shocked at her adventurous bout of passion?  Piroska wondered.  On the other hand, may be her mother would understand her, as the concept of love itself was so divine.  After having tasted the forbidden fruit, you would understand your physical urges.  After her divorce Piroska did not indulged in sex, and masturbation did not get her so much fulfilment.  Piroska was aware that her mother was upset with her secretive nature.

After witnessing the opium flower episode, Sushmita Bhat was pacing her bedroom balcony.  She seemed like a disturbed lioness agitated with her estranged cub.  Piroska become her prized possession after her husband got hooked with Sarah.  She understood her husband’s temptation for the voluptuous slut, whose body was made for the bed.  She could never forgive Suresh for cheating on her behind her back.

She was disturbed at the present moment by Piroska’s behaviour.  Did she not always have time and patience for Piroska?  Had she not been supportive to every weakness of her daughter?  Hadn’t they shared many secrets in the past?  Then why was Piroska lying to her?  She accepted the fact that at times their temperaments did clash, but didn’t Piroska realise that her mother had no one to fall back on except a disturbed child?  Tears flowed down her sorrowful face.  She wished that Raj had not died so suddenly.  Her love was going at a tangent with her daughter and Sushmita was afraid.  Consoling herself, she felt that she was pushing Piroska heavily against the wall, her daughter needed time to come and confide to her.  At the same time with this confused mind Sushmita felt that she misunderstood her daughter somewhere in her thoughts.  Was it not possible for any woman to go on a wild goose chase?  Not that it was impossible, but she doubted Piroska’s confidence in indulging with a stranger.  Her total involvement with Ashok for those eight months had left her devoid of emotions.  Ashok, what a man he was?  Complexes of all kinds existed in this man’s world.  He thought he was Oedipus, the son of Laius, and thought Manasi to be Jocasasta.  He became blind to a love that left him desolate and forsaken and in the bargain had made her daughter suffer.  Piroska was her only child and the poor girl had to go through such mental agony.


CHAPTER 9

He stationed the pillow between his legs, and lay reclined on his spacious bed.  Ahead on the wooden mantelpiece stood an antique glass photo frame that held a recent photograph of his father and the Madonna.  He carried a similar one in his wallet, the size being smaller, of course.

His eyes loomed heavily upon those familiar soft metallic eyes of the woman he loved—his charismatic demigoddess—his Madonna.  It was the intimate face of a shy lamb whose penetrating gaze made blood rush into his bones and muscles, her coyness, her pastoral freshness reached out to him, rocking his body into an erotic sexual delight.  The pleasures had varied from childhood to adulthood.

The doormat of the house she was, doing her household duties contentedly, pretending to live up to the name of a successful mistress, enjoying a respectable position in the house and in the business.  Whatever she may be, to him she blossomed like a spiritual divinity, satisfying others mentally—and him mentally and physically.  She had an aesthetic touch that showered an uncontrollable hail of eroticism on him, which was unintentionally programmed.

His eyes closed, positioning her compassionate comforting face in his memory—a severe aching tugged at his heart. He wanted to lay his head on her flocculent thighs, as he always did, where her motherly fingers caressed his hair or massaged his shoulder blades in a soothing manner when he got back tired from office.  At times he behaved naughty by arching his cheeks to her heaving breasts, which went up and down giving him an elevated feeling.  Once he had turned gratuitously and kissed her protruding opiated fullness, and she sighed, returning a low husky laugh to his action and shoved his face away.

There were times when he tried to remain nonplussed in her presence and she would take the initiative of roving her hand on his neck and gently massaging his chest in an affectionate manner.  He wondered if she understood the kind of startling melodramatic current that she was passing on to him.  He couldn’t control the tightness in his pants every time she touched—if she noticed, it was confirmed by her saintly bewitching smile.

As he lay with his eyes shut, he knew he could not share his fantasies with his friends.  They would call him a pervert or would tell him that he suffered from an Oedipus complex.  His godly fancies had to be a guarded secret from other men who lurked around with lusty eyes at her celestial contours.

He abhorred those yearning, alien Herculean men licking their tongues greedily on seeing her—after all, she belonged to him as he had a life-long sexual binding with her.  He respected her as a motherly divine force, and yet his inner self felt guilty when his hunger wanted to smother her, pump her into never-ending orgasms, make her suck him, till she glowed like the goddess Helicon, make him greedily arch on her like a potent pyramid that suppressed the Pharaoh’s womb under its strength.

She played the role of mother earth, her fertility only possible if the seed sowed into her germinated.  Her prolific territory he had seen many times, being examined by manicured hands, maybe admiring the tightness of her skin.  She used to rove her polished fingers over her field of productive exploits, she squeezed her hanging breasts that were ripe and needed to be possessed.  Her stomach was like an uneven meadow that needed steady mowing.

He wished her hands were his, he would explore every bit of her body giving her a titillating arousal.  He would have ventured upon her earthly body in a demonic fashion, bringing about a high voltage of climatic release.

She possessed him like the magic of the witchcraft, her sexual ceremonial laments, her exploits of love, her husky laughter, her autumnal coloured skin, her halo of virtues troubled him galore.  His violent love for his fertile being, for the giver got a vigorous shudder between his legs, it made him open his dreamy eyes to face the corn mother sheepishly as he allowed the spring of life to wet his bed.

She was the dark mother of his dreams, of his passion, of his unrequited longing, of his burgeoning love.  He would carry her deep inside his heart, deep in his loins, full fleshed like the monsoon earth forever fruitful.  He would carry her with him wherever he went—out into the jostling crowds of life filled with the fragrance of women.  In everyone he met he would search for her, the dark goddess of his past.  In some he found a trace—maybe a way of smiling, touching, speaking, caring, just loving or an aura, but far from her, far from the real HER.

What if he found her?  What if he discovered another HER?  Would she be a person in her own right or just a reflection of the past, a past he couldn’t get rid of.  And when he touched her body, smelling of wild grass and hill and herbs, would he become a child again, entranced by the black magic of her love, or would he be exorcised, or be freed?

He had let the future take care of itself.  But for now, the wet fragrance of love fills the room like the aroma of belonging.  Deep in the hot fleshy womb of his life, she lies asleep like a colossus, with a quiet smile on her face.  At rest—and slowly, very slowly, when the yearning grows again in the centre of his being and spreads an aching warmth across his body, he’ll stir her awake to fill his world again.  The corn-mother.  The goddess.  The forgiver.  The lover.  The friend.  The only link he has with his darkness is his soul.  The only link with his past was his presence.  He, the son of the earth, a man of the earth, the flesh of the earth.  She, the mother.  What divine or human being could tear him away from her?


CHAPTER 10

I had to shut off the shower abruptly when the doorbell shrieked through my silent bungalow.  There could be just one visitor for me at midnight, the boy next door.  I draped my satin overall on my semi-wet body and hurried to answer the doorbell.  It continued to ring till I reached the door and opened it. Ashok, as usual, stood at my doorstep, giving me one of his odd casual grins.  He looked so easy with his cream slouchy loose trousers and a navy blue shirt.

 

“Madam, I have some interesting news for you,” he said, making himself comfortable on my unconventional couch.  I perked my eyebrows at the urgency of the news.

 

“Couldn’t you have waited till morning?”

 

“No Madam, I have just returned from Lasa.”

 

“Lasa, that magnificent village situated on the mountains.  What did you go there for? They don’t not grow spice in those regions.”

 

He gave me a non-specific grin and said, “I’m getting married to a girl from there.”

 

“Married!” I shot out off my cosy position like a black panther that had heard a gun shot.  This man must be insane, my mind screamed.

 

“What does your mother have to say?”

 

“She doesn’t seem to be happy and laments that I’ll regret it.”

 

“What do you have to say?”

 

“When my aunt showed me the photograph of Piroska, I fell for her.  On meeting her my heart never seemed to stop stumbling.”

 

My mind was in an uproar, not because I was unhappy with the liaison, as I loved Ashok not from the lovers point of view, (as many thought us to be) but as a friend.  We were early morning joggers and next door neighbours.  The difference in age was seven and yet we had become thick pals.  We both loved art and that was what kept us together.  Something else distressed me.  I lived alone in my house, he with his mother, Manasi.

Manasi and I shared a cordial relationship, tinkling wine glasses at common parties, or holding garden chats while pruning our respective plants in our garden. Also, there were times when she paid a visit to my ceramic pottery outhouse, where I spent my time painting on the earthen pots.  On the other hand, Ashok, being a businessman, got me clients and agents to take care of my pots.  He was a genuine critic of my work and made blunt remarks if I took a wrong combination of colours.  Ashok loved art and attended almost all the exhibitions held in the city by famous artists.  He spent a lot of money buying originals works of painters.  He placed them in his office or at home and sometimes, feeling generous, he presented it to his close friends.  Money never stayed for long with him.  He was a generous boy, always helping people around him.

Manasi as a woman I disliked, as she held a grudge against Ashok for being my friend.  I was aware that she thought that we were sharing something more than a platonic relationship, as many a time Ashok slept at my place when he was too drunk to go home.

 

“Madam,” he broke into my thoughts, “are you thinking about my Madonna?”  I just stared at him, unable to comprehend as to what was ticking in his mind.  He continued speaking out, “some day, I have to give her up.  It is going to be difficult to share Piroska with her.  I got bound to her sexually at the age of fifteen, when she taught me what lovemaking was all about.  I told you about that before.  Piroska will find it confusing at first, but with time she will understand my relationship with the umbilical cord.

Piroska, I felt, would be more shocked than anything else.  No woman would enjoy sharing her husband with another woman, that too, with your own Madonna.  You had your own dignity and self respect, and Ashok seemed to ignore the trouble ahead of him.  I thought of reasoning it out with him, after all, what were friends for?

 

“Ashok, I think you’re committing a grave mistake.  You’re destroying someone’s life.  You know, you can not free yourself from your Madonna’s clutches, you suffer from a hangover where she is concerned.”  I thought he would think over my words, but no—instead he just tried to justify himself with

 

“Come on, madam, I think I can manage.  I have made up my mind on this marriage.  I’ll find a way to keep my mother at bay.  I can’t let go of a damsel like Piroska.  Wait and see, you’ll love her yourself.”  I didn’t agree with his ramblings, and yet wanted myself to understand him, and he in return wanted me to comment on his method of escapism, which I could not bring myself to do.

I was not being conventional by finding Ashok’s oedipal complex an abnormality, as each individual had the tendency to divert from his usual path of life.  In the case of Ashok, his Madonna had to be blamed.  What seriously seemed to bother me was the situation he was brewing up for another woman, and a difficult one to get along with.  This complex was a hidden secret that was confided to me in trust.  Many women pursued him for his money, intelligence and looks.  Every time a relationship would form, Manasi tore it apart like a famished vulture.  She did not find her personal immorality unsettling, and it gave her some kind of crude pleasure to see her son unhappy.  She had tried many a times to bulldoze our relationship by dissuading Ashok from meeting me, but he seemed not to have given in to her pressure, and from then on, she did not interfere with our friendship.

He shared a close relationship with me especially, after telling me how his Madonna seduced him in her drunken state, calling out to her dead husband. From then on, his Madonna became a strong obsession, and every woman he met he tried to find the characteristics of Manasi in her.  He said, though Piroska did not resemble his Madonna, something about her ran parallel to her.  He could not analyse what it was.

After a couple of drinks, when Ashok had left my house, I leaned against my cushion covers a disturbed woman.  I suddenly became afraid for the stranger.  I had the urge to intervene by informing Piroska secretly that she was entering into a lion’s den.  Manasi would mentally torture her and Piroska would go into a depression.  My womanly instincts raced to protect the unwed woman, but it was not the done thing.  If I interfered indirectly and broke the marriage, Piroska would be into deep trouble.  The Indian psyche would blame Piroska and not Ashok.  I felt a sudden pang of love for the stranger.  There seemed no way to convince Ashok; he seemed to be mesmerised by Piroska’s beauty.  At the same time, I felt that he may be able to handle the situation between his Madonna and his wife, and I kept my fingers crossed for a positive marriage. At such times I wished I were a witch, waving my magic wand and saving dramatic situations.

There were times when I felt like throttling Manasi, and yet felt pity for the widow.  She was foolish for not getting married again, when she had so many business contacts.  I wondered what kind of a lust tempted her to seduce her own blood, and make herself a fixation for him, which he found difficult to dismantle.  I was aware that Ashok would never be able to draw boundaries between Piroska and Manasi, and to balance two legal relationships would be difficult for him.


CHAPTER 11

 

I could not attend Ashok’s wedding but heard from friends that it was great.  When I returned from Bangalore after holding my pottery exhibition, Ashok and Piroska had already left for their honeymoon to Greece for a month.  I was glad that the couple was away from Manasi.

 

Manasi’s face, I noticed, seemed to have impaled after Ashok’s departure.  She occasionally mentioned missing Ashok and how eagerly she waited for him to return.  In our few conversations, which we had over the garden hedge, I noticed that she made no mention about her daughter-in-law.  I was sure that she disliked Piroska.  I don’t think she celebrated her son’s wedding with the self-satisfied zeal of a mother.  I could foresee the kind of loss that she was going to face, and she seemed mentally unprepared for a compromise with the other woman.  She would have to share her life with Piroska and had to refrain from indulging in his private life.  I felt pity for her vulnerable state of mind as everything physical and mental seemed to torment and torture her, but if she was mature enough, she would keep away from her son.  I tried asking her about Piroska.

 

“Is your daughter-in-law pretty?”

 

“Kind of—those typical conventional kinds.”  She made her look like one of those types who applied loads of oil in their hair and put coloured ribbons through their braids.

 

“I am glad that Ashok has found a life partner.”

 

“He never really searched for one.  This lady was his first and last choice.  I wanted to show him more girls before he made a decision—but all my efforts went in vain,” she said in a sad tone.  She made no effort to hide her dislike for the little Red Riding Hood.

I met Piroska when they returned from Greece, and I fell in love with the girl who had a charming soft voice; she looked ravishing in her black jeans and a cream corset.  She seemed so much in love with Ashok, that in my heart I wished them luck, knowing that in another few days the melodrama would begin.  Piroska and I vibed instantly as our interests floated on the same plane.  Being an artist herself, she was overwhelmed when I told her that she could try her hand at some of my earthen pots.  We laughed when she said that her landscapes would beat the romanticism on Keat’s “Grecian Urn.”  What I liked about her was the subtle use of wit in between our conversation, and she had no hang-ups about learning new things.  It took us no time to become good friends.

In the months that followed, I tried to seek stress on Piroska’s face, but she showed none.  I felt she needed more time to confide in me.  I did not dare barge into her private life by questioning about Manasi.  She spoke very little about her Madonna.  I respected Piroska for her discretion; she was strong in character, had the will power of a cow, and knew that home matters were an individual’s private affair and not something that could be made public.  She had rare characteristics found in few women, who had the traits of displaying matters to be concealed within the four walls on the tea table.  You saw dirty linen being washed in public, mostly in feminine magazines and cubbyholes like the saloon and at the tailor.

Piroska was intelligent, well read and had a great sense of dressing.  She had a body that helped her to experiment with anything.  I was sure that in the nude she would look like a holy angel making the devil blush in his chained attire.

She was eager to learn my trade and spent long hours watching me play with clay.  I enjoyed playing with clay right from my school days; its softness had the power of creativity.  I loved the way it could be moulded into shapes at the potter’s wheel.  I remember sitting at a wayside potter’s shack for hours watching the creation of a water pot, and getting a good hiding from my father for returning home late.  I never repeated it again, but my eyes tended to throw a glance at the wheel when I cycled by, and it was then that I decided to have my own pottery business.  I saved all my pocket money.  I dreamt about beautiful pots, about having my own large space for a workshop, a storage place for the clay that would be purchased in huge bulk.  I had an aim that I wanted to fulfil on my own merit.  I could not tell Piroska how I managed to stand on my own feet, doing odd jobs, running errands for my neighbours, selling newspapers, and sleeping around.  I saved every penny to achieve my goal, as I knew that I would do it as creativity came to me very easily.  I had the ability to make my imagination run in all directions.  I wanted to be independent, and that I could achieve only with my will power.  Maybe in my last birth I was a potter’s child, as I felt so comfortable kneading clay.  The greyish-black colour of clay had a charm of its own.  When the wet substance mingled with my fingers, my imagination frantically searched for a new shape, a new form.  My hands wanted to bring forth an original contribution with the dark mud.

In due course Piroska helped me give orders to the unit potters.  She gave me ideas for different shapes, and at times amused the two potters by trying out her hand at the clay-wheel.  Her vivacious nature made her a favourite among my mixed circle of friends.  I always wanted to ask her if she would like to put a den for her painting.  I had a little space that I could provide for her easel and canvas.  I was definite that Manasi must have restricted her creative talent—that woman always sneered at my pots with “How long are you going to survive, dirtying your hands with that soggy mud.  Try your hands at business—you’ll be happy.”  I used to make her happy by saying,  “that only hard core women like her could manage the world of business and my art world was just a shadow in her life.”  This kind of a comment brought a smile to her painted lips.  She felt elated at my subdued submission towards my own work.  I was sure that she tried ironing Piroska out of her painting skills.  I couldn’t trust the vixen.  She could never understand the creative world that we lived in, the world of imagination and nature filled with a fantasy of different colours.  For Manasi, the big machines, the boxes, the plastic cases and the smell of spice excited her.  Of course, we all live in a different world, having different individual choices, and I was nobody to criticise her.  But I noticed that the more money she made, the more she wanted.  Ashok, on the other hand, did not have such extreme choices, and I was sure that instead of dissuading Piroska from painting, he would have taken immense interest to develop Piroska’s creative side.  I could not ascertain the real reason for my friend easing out of the art world.  Again, my conscience did not permit me to question.  Sometimes I felt that Piroska was still a stranger to me, due to which I felt awkward to cross-examine her.

When Ashok left for long business trips, Piroska spent a night with me at my place.  We use to spend hours lazing on my silk covers, chatting about Indian art, pottery, mythology, Egyptian mysteries, sex and mutual involvement.  We had strong disagreements over certain issues, and at the same time we agreed on many things over a chilled glass of wine.  It was during one of these nights out that she casually asked me about Manasi.

 

“Does my ma always live on a different plane?”

 

“What do you mean by that?” I asked, ignoring the fact that I understood her question.

“You know that she has a detached attitude.”

 

“She is reserved, and I have always known her to be like that,” I pretended to claim.

 

“No way, she isn’t the same with Ashok and her other business clients.  It is only with me that she is like frozen.  With Ashok, I have observed that she shares an extraordinary intimacy.”  I kept mum on that sentence, watching guiltily the frothing of white bubbles on my beer.  I allowed her to continue talking without any interruption.

 

“Sometimes, I wonder why Ashok is so spineless and takes permission for every decision he makes from my dear ma.  Did he consult her before he got married to me?  I am sure he must have!”

 

If only Piroska knew how Manasi had thrown a fit for a week, making her son’s life miserable, and how he spent those days at his office doing overtime work, or slept at my place after lapping gallons of beer and calling his Madona a bitch in his drunken state.  Poor boy, he thought she would improve after her marriage, but the woman seemed to be more horny, aggressive and demanding.  He complained to me how lusty she had become, and he was afraid that Piroska would discover the relationship.  He always walked around with a tense, uneasy look.  He tried to explain to her that she had to behave in reason, to which she had exploded into tears like a forsaken lover.  Ashok raised his hands in surrender and anguish, and told me that he had no other alternative but to manage with both his women, and if he got caught, then he would leave the rest in God’s hands. I hated him for this.  He wanted both sides of the coin.

 

“You are going to land yourself into serious trouble,” I said.  He just shrugged at that.

 

Didn’t the bastard understand that he had to choose a path?  He still had the time to change his thinking process.  He could still seek medical aid and I was sure that Piroska would help him.  Deep down I knew that I was breaking my heart over a boy who could not do anything on his own.  It had to be “mama, can I do this?”  He wanted to lick the cream and eat the cake too.  I had the urge to give him a decent lecture or take him to a doctor, but would I be successful with this man who was so much in love with the Madonna?  He needed a severe thrashing, or else he would lose the woman he married. I was very sure that the future for Piroska was very bleak.  Was she as strong as she showed herself to be?  How long was this energy to suppress her agony going to last, I wondered.  What I feared most was the negative impact that would destroy her totally.  Why could I just not tell her the truth?  Why? Why?  Alas! The truth would kill this gentle women who I felt pretended to be tough.  I kept all my fingers crossed for her to bear with the consequences.


CHAPTER 12

Ashok was caught between two women, both legal mates at different levels.  One was a seductive mother whom he loved and was helpless at her possessive nature, and the other was an adorable wife whom he wanted to treasure all his life.  Ashok could not live without both the women, as both played an important role in his life.

He recalled the day his Madonna seduced him.  At first he was shocked at the unusual touch upon his body, but with time he got absorbed in its aesthetic bliss.  She seemed to be a practised lover and guided him into the ultimate world of lust.  Her nudity fascinated him, and her body spoke in volumes, in different languages maybe.

He knew that morally he would be condemned by the society, but what the heck, why would any one check his bedroom?  Hadn’t he the right to live the way he wanted to, or should he be dominated by a mundane society who preferred to do everything behind a veil, and had not he become a part of this system?  One had to constantly be in touch with busy bodies who gave advice as to how others should live, and he hated them.  Though his secret was narrated to his next door neighbour, whom he trusted, to be discovered by others scared him.  It would bring shame to his Madonna’s image, and the world of business would have its last laugh, and that would drive him insane.  He could not imagine those lousy competitors guffawing away at the “rich bitch.”

He had matured overnight by losing his virginity to the deemed mother goddess.  She had ripened and nurtured him mentally and physically, and he could not see beyond her.  He was floored and obsessed by all her movements, the way she ordered around people, and she was harsh, rude, dominant, and gentle.  People respected her out of sheer awe, and many called her the stinking rich bitch.  He did get hurt at that reference but then she was so desirable to him that what others said did not matter to him.  He never thought that one day some things had to under go a change, as for him the change took place when Piroska entered into his life.

It dawned on him that this was a different woman, soft spoken, talented, wacky, and innocent like a new-born baby.  She attracted him instantly and he fell for her, not fearing the consequence at home.  He was pleased with himself for not taking his Madonna along to Lasa.  His Madonna was livid when he announced his decision to marry the pretty mountain lass.  She came onto him like a drunken monster, like a savage wolf wanting to tear him apart.  She harped and sulked about his feline choice.  She booed like a child who lost her toy and moaned like an injured animal who had been shot at.  The new intervention made her crazy.  She boggled him out of his senses, driving him to take shelter in liquor and his friend next door.  He could not bear the mental agony that he had to feast upon everyday.  He wanted to break free from her clutches, spread his wings and fly high into the clear blue sky.  A bird’s life was far more interesting than squirming like a soat.

Piroska seemed a bit suspicious of his abnormal behaviour.  She questioned him in a very indirect manner.  A small slip of the tongue and he would be damned and defiled for life; therefore, he had to be careful in the way he tackled her.  The best way to keep her at bay was to pamper her, and that kept her settled.  He had no intention of troubling her, as she seemed so understanding and did not get upset easily.  He did confide in her about everything, but not about Manasi, as the topic was delicate and would lead to fireworks.

When Piroska resumed her painting, Ashok could read through them.  There was a dull sullenest in them.  If her mind did not speak out, her colours did.  He started to feel miserable in his state.  Life became more complicated when he leaned on Piroska for certain decisions, making his mother grim.

Why couldn’t his mother understand that he had a future ahead of him?  He wanted to have a family like everyone else did.  Couldn’t she stop playing her sexual politics, she was breaking his marriage.  When would this woman come to her senses?  She did everything according to her whims and fancies.  She always liked to be the boss in bed and out of it too, and this unusual dominance of hers delighted him, due to which he could not reprimand her on any account.

The wicked smile on her lips possessed him with the kind of spell she had him under.  Sometimes he tended to over sleep in the Madonna’s room and felt ashamed when Piroska said nothing.  At such moments he got angry with himself and hated his mother for entwining him in this deviant tangle.  His next door friend advised him to stay separately, the idea suited him, but to be away from his Madonna frightened him.  He could not just abandon her like that—he would be committing a grave crime.  Imagine his Madonna in a lonely, hapless state.  She would be like a lonely soul in a grave, nobody to care for her, and this thought tormented him to the limits of decay.

Wasn’t he a confused fool who could not take a correct decision?  Hadn’t he married Piroska to set his life straight? So why was he backing out?  Hadn’t he decided to break the bond, then what was stopping him—his pent-up feelings on—the Madonna?  His optimistic determination had failed him downright.  He was going to rot in hell when he died; did that really matter to him?

His mind floated around like a misguided ghost, wondering why she had chosen him and not any other man?  He had not been aware why her relation with the Italian had split.  Did he have anything to do with it, or was it that she just got bored with the foreign species?  She sure was an arduous woman to tackle and her ill humour tended to turn Piroska’s life upside down.  He admired his wife’s tolerant powers and wished he were like her in some ways.  Was there a difference between his childhood and adulthood?  He learned about life too fast, he felt that any human being should grow up with time.  It was better to go along with the three phases of life, just as we went along with the cycle of nature.  At this time life sucked for him, and he felt like an aged lion who could not hunt any more.  He had the strong urge to rebel within himself.  Ashok hated his inner voice that forced him to divide his attention both ways.  He felt gloomy when he recalled his misdeeds.  It was not possible for him to compromise.  His inner self screamed and tormented him.  It has to be Piroska—Piroska, it bawled. The reminder seemed like his aged forefathers warning him of the dangers ahead.  Everytime the warning bell rang, Ashok drowned himself in liquor to free himself from his screeching forefathers. Those few moments made him feel as if a python was tying a knot round his neck.  He wished it were happening, the reptile twirling him around, breaking all his bones till he became limp like an impotent penis.


CHAPTER 13

I recalled Piroska strumming into my work place, looking withered and hassled.  Her eyes carried the blaze of a newly lit coal pit, while her blue denim shorts with a purple tank top gave her the look of a composed spring breeze.  I stared at her, waiting for the outburst.  She looked as though Satan had broken his chains and there was going to be havoc.

 

“God! that woman—that MADONNA of mine,” she burst out, pointing back towards her bungalow.

 

“What about Manasi?” I asked, afraid of the truth getting spilled out from the angel’s mouth.

 

“Have you ever come across a woman of her kind”

 

“What has she done to annoy you?”

 

“You can ask what she has not done,” she stamped her foot in anger.  I kept my silence watching her furious face frowning in disgust.  She straightened her shoulder to compose herself.

 

“How long have you know this bitch?”

 

“For a few years.”

 

“Did not you find something wrong with her?  That woman is a mentally confused being.”

 

“Did it take you so many months to judge her?”

 

Piroska looked at me, wondering what I was talking about.  “What do you mean by that? Her eyes blazed with fury.”

 

“Manasi is a little vague.”  I corrected myself before Piroska got suspicious of what I was getting at.  She did not catch on to what I said, and in one gush she said,

 

“She is bloody shameless.” What was new about that, I thought.  “Asking my husband to massage her, as though he were a masseur in some damn parlour.  Why can’t she drive down to a saloon instead of having people in the house taking care of her dry, twigged body.”  I continued brushing my baked pot with a burnt red oil paint.  She plonked on my spare cane stool, stretching out her long limbs and brooding.  “I do not mind if she taunts me, or refers to my painting as junk, but when she tends to get physical with Ashok, I get worked up.  She treats him as though he were her lover—God, if you could come and see her melodramatic and multifarious dispositions—in her seductive moods, baring herself in Eve’s fig leaves, sulking, throwing tantrums, you would not have stayed a minute under that red roof.  She is one hellofa fox.”  I agreed with that—FOX was too mild a word for that lady.

 

“What was Ashok’s reaction to all this?” I asked.

 

“What does he not do for her?  He drools all over her like a honeycomb that drips with excessive honey.  He worships her like a goddess.  Sometimes I get the feeling that I am nobody in the house.”  I could see the tears flowing down her cheeks.  How I wanted to tell her to pack her bags and go back to Lasa, as she would never understand the mother-son relation, and even if she did she would become bitter with it.  She should return to the exotic mountains and file for a divorce, as in this kind of a gloom she would become deranged.

Why were all these thoughts spinning in my mind?  Why did I not interfere?  Didn’t I feel protective towards her?  Then why did I not speak out?  I seemed like a serpent hiding behind a rose bush.  What was wrong with my approach?  I wondered.  I understood her pain and knew that she was in for a greater shock, then why was I getting this sadistic pleasure of holding back Ashok’s secret?  Why was I getting scared and of whom?  Manasi would be a happy person if Piroska left.  So why was I clamming up about telling her the truth?  I wanted to puke on myself for concealing my inner thoughts.

Watching Piroska sob, I had the urge to hug and console her, but I could not share her pain.  Who could feel the depth of someone else’s sorrow?  By sympathising with the mourner, you tend to add more salt to the sore wound.  I left her to sniffle on her own, and after a short while, when the loud sniffs subsided, she asked me if she could paint a pot.

I let her do so because she had to drown her sorrows.  We were so alike, whenever I got very upset, I spent all my time with the pots.  I guess this was the best way of spilling our pent-up emotions.

That was the last time I met Piroska, who I heard had left for Lasa.  In a way I was happy, and sad as I would miss her.  She left the pot for me, which was in the shape of a wine barrel.  It had vibrant colours.  On it she painted a crude outline of a distorted woman’s figure, which reflected on Piroska’s life.  It had taken no time for her to depict her emotions, and she had left it for me to decipher—which I did.  I kept Piroska’s pot in my drawing room, as it became a priced personal possession for me.  People who visited my place set their eyes on it, some wanted to buy it—I had refused.

This dead earthen pot pinpointed to my inner guilt of not being able to save Piroska right from the start.  If you tend to gaze at it for a longer period—it showed the flexibility of a mature mind.  I always felt a heavy gloom when I happened to stare at it.  I had lost a dear friend who had shared so many things in common with me.

After Piroska’s, disappearance, Ashok had made himself invisible by flying off to the Nicobar islands, maybe to sink himself or to purify his inner dirty soul in the spans of the clear blue water.  Manasi seemed to be lost in her world of business, and I dared not ask about Piroska as it would have infuriated her.  My source of information was far way from Sangeela.  I had felt hurt that he had not come knocking at my door, especially in his time of distress.  Sure, something serious had taken place.  It was not necessary for him to share everything with me.  I should not take our friendship for granted.  Did I ever tell him about myself—NEVER.  And I felt no need for someone else to give me advice.  Ashok was years younger than I, but that did not really matter.  Each one of us had something to hide from the world; some memories are for the self-alone.  So why was I getting frustrated about Ashok’s personal life?  I should let him fend for himself, as he was no baby who needed breast feeding.  I knew that I was not being true to myself, as I cared for this boy.  He at times was a child, and all children needed a finger to hold on to when they started to walk.

Though Ashok had narrated his true self to me, I had to keep my own guilt to myself.  How could I tell him that I joined a nunnery out of force, that my father could not afford to get me married and had decided to sell me in the flesh market.  How I had dragged myself to the holy place, knowing fully well that I had no interest in Christianity.  I knew that holiness in the four walls stank of hypocrisy, how they preached about the seven deadly sins but did not abide it to their private lives.  Could I have been able to tell Ashok the way I felt when I got to the convent, and how I had been isolated to seek myself?  How betrayed I felt about everything.  I could not bring myself to get involved in the Holy Spirit, nor could I trust myself in the hands of the holy women, who walked around as if to say the world did not exist. It had not been possible for me to tell this young man how I had disrobed myself and escaped from all the uninteresting lessons of morality.  I could not belong to any religion, though I respected all.  I hated the so-called rallies held to promote my breed.  I believed in living life to its fullest, and getting armed in white robes having to walk around with loose boobs had no genuine attraction to me.  I missed Ashok, though he did not belong to my school of thought in some matters of life.  I never told him how I worked my butt off to start my own business, how I borrowed money from my rich uncle, and how he made use of my body. The past was like a festering wound, wanting to ooze out its dirty pus every time it turned septic.


CHAPTER 14

 

Ashok had no wish to return to Sangeela.  The god-damned place started to repel him, how strange, he grew into a man there, everything around there had memories.  Each incident came to him like the seasons of the year, which he would rewind when he felt like; as of today, these memories stank like bat droppings.  He wanted to be far away from those memories that he could not cope with.

His Madonna had made a mess of his life, and to a certain extent he was to blame.  He never made an effort to drive himself away from her, she had stampeded into his life like a wild horse, and he being the untrained jockey had got tossed out of the saddle.  Now, what was the use of pacifying himself, for all his wretched mistakes?  He betrayed himself, and he felt like another Judas wanting to hang himself after the show was over.  His eyes strayed towards the sea, which was looking holier than ever in front of him, but it could not perform a miracle of purifying his cursed self. The water of innocence flowed over him, yet it did not help him to find redemption from his life.  He was a damned soul!!

Piroska left for good, and even if he sat with his fingers crossed through the whole year, his luck would never favour him.  One day it was going to happen (the spilt), but the way it happened, he could not trust himself to say it.  Many did not know why Pirsoka left suddenly for Lasa.  Manasi spun a yarn, as to how the two could not vibe.  Ashok squirmed at the lie told to friends with a straight face.  She never let him explain anything, as she needed no excuse to take charge of the situation (her son’s marital life).  She was not the least bit interested in Ashok’s emotions, she was not even bothered if he could handle the break-up, all she was concerned was about cleaning up the feminine touches left in his room, giving a thorough spring cleaning.

Losing Piroska was a great blow to Ashok.  He grew to love her.  He was so overjoyed when she declared that she was carrying his child.  He hid the secret from her (the Madonna), as she would not like the bond becoming stronger, and she would have become afraid of losing him.  What logic she had, could any child forget his mother?  Whatever she was, wasn’t every child made from the mother’s flesh and blood, to totally keep her aside was just not possible.  This woman had different concepts, which made heaven turn black, and she could make Satan hide behind his cloak.

He had no face to show his next door neighbour, he guessed that she must have analysed Piroska’s sudden disappearance, the lady was smart.  He should have listened to her right from the start.  He left Piroska like an uprooted rose, the nourishment that he vowed to give her led to malnutrition.  He felt like committing suicide, he felt like racing against the wind until it would exhaust him.  He had the strong urge to strangle the woman who gave birth to him.  She misled him by sexually abusing him at a tender age, and he fell for her, instead of moving out of her acidic shadow.  The earlier repulsion that he should have felt started to burst out now, but the situation had gone well beyond his control.

He wondered if he could reconcile with Piroska, but he knew he stood no chance.  He betrayed her and devastated her trust.  The suspicion that she had come to light in a very cruel manner made her walk into the streets and back to Lasa.  He did not know what happened to her, but he received a letter from her mother after five months of his wife’s disappearance asking for a divorce.  He did not resist, as he wanted Piroska to have some breathing space, and this time he had made up his own mind.  This freedom of thought lasted till he was out of her sight, cause the minute she appeared in front of him, his tender heart melted like an ice cube that received too much sunlight.

His Madonna was a shrewd snake, a whirlwind which did not know where its centre was, she was like Cleopatra who wanted to lure the Roman generals into her bed and then subdue them to “slavish obedience,” she was a wolf in a sheep’s clothing, wanting to destroy everything innocent.  He lamented over the grave mistake of not getting away from her on the first encounter.  Her body excited him, he just wanted to caress it whenever he could, and she was divine in any position.  Lust really made people berserk, no wonder the holy ones tried their level best to keep away from it to reach a higher plane, yet someone like Rajneesh said, “It is fun! It is God’s gift to enjoy and celebrate.  It is participating in the great festival that existence is.”


CHAPTER 15

Far, far away from the mundane human life sat the beautiful Piroska, twiddling her thumbs in the early morning sunlight.  The sunrays could not spread enough warmth, as the mist had not fully lifted.  She came early to her painting den, as she had decided on a picture in her mind to colour across her canvas.  The scene that she had in mind was of—the sun disappearing—a round red ball into the sea.  The sky a mixture of yellow, blue, grey, and brown, the sea slightly awakened by the evening wind and far away the sea seeming to gulp down the fireball.  The beach she wanted to paint with a baked look, and a small trailer left unattended.  She saw this in Goa sitting at the Haystack and carried the image to Lasa.  Piroska  wanted to bridge the gap between heaven and earth that morning, but her moods changed with time.  She suddenly became melancholy and had no intention of touching her paints.  She just wanted to sit there and relax, she was in a mood to laugh and to cry, she was in a crazy frame of mind, and wanted to indulge in something weird, which was not colourful.  She knew not what she wanted to do.

She watched the mist get lifted by an Unknown Force.  God spread his cloak over Lasa to protect its rustic people who were slowly getting used to modernisation and trying to cope up with the other side of the world.  In the distance she could hear the ring of a temple bell,  it was singing praise to lord Shiva in a very dedicated manner.  It had been ages since she had visited the holy shrine, she used to visit it regularly with her mother, but recently, after her return from Sangeela she had not gone.  She was not angry with the God for testing her or for taking her through a harrowing experience in life, but she was not yet ready to go on a holy trip.  She said her prayers while going to bed and that was enough of a formality for her.  Her mother always told her that she needed the help of God to strengthen her broken self, however Piroska disagreed.  Where was her God when she had lost control of herself?  Why should she pray to him now, after the damage was done?  She forgot him a long time ago, and the chapter was closed.

The people of Lasa consisted of two kinds, the poor and the rich.  The rich consisted of twelve families including hers.  The poor in Lasa were not poverty stricken; they worked in the fields, cut wood, worked as tea-pickers, earning a decent amount for their two square meals.  The place was too neat to see beggars hovering around for money, yet it was not a total paradise for a few.  This place had its own charm, and people lived with its natural surroundings.  One part of the fertile Lasa was cultivated into tea gardens, having its own manufacturing unit, some parts of the mountain could not be utilised due to heavy forestation, yet some villagers trekked into them to pick up herbs, wild berries, and dry wood.  One got to hear stories of wild beasts and of witchcraft, and Piroska enjoyed listening to tales about the medicine man who danced till his feet bled, on a new moon’s night to wade away the evil from a possessed body.  She read about black magic, but never saw the witch doctor.  If she ever got a chance to see him (as he lived inside the forest), she would want to paint him in his colourful attire of nudism, making her father fume with rage.  She would upset the old man’s sleep, making him dream about the bees and the birds, oh how she would love to see him all shaken.

Daughters were supposed to be pampered by fathers in almost all households.  However, in Piroska’s house he did not have enough time even time to look at her.  How strange it all seemed—the only daughter of the house that had no connection with her father.  She did not hate him in the real sense, but he disturbed her.  His relation with Sarah and with the other women upset her.  He showed no compassion to the lady he married. Her mother had everything—she was pretty, intelligent and creative.  Piroska found nothing wrong in her mother.  What was it that kept Suresh Bhat away from her?  Why did he drift away so far from both of them?

Once a year Lasa became a festive place. With the celebration of goddess Kalavati, there used to be an uproar, women bedecked in jasmine flowers, going to the local fair to sell their goodies, while the men dragged the cattle for selling.  During such times the place stank of cattle dung, jasmine flowers and stale fried food.  Most of the women wore red sarongs baring their tanned shoulders. This did not irk the men, as the dress was part of the festive mood.  If anyone at all got swayed by the bare look, it was the educated goons, the tourists, as they were called, who found the bareness troublesome.  As though such nudity did not exist in the cities.  Looking at the other side they appreciated the unique, attractive wooden jewellery that the local women created on their own—anklets, earrings, amulets and the mystical “tavis” given to them by the local priest.

Tourist attraction at Lasa, was for its scenic beauty.  The place had only three inns, due to which the inflow of outsiders was less.  Suresh Bhat and Ashara’s father built a club to entertain their guests and for the staff at the tea factory.  Two small pubs catered to the richie-rich kids, for the localities this was like their arrack shop in the market place, and hence its existence did not disturb them.  In spite of this small modern invasion, the local ideas, the spiritual bliss, and the innocent virtues did not get eroded; she prayed that Lasa would remain the same.  Piroska remembered the six miniature art exhibitions that she held at Lasa, it had taken a long time for her to get the right crowd.  She tried to hold it for one day so that the spectators could drive back to the next city.  Her last five exhibitions before her marriage got a superb response; she managed to sell almost all of her works, thanks to her agent, who she had never seen, for giving her so much invisible support.  Piroska wondered from where her mother got all her connections.  Without her everything would have been impossible, with the kind of father she had.  Piroska’s agent was someone reliable and trustworthy, and someone who loved art; due to this she could concentrate on her painting.  She did earn a good sum and felt relaxed at being her own independent master, spending the money the way she wanted.  Her marriage to Ashok turned the tables upside down, as her painting talents had gone under heavy sedation.  Though Ashok encouraged her to restart, her ma-in-law did not think much of her art; she was weird where sense of creation was concerned.  In spite of the Madonna cribbing, Piroska managed to do landscapes for their bedroom.  The damn woman led to all her miseries.

For Piroska the divorce was a painful one, she did not forget about Ashok totally.  He slipped into her mind often like the morning mist, leaving a damp feeling after it vanished.  Those were bad days, the process of the legal separation itself was complex, it brought disillusionment, self-humiliation and the loss of self-esteem.  It left open wounds inside her, and she thanked the gods for taking away her child.  She was told that she could not sire another child; that did not matter, as she had no intentions of getting married.  If she did have thoughts of getting married again, then she would have said yes to Yash when he proposed.  She did not want to give herself another chance, nor did she have the courage to go through it again; it was difficult to judge a stranger in a few encounters.  Yash was something else.  She could not call their encounter a one-night stand.  She wondered where he was.  Was he thinking of her?  Did she truly mean something to him?  Why was she thinking of him right now?  He did not even bother to find out if she was existing, though the opium flowers seemed from him!!  She held her hand to her heavy head and concluded that she was a confused person.

Piroska tried her level best to forget Manasi, whom she misjudged.  She was eccentric and was a typical psychological case, needing urgent help.  Piroska wondered how dumb she had been to over look the mother and son’s behavioural pattern.  Even when she suspected them; it was just a passing thought.  You read about it, but experiencing it in your own house was painful.  Her mother at first did not believe her story and thought it to be a kind of wild hallucination.  She did not dream that such incidents take place in an educated family, but with time she did manage to swallow the truth, that education had nothing to do with it.  If you were content with everything in life, you didn't indulge in such abnormal behaviour.  At the same time, such complexes could exist anywhere in the mind.

A sudden chill ran down Piroska’s spine as she tried to evade the gory past; old thoughts tired her out, and that temporary vision of the nude body lurching towards lusty desire repelled her.  The memories were too strong for her to hide in a dark passage, and they haunted her at anytime of the day.

It was a bright Saturday morning and she went to visit the doctor.  She took Ashok along at times to the clinic for moral support.  On that day he was unable to come, as an important client was to visit him at home. Manasi also stayed back when there was no need to, as Ashok managed the new clients.  Leaving the two together made Piroska uneasy, and she had found that bug nagging her mind, annoying, telling her that she would be sorry.  The doctor's visit was for a short while, and since she was in no mood to go back home early, she decided to do some shopping for herself, Ashok, and her next-door friend.  Manasi, she felt, deserved nothing of her affection.  Laden with shopping and groceries, stopping at the florist, she picked up a dozen red carnations, roses and white lilies; she drove home listening to the Beatles.

There was silence in the house when she walked in, though both the cars were parked out on the drive.  Piroska left the things on the table and started to move in the direction of her bedroom when she heard laughter coming from the spare bedroom.  She didn’t stop to think when she heard a seductive female voice commanding, “go on, do it,” and the muffled voice of her beloved husband saying, “spread out, damn you.”  Piroska felt as though the devil had possessed her and she threw open the door to see her legal mate in the ecstasy of love making.  Piroska for a split second wished she were blind as she saw the thunderstruck, ashen face of her husband, as though he had just received shock treatment.  Piroska recalled how bewildered she was and how the sudden hysteria made her scream and scream and charge down the stairs into the streets as though doomsday had arrived.  She heard someone call out her name, but nothing could stop her.  She sped like a wild beast trying to avoid the Day of Judgement.  The last she remembered was collapsing on the main road.  She got to hear from her mother how she was saved by a common friend who called Lasa and asked Sushmita to come, and the rest was history.  After all this drama, Piroska still had her doubts about Manasi, for at times she felt that she had not focused her attention on the woman beneath her husband.  Was she fantasising Manasi’s role?  This thought confused her so much that she let it remain buried for good, as she did not want to cause more problems to herself.

Piroska remembered the frustration that she had undergone.  There was no peace of mind. She used to get irritated so easily that one shied away from her.  She became short tempered, a reversal to the cool-headed babe that she had been.  She had moved into an insecure state of mind, where she failed to do anything concrete, just fading into a state of depression.  She had gone to the stage of self-pity, willing herself to die rather than to live.  Those days had been dreadful and her mother did not talk about them.  Piroska had been happy that her father was no where on the scene, or else she would have had a tough time with him snarling down her back.  Had he been there, she sure would have committed suicide, as he would never have believed her story. He was in love with Ashok, and he would have done justice to their love had he been gay.  Even had he known the truth, it possibly wouldn’t have mattered, having flings and one-night stands was a part and parcel of their business agenda.  Who slept with whom did not bother him.  Yet she could not read him, and wondered how her mother had coped with him for so many years.  She was thankful to Sushmita Bhat for keeping her illness a secret. People in Lasa wondered what was wrong with her. The local gossip was that she had been ill-treated by her in-laws, you did go out of your way to clarify the truth because with passage of time, people forgot about her ailment, credit had to be given to her mother, who handled the situation with such care.

Though Piroska did not care for her father and what he said did not bother her, she had been foolish enough to come under pressure by getting herself engaged to Ashara.  Why she feared this father of hers she could not tell.  She was aware that she needed time, especially since her last marriage had blown out like a candle flame.  In spite of having a communication gap with Ashara, she could not flee away from the social binding, she was a bloody coward, wanting to suffer more and more in life.  She seemed to have no control of her life.  She followed what her parents told her; at times she felt like the cursed Eve who listened to the crafty serpent who made her life miserable.  Yet she depended on those anti-depressant pills that she popped into her mouth when she got the feeling of losing her inner stability.  She had to give them up.  How long was she going to depend on them?

It had been a long time since she sat in the sun; she looked around into the eyes of nature, breathing in all its harmonious glory. She loved nature, as it inspired her to paint.  Everything that she saw seemed new the next day, and this excited her no bounds.  Getting up from her comfortable position she walked into her den.  Opening the wooden door gently, she gave out a muffled cry; on her cane table lay a bunch of fresh opium flowers.  It seemed as though Yash had been here, but why had he left without meeting her?  Why was he avoiding her?  She was confused.  Did he know anything about Ashara?  Was he trying to blackmail her?  Suddenly she became afraid to be alone.  This heaven of hers looked like a dark cave.  She did not to stay here a minute longer.  Locking her door, she trotted home on foot, forgetting that she had driven here.


CHAPTER 16

Piroska walked on the road without lifting her head; she seemed to be in a daze.  Her eyes did not tend to stray over the beautiful landscape, nor did she hear the koel coo.  She ignored Bi and his sheep, she could not smell the fresh bloomed flowers, nor did she admire the deep forestation on the right side of the road, she did not even feel her feet getting heavy as she kept walking on, her mind was in total disarray.  When she got home, she ignored her mother and her guest, who were sitting on the right wing of the house, where you could watch people walking up the drive.  Piroska walked into the comfort of the house, her gait suddenly slowed down when she smelled the familiar smell of cigar smoke, which had irritated her nose at the Haystack in Goa.  The smoke was drifting in her direction.

Yash was in her house with her mother, but how could that be?  How did her mother know Yash?  If she did know him, than why did she not mention him to her?  Piroska wondered if it was really Yash sitting with her mother, as she did not see the person but only smelled the pungent cigar.  Piroska had this sudden urge to turn and go back to the place where her mother was sitting, but she chickened out.  There was nothing new in this action of hers, as she was always running away from life, she wished she could tear her hair apart for being so silly.  She fled up the stairs and shut the door with a bang, an anger was seething inside her; an unknown fury was building up which would explode soon.  What she needed now was for Yash to open her door and kiss her for a long time.  She realised that she loved the man and wished to marry him, this fleeting thought about marriage surprised her.  For all these months she avoided this topic, but she realised at times that she needed a companion to share her inner feelings.  She needed someone to discuss, to debate on certain issues that mattered to her.  She would love to have someone who understood her vibes, her colours, and her love for reading and for nature.  Who would fit into her dreams?  None other than Yash!  She was aware that this was a shattered dream and she was asking for the sun God to descend upon earth, without wooing him.  She remembered Guilford Dudley’s sayings, “Dream your dreams, then blueprint your dreams, and finally contract with yourself to construct them stone by stone.  But while you are dreaming, Dream Big.” She walked straight towards her dressing table; this was the best place to study her inner lost soul and to see her big dreams. She did have one big dream and that was to become a famous artist, an artist who would be remembered for her work of art and her imagination. She should not fade away from the minds of people. If only this dream of got fulfilled, she would rejoice with all the gods of heaven.

Piroska sat in front of her mirror and gazed at herself.  She looked at her reflection, which stared back at her with a gloom.  She gazed into her beautiful eyes, which looked so dull.  What had she done to herself?  She had murdered the youth within herself.  She had lost the glow of the moonbeam on her.  She looked like a harvested meadow where the wind had swept the high grass to its knee.  She looked like a tree that had shed it’s autumn leaves, her face seemed bored and tired.  Why had she done this to herself?  She continuously questioned herself.  She should not indulge herself in her own misery, even though she had no one to share her woes.  Although her mother stood by her side like a firm shadow, Piroska at times felt she was too immeresed in her emotions, which would annoy her mother.

She continued to stare at herself, feeling sad that one marriage could bring about so much change.  She questioned herself if it was worth thinking about. Ashok?  She could not live with his memories all her life.  Had she not forgotten him when Yash picked her up in his strong arms—she knew that Yash would never propose to her, as here it was she who made the grave mistake of refusing him when he proposed.  The memories of Yash could not be buried like a mummy.  The love that she felt for him was not meant for decaying.  If at all she wanted him, she had to go to him, but how was she to manage it?  She had to pick up courage to tell Ashara that she could not marry him, and she lacked the guts.  Was she not a coward, she asked her reflection?  It seemed to agree with her thoughts.  What was she to do?  Why was life so difficult for her?  The reflection seemed to say that she was at fault.  She just had to do something serious.  She had no intentions of going back to those sorrowful days.  She was cheated on for the first time by Ashok, and here it would be she who was betraying Ashara by subconsciously thinking of Yash.

As she sat on the stool in front of her mirror, combing her hair, she heard a knock on the door, her heart stopped beating for a while.  The door knocked three times, Piroska did not get up from her seat, she was afraid of facing Yash.  She heard the door handle turn, making her pulse race.  A sudden frown crept on her face as she saw the reflection of not Yash in the mirror, but her fiancee.  She wanted to fling the vase at him and break his nut.  Why didn’t anything happen to him?  He got on her nerves!  Staring at him as though he were a stranger, she decided to tell him what a bore he was.  Since the time she had returned from Goa she avoided him, telling him that the courting could wait till her exhibition was over.  She entertained him at home, getting bored with his non-stop chatter about his new outlets in north India, and what kind of a wedding his parents had planned for them.  At times he sounded like her ex-husband, and she hated him even more.  She wondered what kind of complex he faced.

 

“Why don’t you sit, Ashara.” She said in a delicate voice.  “I have something to tell you.”

 

“Please Piroska, don’t cancel this date of ours, as it been a long time since we went out.”

 

She just gazed at him, and her mind encouraged her to go ahead with whatever she was going to tell him.

 

“Ashara , I cannot get married to you as we just don’t vibe well.  I feel we are two different people having different value systems, and in the near future we’ll be getting on each other's nerves.  I hope you understand.”  He just stared at her, his face broken up like a caramel pudding that had not set.

 

“You cannot do this to me at the last minute.  I am sure your father is not going to like this.  Who is going to marry a disturbed person like you?  You were lucky that my father decided to hang the noose round my neck.  You are sick, Piroska, you are ill in the body, and in the mind and no one can save you.” His eyes spat fire and he looked so very ugly.  She was glad that he said nothing about her past, which meant that he knew nothing about Ashok’s passions.  How would he when just her mother and the counsellor knew about it. She looked at him—how could she marry this insipid creature? She just wanted to dump him in the backyard. She wanted him out of her sight. If he stood a minute longer, she would puke.

 

“Please leave my room,” she said curtly.  Who will marry me is my own problem not yours.  Get out of my room, and if I am sick,  I’ll take care of it.”  She loved the voice that rang out with confidence from her throat, she felt happy at her bold step, she had to be brave and she knew she would be.  Sushmita Bhat walked in when the last sentence was flung at the angry oil tycoon, who walked out in a great hush.  She walked up to her daughter and hugged her.  She said nothing to her daughter, but Pirsoka knew that her mother was proud of her.  If she got the support from her mother, then she knew she had nothing to fear.  Let her father bawl his balls out, she would not be afraid.  That man controlled her life to a large extent, but now she made up her mind on this social contract.  How long would she have people trampling all over her?  It was high time that she made her own decisions. With her, decisions did not remain permanent. Today would never be the same as yesterday—unstable was her mind!!

This sudden opening of her inner hidden self frightened her.  What if she over reacted to situations and had a relapse, then it would be difficult for her to set things right.  She saw her mother sitting on her bed, watching her in deep thought.  This woman understood her, and Piroska was assured that her mother was happy for her.  Sushmita Bhat’s mind was dancing with the glee she had been waiting for this day when her daughter would saddle her own horse.  She felt happier thinking of her husband’s fuming face, his ego would be hurt and for sure there would be a real show down that she would be able to face.  What had she to lose, especially when her daughter was moving in the right positive direction?  She felt like telling her about Yash, but at the same time felt that the excitement would be too much for her.  She left Piroska with a smile.

That night Piroska stood by her bedroom window watching the twilight fade into the darkness.  Her face glowed with a beauty that was difficult to explain, it had a calmness of a clear sky, and her normal weather-beaten look was transformed into a bed of bright carnations.  The evening wind blew gently over her happy state of mind.  It seemed as if all her troubles were submerged into a deep sea, her face showed an enthusiasm unknown to herself, and yet in the pit of her stomach she felt a little uneasy.  She felt as though this sudden burst of energy was only a temporary phase, and when she woke up the next day all her courage would be washed away.  She felt wretched at her own insecure feelings.  She shrugged her shoulders to wade away these dark thoughts.  She was not a fallen woman who would want to hide her face, she had not committed a crime nor did she feel guilty about having sex with Yash.  Those had been moments that she wanted to cherish all her life.  She found love so abstract, as it changed with each human being.  For her it was Ashok whom she had drooled all over, and then her love got blown out of proportion, then her fleeting stay with Yash had made her so giddy-headed.  Was there something wrong in her approach towards love?  She seemed such a broken woman.  Her calm yet confused mind stared into the dark night; the slow blowing wind made her sleepy.  She laid on the bed without getting out of her clothes, and fell into a deep sleep.

That night she had a weird nightmare.  She dreamt of her honeymoon in Greece.  She saw herself holding hands with Ashok at the temple of Lindos on the island of Rhodes.  She remembered how they had admired the geometrical structure; she recalled some of the harsh landscapes and the copse of cypress between Sparta and Kalamata, and how both of them had dwelt upon the scene.  She saw visions of themselves making love on their hotel balcony on a new moon’s night.  Ashok taught her to be a master in bed, always wanting her to be on the top.  Those lovely moments faded when she felt as though she were getting lost in the great theatre of Epidaurus, and saw masked men walking in her direction, they looked so queer in their disguise.  The masks they wore were weird.  They were of wolves, demons, fairies, nymphs, kings and peasants.  They all seemed to approach her with some kind of anger.  It seemed as though the masks changed colours as they came closer and closer to her, forming a magical circle around her.  Someone who wore the mask of a witch started to chant spells and curses.  As the whole lot came around her, they performed a vague dance.  It was slow at first and then it moved faster and faster.  They created a rhythm with their feet.  She was afraid of this colourful scene.  Piroska dug deeper into her blankets, feeling cold suddenly in her slumber.  She saw her friend soaked in clay and colour, she looked a sight.  She saw Manasi falling off a cliff and, as she headed downwards, she was screaming out for her son.

Piroska saw the moon throw down her bright light.  This light lit up the dark tree leaves, giving them a silvery touch.  Somewhere her eyes caught the flash of a glow-worm, she heard the crickets sing in a harmonious note, she thought she heard the cry of a hyena far away.  The pond in her garden looked like a headless jellyfish, the moon’s reflection could be seen in the pond.  It had a distorted face, as it had to glow among the bloomed lotus flowers.  Suddenly she saw the shadow of the devil hanging around her.  The moonlight gave way to a dark abyss, in here she saw bats and spiders crawling all over the place.  She saw a spider spin its web around her, trapping her in the centre so that she had no chance to escape.  Piroska waved her hands about frantically trying to break the web, she felt herself getting tangled deeper and deeper.  To free herself she used so much of force that she could see the strong threads breaking.  She felt herself jerk out of bed, as though she had an exciting climax, waking up with a satisfied smile and finding herself on the floor.  That morning Piroska laughed aloud and overslept, having no dreams.


CHAPTER 17

 

Three days were left for Piroska’s art exhibition.  She painted thirty small and big canvases, taking around seven months to complete her work.  This time she had chosen the sea as her theme, not that she wanted to drift away from her landscapes, but she just wanted to test her creativity as to how far it would take her.  She had booked the new Wayside inn’s art gallery, it was not a big one, but big enough to hold small exhibitions of all kinds.  Though it was called a gallery it was not one in the true sense of the term, as she was the only blossoming artist in Lasa.  The word was as fashionable cliché shion as when you look around and find book shops being named boutiques.

Piroska, with the help of her mother, Menaka, Bi and other close friends, put up the paintings a day earlier, not leaving anything for the last.  Her guest of honour to throw open the exhibition was kept as a secret.

 

“Who is it, Ma?”

 

“Wait and see dear,” her mother said with an amused smile at her daughter’s curiosity.

 

“Is it M.F.Husain, Satish Gujural Saba Hasan—Who ma, who is it?”

 

“Piroska, have patience, we still have one more day to go.”

 

“Will he be a good critic of my work?  Ma, you know that I enjoy people critiquing my work, as that helps me to work harder.”  Her mother just nodded.

 

“I don’t want someone who will glorify my paintings.  It has to be crucified,” she muttered.  Her mother had a lot of good contacts, being a lover of art herself, though she had not tried her hand at paints, she had a strong feeling for colours and at times she influenced her daughter on a new canvas.  Piroska trusted her mother’s choice on the guest.  What would she have done without her mother, this was one person who she would never give up on.  Time played all kinds of pranks on her, it passed by her door, making her feel rejected and forlorn, but time also gave her a mother who was very comforting during her period of illness.

On the day of the exhibition, the day being a Sunday and the air a bit frost-bitten, Piroska wore a gorgeous rust wool kurta, layered with neat embroidered facing and a matching shawl.  She adorned her ears with delicate wooden earrings.  Her hair had been brushed back till it shone; her face with its slight make-up glowed glamorously.  Sushmita Bhat eyed her daughter with envy and pride.  She felt so proud that she gave birth to this child.  This baby of hers needed all God’s blessings.  She had under gone so much of pain, she needed to relax her mind and be her own self, time was playing with them.  It took time for her to reject Ashara, and she seemed not disturbed by her action.  This flesh and blood of hers will surely go places with her paintings, she had her mother’s blessings.

Sushmita Bhat wished her daughter would confide to her about Yash.  He would make such a good husband for her daughter.  He was the kind who would be able to gel with her likes and dislikes.  She was confident that Piroska would be happy with him.  Yash did not mentioned his interest in Piroska, which made her close the subject. How she wished something would work out for her daughter.  She loved Piroska so much that at times she did not feel like parting with her.  She distanced herself so much from her husband that to reconcile with him would be impossible.  She had no intentions of going back to him.  Though they shared the same bed, he hardly was present in town to sleep in it.  Conversation between the two had become so cold that they could sit next to each for hours without saying a word.  Sex was a forgotten theme in their story, though she did miss it, for she was human, but at the same time she tried to curb her sexual feelings by not thinking about it, it was hard penance.

The drive to the inn had been one of non-stop blabber.  Piroska, with her nervousness about the guest, kept looking out of the car window, and the young Menaka was excited about all the men she would be meeting.  Menaka had always been a social bird, going for parties, over night treks, horseback riding, hunting, anything with men and adventure suited this young blood.  She was brought up in a very liberal manner by her parents, who owned race horses and a construction company.  Whether she maintained a code in her freedom, nobody knew, but the girl got along with everyone.  None of the ladies seemed to be missing the presence of Suresh Bhat.  After hearing that Ashara and Piroska broke up, he did seem not interested in attending the exhibition, he made an exit by taking off to Manila with Sarah.  His absence did not hamper anyone’s spirit, as had he been there, Sushmita and Piroska would have felt uncomfortable under his gaze.  He would have haunted them with his presence.

 

“Art,” he would have said, is apppreciated by fools living in their own paradise.  He had a special way of scorning when he disliked something.

They had reached the Wayside inn an hour earlier to arrange the last few details, and to see if all was set right.  The room looked picturesque—blue skies, sunny seascapes, a tumultuous sea, and ferocious seawinds, where one could not distinguish the sea from the sky.  Piroska balanced her work by having the dawn and the dusk on the sea surface, the involvement of the sunrise and sunset with the stretch of blue spans of water.  She captured seagulls in flight and white storks staring into the water.  She showed the sea waves in a joyous mood, you saw lonely canoes left unattended, fishing nets hung to be repaired, a beach filled with ripple marks, sea waves engulfing small sand dunes, black rocks covered with frothy waves.   As she saw each of her canvas on display, she hoped that her long efforts would be appreciated and painting purchased.

Piroska was aware that some of her regular customers were moody and took to one standard colour.  In this display she experimented with colours and the theme was new.  She felt every canvas to be bewitching.  She sweated it out to bring out the best in her talent and creativity.  Her mother had been a support by allowing her to go places having natural beauty.  Sushmita Bhat always told her daughter that “your canvas should come alive.  People should feel the atmosphere of the theme created.” What her mother said was true.  Piroska developed the eye to see life in its natural element, and as she stood gazing at a picture having a shack, cane chairs and a sprawled out beach, Menaka came shooting into the room, announcing her guest.

 

“Piroska, hurry your mother is calling you.”  Menaka did not mention anyone’s name; she just caught Piroska’s hand requesting her to hurry

 

Piroska composed her nervous self, brushed back her hair and walked out of the room, knocking the marble flooring with her low heels.  As she approached the glass door of the inn, her eyes caught sight of a blue Cielo passing.  She got a knot in her stomach; the car seemed very familiar.  She reached the door and could not charge back, as her feet got fixed to the floor.  However much she tried to lift her feet, they would not move; they seemed paralysed.  She felt as though her world had come to an end.  Her lips started to quiver and she got goose pimples all over her body.  She wished an angel would descend and lift her to heaven.  Piroska stared at her guest, transfixed by his deadly presence, he seemed changed, his hair had greyed and he looked mature.  She felt Menaka nudge her from behind, and she had no choice but to move towards her divorced ex-husband, Ashok

He had a cynical look, the same wild look he had when he made love to her in Athens on a new moon’s night.  He looked the same in his well-tailored clothes.  His lips wavered to a sly grin and she knew not what to do.  Sushmita watched her daughter’s tense face, afraid the young lass would break and weep.  She waited to see Piroska’s next move.  She felt that the positive side of Piroska would ooze out if she dealt with the situation with care, then she had won a battle.  If Piroska broke down as she had when she saw Ashok on the day of the divorce, then it meant that her baby did not got over her past.  Not that she expected her daughter to forget everything, as that would not be human.  Had she forgotten Raj?  No, and she would never be able to do so.  She understood that both had different histories, where Piroska had suffered the most in her own way.  She clenched her fists as she saw her daughter walk elegantly up to her guest.  She prayed that she would not be abusive and throw a tantrum; a sudden feeling of insecurity ran through her.  “Has she made a mistake,” she asked herself, watching her daughter walking with her head held high.

The only movement that the bewildered Piroska could manage was to smile and lead her guest into the gallery, where every painting was highlighted by small lights.  She felt uncomfortable upon seeing him, but a fleeting wave of courage came to her when she looked at her mother.  She had done this for her sake, and even though she wanted to misbehave, she could not, as she owed it to her mother.  Apart from her mother, she gained an inner confidence to confront all kinds of miseries.  Piroska felt that this confidence that she got was somewhat related to her nightmare.  The impact had been good enough to wash away her nearness to all relationships.  This Ashok, who stood in front of her, was no one of importance to her, he was just her guest, and guests had to be treated with care.  She was amazed at the way she was carrying herself.

Among claps and applause the exhibition had been thrown open.  Piroska had to tag behind Ashok’s slow gait as he inspected each canvas with a patient hawk eyed look.  He spoke few words to her—just a little need of an extra blue, or an extra brush of this colour, sometimes he found certain angles were not proportioned or a view needed to be highlighted.  He spoke in such low tones that Piroska had to lean close to him, smelling the familiar smell, and for a spilt second she felt giddy.  The sudden voice of Menaka got her back to reality.  How could she think about this man’s smell, his sweat suddenly smelled of betrayal. He smelled of his lover, the woman who laid beneath, laughing in a glorious manner.  It was a mistake, she was not getting turned on by his closeness, but the stink of the past repulsed her.  She started to feel uneasy, and maybe Sushmita Bhat, sensing her daughter’s state, reached out to her by clasping her hand.  No sooner had the fingers wound around each other that Piroska relaxed her tense face.  For a second she needed the support, and then jerked her mother’s hand away.  Sushmita could have jumped with joy at being pushed aside, her baby was getting tough and she liked this change in her.

After viewing the entire scene, Ashok got into conversation with Menaka and Sushmita.  She over heard him telling them that this exhibition was a feast for the eyes as it had showed good brush-work.  It showed that Piroska had full control of her theme, texture, mood and style.  He went on to say that, “every subject and composition was different.”  A critic generally spoke for himself, but in the case of Ashok, he knew the kind of women she was.  It made the artist happy.  Piroska engaged herself, talking to her customers and friends.  Many a times her glance went in the direction of her ex husband, she was annoyed that he never asked a word about her.  She wondered if he felt the same?  She wanted to ask him about the next-door friend and, of course, about his dear Manasi.  He caught her looking at him and managed to throw a smile in her direction.  She felt ashamed at her thoughts.  He had been her husband for eight months and she had loved him.  There was still some stray amount of affection felt for him.  He betrayed her and she hated him for it but, as a person, Ashok was very good.  He had always taken care of all her needs and had helped her to set up her small painting den, where she had painted just two canvases of the dwindling sunset for their bedroom.  He had made her feel comfortable in his mother’s presence.  Being an avid reader of literature, both could understand some of the concepts of life—and when they did not agree it used to be sweet war.

Piroska did not have the courage to have a decent conversation with him, though she truly felt like having a show down.  She wanted to question him, WHY?  She watched her mother introducing Ashok to the guests.  Pirsoka knew that the Bhat social circle would be buzzing with gossip.  They would not understood why Ashok had been called as the guest, nor would they be able to confront the closed-lipped woman—her mother.  Piroska wondered how Ashok had consented to come after two whole years had passed after their divorce, and how her mother had managed to get him here in Lasa.  She was going to ask her, once the sun had set its calm sunbeams.

Ashok did not stay on for lunch, much to the relief of Piroska.  But he did something crazy outside where his car was parked.  He gave her a quick kiss and told her that he was sorry for what he had done to her.  He gave her no chance to speak as he drove away with her favourite canvas of the sea, the shack and the cane chairs.  Piroska looked at her mother as she felt her cheek, “Life is weird, ma” and sobbed in her mother’s arms.

Menaka, who got the glimpse of the scene, withdrew back like a sly fox.  She went inside the gallery and kept the remaining few guests entertained.  Not having any background of Piroska’s marriage, she became a bit upset with her aunt for inviting Ashok, as it had upset her cousin.  She made up her mind not to talk about him as she had no wish to encroach on a subject that would hurt her cousin.  Menaka never asked Piroska about her divorce, but had heard that they got divorced because they could not get along.  She had wondered how anyone could not vibe with Pirsoka.  She was not the kind that anyone would dislike.  She was happy when she heard that Piroska’s engagement was called off with Ashara.  That man bugged her soul right from the day she was introduced to him.  He reminded her of a mouse that needed some feed to look alive, he had such a doped look all the time.  She wondered how Uncle Suresh liked him, especially when he moved in such fashionable company of the rich and the snobs.  Her uncle did not realise that he would never find a Sushmita in his mistress Sarah.  The woman had glamour but no substance in her, she was hollow from within, and was in the habit of squeezing the rich.  Today it was Uncle Suresh, tomorrow, if she got bored with him, then it would be someone else.  Though her uncle knew all about her, he stuck to her like a glue stick.  She never could understand men, even some that she kept company with.

Menaka looked around at the paintings, almost all of them had been picked.  She saw that her cousin had a keen artistic eye and revealed an intense sensitivity for whatever theme she painted.  Her visitors praised her work.  When you read through some of the paintings, it showed emotions and uncertainties that existed in the artist’s subconscious.  It told the viewer a story.  Piroska had a colourful imagination, whether it was the sea or the towering mountains—everything came alive with her brush.  Menaka felt that her cousin needed this appreciation, as she had worked hard on each piece and was a sincere artist.


CHAPTER 18

That evening Piroska did not return home along with her mother and Menaka.  Since she needed breathing space, her mother did not insist on joining them.  Sushmita on her own realised that Piroska had a lot of thinking to do.  This exhibition opened doors for her and made her meet new people.  Many of the guests made references to her talent.  The choice of closing and opening new doors lay entirely in her hands.  If she decided to shut all doors, then she would have to live in the dark.  However, if sensible, she had a dynamic future with people wanting to support her art and it’s themes.  Though Piroska’s themes were common, they were divine in their own way.

They were paintings where one could stand and stare for a long while, as there oozed with the smell of flowers, her landscapes were bright and sensuous, her mountain valleys were deep and dangerous, her twilight had the touch of purple hue, she got life in her dawns, her small streams seemed to ripple with joy—she could go on with her daughter’s world of colours.  Sushmita was thankful to have given birth to just one child, her second had been a blue baby who did not survive for many days and after that she could not conceive.  She was sad then but today she was happy with this child, who gave her more happiness than her husband did.

She felt sure that that her daughter had tried to get out of her psychological doldrums.  The way she conducted herself with Ashok was amazing.  What Piroska needed was to set her life on a blanched platform, as these last two years she seemed to be sitting on a see saw, where she went up and down.  She never gave herself a chance to think positive as she spent all her time mourning about the past.  At times Sushmita felt like walloping her till all her sorrows turned black and blue.  Piroska found a cosy enclave in the mountains, where she used to sit for hours lost in dreams, and Sushmita told her many a time to avoid the mossy place, as it’s dampness added more to her grief, but Piroska never listened to her mother.

This was the place where she felt comfortable thinking about Yash.  Sushmita realised in the last six months she had shown a great deal of improvement in her work—the Goa trip had done it all.  Sushimta Bhat kept her fingers crossed as she got into the car.  She prayed that things would move in a positive direction for her daughter.  Even if she did not get married, she could shine in the art world, sometimes she felt marriage to was a social binding or a long termed contract—what happened to her marriage???  She could not even get out of it’s damned clutches, as she was tied down to it like a prisoner.  In no way did she want her daughter to face an unsettled life.

After seeing her mother and cousin off, Piroska walked down to her den.  Her remaining five paintings that had not been sold were sent with Bi and Sam, her gardener in the office, Tata Sierra.  It was a pleasant walk of twenty minutes.  The sun was not yet preparing itself to set, the autumn leaves shone like golden leaves in the dying light.  The “winnowing wind” was playing with her black tresses, and she liked the coolness of it’s touch.  She felt her spirits high, as this exhibition had done her a world of good.

She enjoyed the compliments that were bestowed on her.  Many of her friends advised her not to waste her sense for creativity.  She was given a superb offer to supply her works to the Viper chains of five-star hotels, which were hotels in the Mediterranean countries.  An old friend of her father’s promised to sponsor her next exhibition in Bangalore.  What more support did she need to boost her morale?  Many of the newcomers requested her to make duplications of what had been sold out; this was not possible, as to recreate an image for her was difficult.  She experimented once, but it never synchronised with the original form.

The man she appreciated the most was a Jewish art critic, Mr. Cohen, a friend of her mother and her agent.  He was an old chap, sporting a French beard with the heart of young man; he never looked his age of seventy.  He had an upright walk, polished manners like an English count, he spoke excellent English and had a flirtatious nature.  He comfortably slipped his strong hands around her small trim waist and looked so with the pipe stuck stylishly at the corner of his mouth. He guided Piroska from one canvas to the other.

He stopped by each canvas and with his Jewish deep set eyes, finding fault in everything he saw.  He found some canvases to have gaudy colours, some to be dull or too bright, on some of the canvas he found her vision of an image not so clear, it was not concrete.  He evaluated her work like an examiner would do a math paper.  Though he criticised her work, at the same time he gave tips as to how she could improve on her brush strokes and gave her a small pep talk on the blending of colours, and at times he told her why he did not like modern art.  For him some of the modern artists came through in a very sluggish manner, and some he felt got away with having just a line drawn across the canvas. According to him, an artist should make his painting be felt to the audience, it should have an inner sensibility.  When you see an image, it should be felt.

Piroska at moments found him to be very critical, but she liked his frankness and his enthusiasm to advise her.  This evaluation helped her to look at her work from a different angle.  He spoke in low tones, nearly in whispers so that no one would hear what he was saying to her.  He stayed for two hours, and his short stay lifted her spirits.  She had noticed that he spent some time with her mother and both seemed to have been in a serious conversation, at times looking in her direction.  She ignored the glances, though she was curious to know what they had been talking about.  She hoped her mother was not saying anything about her past to him, she would like to keep her past a secret, as it was something that should not be abused.  As she walked lazily, thinking of what various folks told her, she missed someone’s presence at the exhibition—her father's.

Whatever resentment she felt for her father, however afraid she had been of his dominant presence, yet had he been present, he would have completed the family circle.  Though her mother had avoided his company at home, in public she was a good actress, pretending to be in love with him and ignored people around who were well aware of Sarah.  As Piroska kicked a stone on the road and watched it stumble and roll, she thought about Sarah.  How long was this relationship going to last?  She was much younger than he, and the day would come when she would get bored with his company—then what?  Would her jilted mother accept her husband again?  Her mother had a soft heart, but whether she would bend to Suresh Bhat was something Piroska could not tell.  Coming back to her mother was not possible.  What if she gave him a chance to start on a new slate, would he improve?  Piroska doubted that, as he had a soft spot for the beautiful woman.  She felt sorry for her mother.  What would she do if she got married again?  She would be so broken hearted to be drifted from her daughter.

Thinking about her mother, Piroska came to an understanding with herself that she was not the only one suffering - so was her mother.  Piroska had a past to cry upon while her mother had to weep for the present.  Piroska felt like a decayed worm when she started thinking as to how she had poured her woes on to her mother, not once giving a thought about the waned-out relation with her father.  In spite of all that her mother had suffered, this woman stood by her thick and thin.  What face value did Piroska Bhat even have to lament over her past?  If she wanted to, she could have changed and gone way ahead in life, instead of brooding about an incestuous relationship that may not have even taken place.  Tears of regret rolled down her face, which she wiped with haste.  These goddamn tears had wasted her whole two years getting holed up in dark caves and dens.  It was time she did away with these shining dewdrops that trickled so easily down her pretty face.  She had to decide what she wanted in life, happiness or misery.  She had been a real sponge, squeezing sympathy and emotions from her mother—and here was a woman who never seemed to need a shoulder to weep.  Some where she had to put her foot down or she should hang herself like a coward from the nearest treetop.  If at all life meant living, then she better live it the way she should.  How many times her mind lectured her, but she could not follow it.

As she neared her den, she saw Bi sitting outside on the steps waiting for her to return the den keys, Sam must have taken the car back to the office.  He gave a big grin, as she paid him a handsome sum for doing all the work and for taking care of her canvas, and he scooted towards the market to buy his candy floss.  What a help this boy was to her, if only he could ask his father the description of the man who had given the opium flowers.

She opened the den door and found the place in a mess.  It was in a dignified chaotic state, as the place was scattered with unwashed paint brushes, dried up palletes, open paint tubes and bottles, rags of cloth and an unfinished canvas of a foamy cloud.  She remembered a few lines from Shelley’s poem “Cloud” which said, “I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores; I change, but I cannot die.”  She hoped that the day would come when she would be a cloud, and where her art would always remain alive for the future artist to gaze, and for this kind of an ambitious thought she had to survive with a positive approach.  Her place smelled of turpentine and dry paint.  She felt at home with all these things lying around, as it reminded her of her confused mind, which she believed she was setting right.

All her other painting materials felt that she had a vision for natural beauty and was born an artist.  Piroska then seemed as though all the inanimate objects had come to life, it seemed like the tale of the fairy in the Shoemaker’s house where all the shoes come alive.  Each one in her den wanted to tell that she had an identity of her own, and that she did not belong to anybody.  The room seemed to be echoing with different voices where one voice wanted to topple the other.  The buzz was unbearable for her, and she got up frightened, looking about for the noise in the room, but everything seemed quiet and dead.

Feeling stifled in the room she decided to venture out into the cool evening.  She changed into her painting overalls, as she had nothing else to wear and wore her comfortable leather moccasins.  Nobody would be around to feel disgusted with her attire that had dry paint on it.  It did not seem too late to go for a walk, as nothing in Lasa was dangerous after sunset, you were only afraid of a wild animal straying on the road, and this rarely happened.  She heard of a she-wolf that had mauled a few children who went berry picking in the woods and had trespassed near the wolf’s den.  Any animal taken unaware would attack; after that story she had not heard of any other.  Piroska stepped out of the house, and she witnessed the red ball gently glide down behind the mountains, it seemed as though a huge casement had opened to swallow this fireball, leaving behind a reddish tinge. Every time she watched the sunset, it looked different.  It was always surrounded by changing colours. Watching it ease into the hollow of the earth, she wondered—why did she not have such a compartment to gulp her miseries?

Piroska walked down the untarred road in a lazy gait with her hands tucked in her pocket.  She could hear the birds twitter in the branches.  The not-so-blue skies looked so gentle and at ease.  They seemed as though they had no troubles and tensions like she did.  She wished she could carry a canvas and paint it while she walked.  The evening shadows made an abstract picture with the yellow autumn leaves on the ground.  She liked the crunchy feel of the dry leaves under her feet.  If life was always like this, she would be so gay.


CHAPTER 19

 

Ashok drove down the Lasa highway in a sporting mood; he was humming Bob Marley’s “no woman, no cry.”  It had been a treat to see Piroska again.  The frightened look on her face upon seeing him had eased out in a fraction, making her seem to be as calm as a millpond.  Her feet, which seemed to have got stuck to the floor, got unfastened in no time when she had moved towards him as though she was not effected by his presence.  Piroska’s handshake was firm and unwavering.  She made him feel like a guest not going out of the specific conversation.  That non-interested kind of obligation irritated him.  She seemed to have matured over the last two years, yet not losing out on her charming face.  It still glowed like a fresh spring flower.  You would never dream that she had suffered from a psychological drain, having a miscarriage and having nearly given up on her paintings, as to him, she looked as fit as a fiddle, and for a second he wondered if Sushmita Bhat pulled a fast one on him.

He remembered the day he received an e-mail from Sushmita Bhat, requesting him to come as a chief guest for Piroska’s exhibition.  He found the invitation weird and declined it without giving it a second thought.  He did not want to be made a fool in front of strangers, and if Sushimita Bhat thought that this was the way for her to get even with him, she was mistaken.  What happened between him and his wife was history, and he had no intention of raking old memories.  He did miss her, but he was aware that nothing could heal the open wound, as she would never come back to him; he was a bastard.  In these two years he didn't hear from her nor from her mother, so this mail after a long gap had set him thinking.

Sushmita made the situation more difficult for him by arriving at Lasa.  She wanted to meet him on any condition at the Las Palmas coffee shop, she said it had to do with Piroska, which made him go.  Sushmita was another Piroska, her streaks of grey hair made her look no different; she was elegant and soft-spoken.  Sitting in front of her, Ashok wondered how much she must be hating him, even if she did, she did not show it.  She came to Sangeela for a reason.  If Ashok had no feeling left for his ex-wife, he would have told his ma-in-law to get lost a long time ago.  Looking at Sushmita itself made him stay back.

She had a purpose for sending him the invitation.  Whatever she spoke out about Piroska baffled him.  It hurt him to know that he was the cause of her mental trauma.  The divorce was a nerve-breaking experience for her, it was a betrayal, leaving her deserted and forsaken.  She became a pessimist, avoiding her passion for painting.  It broke Sushmita to see her daughter wither in this manner.  She told him how in Lasa the upper strata had become judgmental about her divorce, making her feel more insecure.  The locals did not bother once it had been told to them that she left her husband.  The big wigs had all the time for gossip.  It saddened Ashok’s heart when he heard that Piroska had a miscarriage.  It was a secret with them, as one had been afraid of the Madonna’s reactions.

She told him how in due course she picked up her paints and built up the courage to break an unwanted engagement.  She wanted Ashok to be present for the exhibition, because she wanted her child to give in to the past and live for the future.  Since she had not gotten over Ashok, she wanted him to come and see how she would react.  She clarified her stand by saying that she was not getting any sadistic pleasures, but her own intuitive mind said that such an arrangement would work.  She gave him some time to decide.

Ashok thought over it for a long time, the negative effects on her would break her down and he did not want to be the cause of another mishap.  His next door neighbour got excited when she heard about the exhibition and urged him to go for it, she was sure that Piroska was a stable-minded girl and would be able to handle the situation smoothly.  After two weeks of thinking, he called Sushmita Bhat, telling her that he would be present at Lasa for the exhibition.

As the sun started to settle itself in the womb of the mountains and as its amber colour merged with the blue skies, Ashok gave a thought to his past.  It had been a comfortable one.  Both had not been in the habit of suffocating each other as enough breathing space existed.  Due to this one led a balanced life with the tantrums of Manasi being shadowed.  Yet whenever they had arguments about the concept of the mother fixation, Ashok tended to keep himself away from the discussion.  He just could not come to terms with her logic, saying that no one should have this fixation.  She never browsed the topic directly, but directly.  He always felt that she got sadistic pleasures in needling him, and enjoyed making him squirm on a subject that was delicate for him to relate to.  There were moments when he felt like dumping her in a dry well.  Apart from this they shared a tension-free life, having their own individualistic views.  He felt sad that she could not do much with her paintings, as Manasi was against it.  That women at times behaved possessed, she never realised that all human beings had some different talents, everyone could not be like her, signing documents and contracts. The very fact that Piroska was not interested in her father’s business showed that she was different.  Manasi had literally closed her world of art.  When he did manage to set up a room for her painting, it had been time for the drama of the divorce.

Piroska’s nearness at the gallery made him repent for what he did to her.  His love for her had not changed; it still remained the same.  Her smell intoxicated him, and he wanted to reach out and kiss her till she fainted with exhaustion.  He had this urge to push her onto the red carpet and make her rock him like a rocking chair, she loved to be on top, gyrating on him like a belly dancer.  It made it easier for him to suckle at her tender parts.  He remembered their first night and laughed aloud what a kitten she had been, but over the months her claws grew into a full-grown cat, making him relax while she did the needful.  He wondered what her reaction was when he plopped that fleeting kiss on her cheek.  He knew that would be his last kiss.  Getting Piroska back would never be possible, she had come into his life like a dream, and then the dream world got shattered with a nightmare.  The blackness of his fantasy world was worse than the gates of hell.  He had to forget Piroska and start anew. Marriage for him was out of bounds, as any woman he married, Manasi would haunt her.  He had to get rid of the Madonna if he wanted to settle in life.

He tried it out once by shifting with his bag and baggage into his neighbour's house after returning from the Nicobar Island.  He decided to keep away from her.  She watched him pack his things without uttering a word.  He did not even hear a sniff when he walked out of the wooden teak door.  He was taken aback with her behaviour, at such times he never trusted her, as she had plans curled up in her sleeves.  She ignored him in the office and pretended that he did not exist, her moves were so directed that both of them had given the office folks something juicy to gossip about.  If ever they crossed each other's paths, then he was given blank dead stares, as though he were a robot.  He tried not to get disturbed by the way she behaved, though it hurt him.  This was the way of hitting back at him by bating him with her silence.  Thankfully, she had not terminated him from all his expenses, he continued to live his normal life, though a fear did cling onto him when he thought of her playing dirty.  If such a day did arrive, then he would have to fend for himself.

Staying at the next-door neighbour's house made him feel as though he were at his own home.  She never made him feel vexed.  In his free time he would help her in her work and see the deliverance of her work to its respected customers.  In due cause he discovered that his friend had a female lover.  The relation made no difference to him, if she felt snug in the company of her own sex.  Her partner was an average looking babe having a great body and a husky voice that would make any man melt.  She was an architect, having a fascination for good construction.  The combination of the two was odd, and he wondered as to how they got along.

The two women never felt shy cooing in front of Ashok, they smacked kisses in front of him as though he were used to it.  He used to hear them giggle in the shower and moan in their bedroom. He was afraid of seeing them make love.  The whole function of two female bodies coming together itself seemed alien.   He had watched films on lesbianism and it had never excited him. He always wondered what kind of a satisfaction they got during their climaxes.  A day did arrive when the other woman started to make passes at him in the absence of her friend, and that frightened him to no limit.  If she sat next to him, she would caress his knees as though it stirred her blood.  It repulsed him, and at such times he pushed her hand aside.  She use to laugh whenever he did that.

 

“Stop it Jiti, I don’t like it,” he use to scowl at her.

 

“What a bore you are,” she used to mourn.

 

“I do not think Madam will like what you are doing.”

 

“Why do you call her Madam. She does not run a whore house young man, she has a name—Michi.”

 

Things went a bit further when she stood at his bathroom door, watching him have a bath.  Having caught sight of her reflection in the mirror, he did not know how to react.  His death-like face made her laugh in a low, husky tone.  She wanted to tease him in a sadistic way.  She became overbearing like Manasi, and it irked him that he could do nothing to get her to lay off.  The day did come when he had to pack his bags in a hurry and make his way back to his house when Jiti was lying stark naked like a harvested apple tree on his bed.  He did not want to report this to his friend, and to avoid any complication he walked back to his own house.  He left a message for his friend, “missing Madonna hence going back,” she would understand.

No questions were asked when he returned back home.  To Manasi it seemed as though she won the battle, as she walked around the house with a pompous look.  As he drove, remembering those days, he realised that he could not do anything without making a decision about his mother.  Whatever she was, he loved her dearly and she was going to be his cause of ruin.  There would be no way to change his mind and his obsessions with her.  He did not want to justify himself; he just wanted to lead his life the way it was.  Right now he had no one to please or to take care of, due to which he could lead his own life style.  The world around would not be aware of what he was, and his ex-wife would be too ashamed to mention his deeds.  This protected, secured self made him feel happy.  This indirect blackmailing of keeping Piroska quiet made him giddy.  No one would know about his dark secret.  If people doubted, then they could not really find out the truth, as he had trust in the people who knew about him.


CHAPTER 20

Piroska sat, looking at the wilderness around her.  Darkness was wrapping its wings around nature as a protective shield.  She would have loved to wait longer and watch the glow-worms filter their light around in the darkness, but she dared not stay on, as she had come a little further away from her den.  The road she had to follow back was untarred, and she had no wish to have a broken ankle, as no one would be around to save her.

That night she would have to spend in her den, as she had not asked for the car to be sent back.  Spending the night in her den gave her a peace of mind, it was a small peaceful heaven for her where no one bothered her.  It had a well-stocked refrigerator to keep her going for a week.  Her mother made the right choice of finding her an isolated joint, which made her to concentrate on her work without any outside disturbances.

Piroska lingered a little longer in the cold air, and taking a deep breath of the crisp air, she huddled back home with her hands sunk deep into her pockets.  She sighted her mother’s car outside her den and wondered why she had come.  She was in no mood to entertain her mother.  She had wanted to be alone, as she was tired mentally and physically, and had wanted to snuggle into her dream world.  She wondered what her mother had come to explain.  If it was about Ashok, then she did not want to hear about it.  If it was praise for the way she handled Ashok, she did not want to hear of it.  Piroska felt that she had out grown her miseries.  In these last six months she realised it was not worth harping on her past life.  She made up her mind to develop her own self interest and to motivate her self-esteem.  Thus she put her whole self into painting and going to the gym to shed off the fat saddlebags that she put on.  She wanted to relive life again.

She entered the brightly-lit house with these positive thoughts and found her mother cosily sitting with Yash sipping hot café.  How on earth did her mother know Yash?  Why had she never mentioned his name to him?  How long had they known each other?  It seemed for donkeys’ years at the way they sat, having sips of coffee.  Piroska could not take her eyes off from the man who stepped into her dreams every now and then.  Here was the man who gave her wet dreams, making her blush in her sleep.  She tried to hide the softness from her face by straightening her shoulder blades.  The cynical smile appeared on his lips.  That smirk was enough to set her heart beating loudly.  His presence made her go back to Goa.  Its exquisite beaches, the old architecture, churches, cafes and seafood haunted her.  Many a time in her reverie she seemed to have walked down from Sinquerim to Anjuna and was fascinated by the yuppies in they natural garb.  The wild water of the untampered beaches and its frothy waves trying to reach the skies had a divine motive.  Though she had been to other beach resorts, like the Konkan corner, Mahabalipuram, Cochin, Varkala, etc., Goa, maybe because of Yash, stayed longer in her mind.  On seeing her daughter’s confused face, Sushmita introduced Yash to her.  Since she did not want to pretend she told her mother that she met him in Goa.  Nothing more was asked about their meeting.

To her astonishment she was told that Yash was her art dealer. How had it not struck her about his familiarity, the way he knew her name.  Not once did he mention her work.  Gosh!  He sure was a good actor.  He came over to Lasa to make her take part in the yearly contemporary art competition.  This year the theme was on the sun, and he was sure Piroska would do justice to the topic.

 

“It was during my last year in college that I took part in an art competition, and now I feel I have no confidence,” she told Yash glumly.

 

“Confidence blooms if you make an effort; if you tend to sit back and wait for it to arrive at your doorsteps it will not,” he said with some feelings.

 

 “I am tired now, as I have done an exhibition and have no imagination left.”

 

“An artist needs no time to think, as her imagination is constantly working and observing scenes around her.  You live in a beautiful surrounding that has a varied amount of moods; I am sure, Piroska, you can do it.” She did not give an answer immediately.  She thought he would propose to her.  Instead he came with some other motive.  She was aware that if she did put her whole mind into painting, she would come out with something good.

 

“What have you decided?” he anxiously asked.  She gave him a blank stare and turned her face to her mother who had remained quiet all this time.  What tricks was her mother was up to, she wondered.  It was first her divorced husband whom she tolerated, and now she got her dream boy to make a proposal for her to take part in the competition.  What exactly was her mother trying to get at?  Was she torturing her in some way?  Didn’t she have enough problems?  Piroska suddenly thought of her new resolutions and decided to take part in the competition.

 

She wondered why Yash was interested in her taking part in the exhibition.  Where had he been all these months?  He had not even bothered with her existence, nor had he made an appearance for her exhibition.  What kind of an art dealer was one who did not care to attend his client’s display?  Had he deliberately kept away?  And why did he do so?  She had an answer for her own question.  Would it have been possible for her to take care of Yash and Ashok at the same time?

Both men had become a part of her life.  Ashok at one stage of their married life had her pulses racing, though after her divorce she did not abhor him completely, as she thought she did.  Yash had been an experience—a memory never to be forgotten and a reverie that he always wanted to live in. She confronted Yash’s steady gaze comfortably and wondered why her mother had encroached upon her privacy.  Sometimes her mother’s overbearing decisions infuriated her.  She felt like telling both of them to leave.  Her mind was boiling like a vegetable soup.  She did not realise that her inner agitation came forth as a frown on her face.  Her face looked like a wrinkled tomato.

 

“Piroska,” Yash broke into her silent mind.

 

“Your exhibition this time showed an enthusiasm that burst with energy.  The work displayed showed talent and sincerity.”  His visit to her exhibition came as a surprise.  When had the wolf made his presence?  It seemed as though he had read her mind.

 

“The day before the exhibition, I got the manager to open the gallery, with your mother’s permission, of course,” he added.

 

Piroska reeled with anger and her spontaneous outbreak made her shiver.

 

“With my mother’s permission, when the exhibition was mine.  How could you—Ma?”

 

Tears clung to her eyelids, which did not drop down when she saw Yash smiling at her.

Her mother consoled her by saying, “Does it make any difference who gave him the permission, you or me?  Yash, is your dealer Piroska—he is no stranger to us.”

That sentence was enough to let her mind rest with a question.  What had Yash confided to her mother?  She looked at Yash, who gave her a blank stare like a calm sea that had no ripple.

 

“It does to me, Ma.  The exhibition was mine, and you are aware how superstitious I am about exhibiting my work before the real day.  Why do you tend to always hurt me?  Yash may be your friend, but did you ever tell me that he was my art dealer?  Did you allow me to discuss my work with him?  Did you permit him to talk to me about my canvas sale, the response from art lovers?  Never!  You kept him in the dark, like a fetus that yet had to be born.

 

“I had my own reasons, Piroska,” her mother said calmly, not showing any signs of irritation at her daughter’s sudden outburst.

 

“Reasons, reasons and reasons, could you and Yash leave my den?  I want to be left in peace.  I want to be on my own.  I do not want anyone to trespass on my thoughts.  I want my loneliness,” she screamed aloud.  Her mother rose half hearted to leave the room.

 

“Before I take your sweet leave, young one, I would advise you to think about the exhibition.  It will do a world of good to you and to your fiery emotions.”

 

“I will think about it,” she said, broodingly.  Who the hell was he to tell her how she should occupy herself?  All of them wanted to interfere in her life.  Thankfully her father was not on the scene to pass his comments.  These folks put her back into her pensive mood.  How she wanted to flee like a migrating bird to another land.

Yash’s voice cut across like a sharp-edged knife, “Well, it is your choice.  You have thirty days at hand.  Do not spend your time debating.  Did Mr. Cohen not brief you about your work yesterday?  He told me that he was impressed with your work.  What kind of confidence do you need now?  You saw your paintings being sold and your back being patted with praise.  What do you fear now?  All your past seemed to have been washed away by the silvery water, which once rushed around you like a whirlpool, sucking you in.  Yet, you survived—thanks to this lady sitting here.  You have a colourful future, then why don’t you take the plunge?”

 

“Piroska, I know you must be wondering what I know about your past.  I used to promote Ashok’s next-door neighbour’s pots.  We became friends at a party.  I was aware of Ashok’s fascination for older women and he had this weird craze for his Madonna.  To what extent this fixation drew him, I was not aware.  Your marriage was so sudden that I could not send a warning to Sushmita Bhat, nor did I tell her about it.  I thought with such a brilliant wife, Ashok would see sense.  Looks like he did not with your illness and the divorce.  Why you divorced Ashok I don’t know, nor am I interested.  I could not figure out what was wrong with you on the beach when you collapsed.  I just want you to take your work seriously and dive into the art world.  I have nothing else to say.  Send the remaining canvases to my hotel tomorrow.”  He left with a stern look, not looking back at her again.

As the taillight of the powerful machine disappeared behind the curve, Piroska stood staring like a robot at the dark road.  She was confused.  Her emotions showed signs of anger and apathy.  She had been rude and unreasonable to her mother, and at this moment she decided she would take part in the coming exhibition.  Yash has spoken the truth.  The past cannot be dragged everywhere.  To live one has to go ahead.  Yet, his presence annoyed her, was it because of the cool manner that he spoke in?  Was it because he showed no signs of excitement upon seeing her?  He just had a glazed fixed look, which she was unable to read.  Why did he not ask her out for lunch, as he was staying in Lasa for an extra day?  Yash would never give her another signal; he was not the type who would go chasing woman who had refused his proposal once.

She slammed the door shut and leaned against, it staring at her scattered things.  He did not seem to mind the mess, as he had sat with his usual ease on her cane chair.  Suddenly a small nerve burst inside her, making her slump down on the floor and weep.  She wept aloud for the inanimate objects in her room to hear, for the wind that breezed through her open window, for the half-crescent moon and the galaxy of stars to feel her sorrow.  She didn’t know why she could not overcome her deep-rooted sorrow.  Was it because she could not handle the situation?  Far away a hyena joined in her howling.  Life was one big mess, or was it she that made the situation complicated.


CHAPTER 21

 

Piroska returned home the next morning and discovered that her mother had gone out with Yash to the tea factory.  She wondered what work Yash had at the factory.  She did not venture out that day, afraid of bumping into Yash.  She did not need an invitation just for the sake of it.  The five canvases had been delivered to the hotel.  She was sure Yash would find good customers for them.

She waited for her mother till late in the evening.  She wondered what her mother was doing with Yash for so long.  Loosing her patience, she packed her bag with few clothes and left a message, saying that she would be at the den for the next few days and no one should disturb her.  She requested her mother to tell Yash that she would be interested in taking part in the exhibition.  Feeling sad, not being able to see Yash, she drove down in her car and stopped by at Bi’s shack, asking him to be present at the den for the next ten days at 5 am.

Her mood seem to have brightened up, as she stopped her car to watch this huge flaming mass that curtained the sky with its brown-red rays.  She gazed at this powerful strength as it dipped down into the arms of mother earth.  A sudden idea struck her.  She was going to disfigure this mighty power on her canvas.  She was going to make it look ghastly and powerless like Samson with his hair cut.  It gave her a thrill when she thought off the way her critics would appreciate her work.  To bring out this ambitious idea of hers, she would have to work hard and be able to get the right tones with her paints.  She had an aim to be selected among the first ten best painters.  She wanted art lovers to swoon and admire her work.

Bi was at her doorsteps at 5 am sharp, whistling a mountain love song.  He wondered why his missey wanted him so early.  She always seemed to be onto something.  Her moods blew hot and cold like the Lasa climate.  His missey was so pretty.  She had beautiful features and he wished always that someone good would marry her.  He heard stories about her broken marriage.  How could anyone be so cruel to his missey.  Had he been strong and mature, he would have proposed to her.  Had he not seen such stories on the television?  Of course, they were all dreams that were not possible for him, as he was just an ordinary poor shepherd boy.

Piroska and Bi drove down to the higher parts of the tea estates.  She carried along her camera equipment.  The tea estates looked glorious in the morning light.  The mist was lifting and these small shrubs had they own significant beauty.  Dewdrops clung to the leaves as if not wanting to evaporate.  Upon seeing any beautiful scene, she abruptly would stop the car, flinging Bi on to the dashboard.  When she would see the sun waking up, she would capture the scene of the breaking dawn through her zoom lens.  The arrival of the sun was like watching a baby being born.  The thin light rays pushed the clouds aside gently, and the bright face of the sun, which looked like the seven candles in the book of Revelation, sprang out.  Bi just stood by at such moments, observing his missey’s face, which would glow like a freshly blossomed flower.

When they returned back to the den, she would make breakfast for both of them.  Bi, at such time upon seeing his missey’s relaxed moods, would chat about his sheep and his aggressive father, who did nothing but get drunk.  Sometimes he noticed that Piroska was lost in her own world.  It was true if she was not listening to Bi, then she was thinking of colours, a silvery or greyish blue or black.  She would be sketching her wild imagination on paper.  Whatever she created would leave Bi’s mouth dry.

The next ten days was spent in capturing the sunset and sunrise from behind thick trees, across running streams, from the village temple courtyard, from the valley and from the edge of the forest.  These were times when Bi never opened his mouth, as his missey enjoyed silence.  At times she asked him for his opinion on a certain angle.  Those few days had been hectic developing photographs, choosing the best ones and loosing one’s temper.  She spent hours mixing colours to match the photographs.  Bi was amused when she sulked when colours could not be gell.

At such times of frustration, out went the papers that she had used.  His missey at times behaved worse than his little sister.  Her tantrums made her throw things around in the room, and couple of times he was her target.

In spite of this, he loved his Madam.  She was so pretty, like the wild flowers that grew high up in the mountains.  He was so engrossed in her looks that he never heard her when she asked him to get something.

 

“Bi, get me the rag, damn you,” she would yell, throwing him out of his dream.  “What are you dreaming forever?  No wonder your father gets after you like a wild bull,” she would say annoyingly.  He loved to see her angry.  She was so ravishing like a film heroine.  The only difference was that his missey rarely painted her face with all those fancy colours that the actresses wore.  Why could he, a simple shepherd boy, not be able to touch her flaming face?

 

“Bi, damn you,” she hit him hard on his hand.  “What kind of mood are you in?”  she muttered going back to mixing her paints.

 

Bi said nothing and glumly handed over the rags.


CHAPTER 22

It was not every day that Piroska and Bi went in search of the sun.  At times they both sat, just transfixed by nature’s hangover—a tired wind leaning against the trees, watching innocent looking clouds rising from the valley and joining the clear blue skies, listening to mixed notes of the birds and the bees.  Both human beings were spellbound by the magic of nature.  At these special moments Bi would slyly slant his gaze on his missey’s face.  He noticed that her eyes sparkled like the eyes of the tigress at night.  She gloated on the view ahead of her as though she was the creator, feeling proud of giving birth to what lay ahead of her.

Bi observed that, though she seemed to see the same flow of life everyday, each day his missey had a different glisten in her eyes.  Her soul seemed to trespass among the spirits of the forest and the dales.  At times her expression showed that of a hungry fox searching for food.  There were times her eyes relaxed like a lioness that had a satisfied feed.  Sometimes her eyes held a confused look, like a trapped deer not knowing how to escape from the claws of the jackals.  Her face was like a motion film, expressing different moods.  Bi loved the way her skin glittered and glowed like an evening star—if only he could reach out and feel it.

In Piroska’s constant presence, Bi forgot his flock of sheep and did not miss their morning bleating.  He used to leave home before the sun woke and returned late to a silent house, greeted by Mongo, his sheep dog.  Piroska did not make an extra effort to drop him home.  If she had no work and was bored of her monotonous imagination, then she would be kind to drop him home.  If she was engrossed with her canvas, Bi did not exist.

Sitting under a tree, Piroska stared at a flying butterfly.  Its swooning flight reminded her of a bubbly sea wave.  She felt like running along with it, enjoying its happiness as she had done during her childhood.  She felt shy doing it now, as it would look childlike in front of Bi.  Piroska recalled how she used to weep when the local boys caught dragons and butterflies and snipped off their wings.  She used to pick up the injured insect and cry, watching it die.  She had not changed over the years as tears flowed easily down her soft cheeks.

She remembered an incident when she was fourteen and slapped Bi’s elder brother (a year older than her) for chasing a pregnant goat around the Lasa bazaar.  The poor animal had collapsed, frothing at the mouth with fatigue and blood streaming down from her backside.  She had gathered a crowd as Salim howled like a spoilt brat.  His father whacked him hard calling him a “scoundrel.”

This incident reached her father and he was livid at her uncouth behaviour.  She was kept indoors for two days.  It must have hurt his ego—his daughter acting like a street urchin, she thought.  When this man could not understand his wife, how could he feel for a mute animal?

Back in Sangeela, I had been waiting patiently for Ashok to return from Lasa.  I was amused at his invitation.  When he accepted it I was not surprised, as he was very much in love with Piroska—still—my sixth sense felt that Sushmita Bhat was trying to set her scores right with Ashok.  He took the opportunity to visit Lasa, as Manasi was in the U.S. on a business trip.  Things had not changed across the hedge.

When he did return from Lasa, he came looking jubilant.  His conversation consisted of nothing but about his wonderful Piroska.  He seemed to be lovesick again, as he had been when he met her for the first time.  Had Manasi been present to see her son’s happiness, she would have been bubbling with anger.  Her hot lava overflowed, spoiling everyone’s moods.

He showed me the canvas that he flicked—the scene rang a bell.  He described her art exhibition in one heavy sentence, “I felt as though I was a sea God riding on my sea horse through the different climaxes of the sea.”  He flung his arms around me, giving me a kiss, I still love the woman.  Sure he did, making a bloody mess in his life.  He was such a complexed being and a difficult one to reconstruct.  These kinds were lost in their own complexities and needed constant counselling; it was difficult with him.  His Madonna looked at him as a normal human being.  I felt it was she who needed to go to a psychologist.

I missed Piroska’s company, as she was filled with rejuvenating energy.  My lover was the same.  She was like a horny horse in bed - kneading my stomach, nibbling at my ear lobes and making me laugh my guts out.  That was the greatest thing in bed—having a laughing conversation with a woman with wine and gin nearby.  I felt no sexual attraction towards Piroska.  I liked the way she was, cool and fresh like a country flower.

I decided to drive down to Lasa for a day.  I was apprehensive about her reaction and hence did not telephone her.

Listening to the sensational music of Robert Miles, I let out an orgasmic gasp at the beauty beholding Lasa.  Though autumn was ebbing out, winter’s deadly senile claws didn’t seem to affect this place.  The trees glowed with the halo of brown, red and green leaves.  Some bared their nudity like a transparent modern hand fan.  The skies were crystal clear, and tiny dots of the flying birds could be seen.

Upon reaching Lasa village, I was told to search for Piroska at her den.  Finding the place locked, I was advised to search for her in the mountains.  I looked at the vast stretch of the mountains and thought the task impossible.  Fortunately, I met a shepherdess who led me to Piroska’s hide out.  It took us an hour to reach her.

I saw her sitting on an uprooted root—gazing beyond the sunny horizon.  In my breathless voice I called out to her.  She swirled, nearly losing her balance upon recognising my deep voice.  “Its you,” she screeched, charging in my direction with glee.  We hugged and kissed each other like lost friends.  Bi watched the reunion with envy.

 

“How did you come?  Who directed you here?  Why didn’t you keep in contact?”  On and on she kept firing questions and I just stood there dumbstruck at her reaction.  She looked like a teenager in her blue denim Bermudas and a white-laced top, which showed her innocent cleavage.

She made me sit on the root, asking Bi to offer me a glass of lemonade from the hamper.  The cool, sweet liquid refreshed my fatigued body.  The walk up was tedious, as I trekked after donkeys’ years.

 

“What has made you visit me after two years of my divorce?”

 

“I always missed you, Piroska.  I had no idea of the kind of situation you would be in.”

 

“I seem fine, don’t I?”

 

“Yes, why you suddenly fled from Lasa I don’t know.  Ashok had no explanation.”

 

‘Why should he have?” she retorted crossly.

 

“I was afraid you would ignore me if I arrived on the scene at the time of your depression.”

 

“Have you arrived to sign a peace treaty for your friend?”

 

“Ha, Piroska, do I look like a truce maker waving a white flag?  I just wanted to meet you, to be with you.  I came to congratulate you for your exhibition, which was well received.  The canvas that Ashok brought back reminded me of a shack in Goa that I had visited four years back.”  I saw a flicker of fright on her eyes, which I could not read through, as she moved to the next question.

 

“Where did Ash keep it?”

 

“In his bed room.  A place where he could gaze at from any direction.”

 

“Oh, didn’t Manasi throw a fit?”

 

“The Madonna is in the U.S.”

 

“Does she still strut around the house in her birthday suit?  Does she still throw those inviting glances at Ash?  Does the wretch still go like a lamb to be smothered with kisses?”  Piroska’s voice started to reach a shrill, to which Bi came sprinting.

 

“Missey, are you feeling unwell?” he placed his hand on her shoulder (an action that surprised him) and threw me a Cassicus stare.

 

“Yes Bi, I am fine,” she smiled through her anger, shrugging his hands away from her shoulders.  Bi stood by as if protecting her from me.

 

“You know why I divorced Ash?  Because of that twenty-four carat bitch who I found in bed.”  She went no further as tears rolled down.  I held her for the first time; she smelled like wild roses and I snuggled her weeping face on my shoulder.  She remained silent and I did not prod into her painful past.  Her face for a moment reflected a beautiful lotus whose roots had got entangled with the weeds at the bottom of the pond.

Controlling her emotions she spoke not of the past, but of the present.  We walked back to the den holding hands.  Bi trudging behind us with a grumpy look.  She showed me what she planned for the exhibition.  I helped her mix a few colours, which she found difficult to match her taste.  We stayed awake that whole night, remembering old times.

 

“Don’t you want to get married?” she asked me.

 

“No, I have a live in.”

 

“Is he good—does he really love you?”

 

“It’s a woman, Piroska, whom I love.  We get along like coal and fire put together.”

 

“How come I did not meet her?”

 

“I didn’t know what your reaction would be.  I was afraid of my society, but I kept all of it aside and we decided to live together.”  Piroska just gave me a queer look.

 

I explained to her why men did not interest me, how I was sexually exploited by my uncle, and the reason why I gave in was because I needed the money to start my business.  “Men,” I told her, “were lustful species who were interested in the body and not the soul.”  I thought I met someone decent, but that did not last for a few years, as he married a richer woman.  “Woman lovers,” I told Piroska, “were faithful and shared more intimate relationships.”

 

“How did you meet?

 

“Look at the way I dress—in male trousers, short hair that gives me a masculine look, she on the other hand, was divine and feminine.  We met at a party and with time we realised we were in love.  Piroska, you may feel weird when I say that I enjoy it when she kisses and necks with me.  The feeling of oneness was far more satisfying than the male—I don’t think we will ever part.  Our professions may be different, but yet we share a mental balance.”

 

I saw no sense of shame on Piroska’s face.  I suppose she understood why I had diverted my seduction to a woman.  I told her why I resented Ashok getting married to her and how ashamed I was for committing such a big mistake.  I advised her not to look back—let the past remain in the darkness.

 

“We have to stand on our own feet by becoming independent, whatever method we may use.  It’s a rotten world where women are always hit below the belt.”  I looked at her face.  She seemed to understand.

 

A day was enough for us; I had to drive back to Sangeela to receive my lover.  I had to keep my meeting with Piroska, a secret, as she was a jealous woman.  As I drove back I felt proud for Piroska, and I was happy to go back to a woman who set me on a combination of tenderness and fire.


CHAPTER 23

Piroska looked satisfied as she gave the final touches to the canvas.  The sun’s face suddenly seemed to empower her.  She felt as though her body was getting pulled into the sun’s mouth.  Her face seemed to feel an odd heat, and the disfigured might have had a hellish effect on her.  She felt an alarming heat emitting from the canvas.  Her body felt as though she was performing a dance for Satan; it felt as though she were twirling with nothing on.  Her den had a demonic brightness, the body and soul seemed to be possessed.  Piroska felt as though a bulb had been fixed in the wrong socket.  Something had gone wrong.  Was this because she had torn apart the earth’s most powerful element and made it look helpless and haggard?

She took a step back.  Had she been hallucinating?  She stared at the finished canvas, which stared back at her making her feel uneasy.  Piroska gaped at her wonderful image that she had worked on.  The distorted face of Ra looked like a raped woman hiding her face in shame.  It seemed as though blood and semen had been mixed to be smeared across the pathetic face of the sun.  The scene had a horrendous effect.  The rays seemed like the raped woman’s hair tied to a pole so that she could not escape.  The mouth had a gaping hole—tongue hanging out to suck life out.  The eyes looked forlorn and trapped in the enemy’s hand.  Piroska shuddered at the scene she created.  What made her to do it?

As she stared at it harder and harder she wondered whether the picture reflected herself.  It reflected her complicated mind.  It showed the shamed life that she was leading.  It mirrored her crucified self.  She, Piroska Bhat, had no definite character.  She was ruled and reigned by others.  She was dominated by her mother—trampled by her father and ignored by the man she loved.  Her life seemed to be always in a trauma.  She assumed she had conquered it after confronting Ashok at the exhibition in a sophisticated manner.

It had only been an illusion.  The past still hurt.  The images of the Madonna and Ashok clung to her like second shadow.  She did not get rid of her depressive behaviour.  She found herself to be guilt ridden, dejected, wretched and hopeless.  Piroska stamped her feet in despair.  Hadn’t she tried to overcome all the drama in her life?  Yet, she had failed.

The canvas that stood in front of her drove her mad.  She had an inner urge to destroy it.  The evil voice told her that she could go ahead.  Something held her back.  She realised that if she got rid of this work—then she needed to commit suicide.  This work was a way to reach Yash’s heart.  She had to shrug off her psychological dependency on her mother.  Where could she go?  Wherever she ventured out, it would mean to restart life again.  Had she the confidence to do so?

Bi had been watching his missey for an hour.  To him she looked possessed.  She looked as though she was under some tantric spell.  Hadn’t he seen the village witch remove the devil from the cursed one’s soul?  She looked evil when she cast out spirits.  His missey had a similar kind of look, as she stared at the weird canvas she produced.  If the old village folk had to see it, they would have cried to the Sun God to forgive her.  She dismantled the Almighty to the position of a helpless figure.  Why did his missey do it?  Was this what her art had all been about?  He did not understand and sat outside whistling a mountain song.  It sounded as though he was talking to the creation of God; the silence around him looked as though all the creatures of the earth were listening to him.


CHAPTER 24

I lay in bed with Jiti.  Our naked bodies were twined together, like a serpent to a tree.  She stroked my breasts, creating a sensation between my thighs.  As she continued with her circular movements, I thought of confessing to her about Piroska.  I was scared of her reaction.  She was a dynamite of her own kind.

She heard and saw pictures of Piroska and associated her with Ash’s wife.  I never mentioned to her about the umpteen times that Piroska had spent in this house.  Since I loved Jiti dearly, I had no intention of causing a rift in our relationship.  She was the only one I could depend on.  I felt my breasts being kneaded and sucked.

Everyone accepted the fact that two spinsters lived together.  Men rarely approached me sexually because of my masculine structure. Jiti was bisexual and she had a great body to please any man.

Marriage had never been on my agenda, though it had been before I was abused.  I had a dream like any woman to have a husband, a house and children but now I was away from it.  I did not believe in the fact that a woman was complete after being a mother.  My success had made me a complete woman and I needed nothing else.  We women, I felt, lived in a psychological, mythological world—where a man was needed to satisfy our sexual deeds—but I found a woman to be more potent and powerful.  I turned Jiti underneath me and kissed her for half an hour.  We were intensely and emotionally involved.  I substituted as a man, I suppose, for her.  We climaxed as any woman and man would under normal circumstances.  The feeling was great.

As Jiti snuggled off to sleep, I gazed at the ceiling, thinking about Piroska.  I definitely had been aroused by her for that spilt second when she wept on my shoulders.  After that I felt no attraction to her.  I wanted her as a friend, as she could relate to my world of art.  My partner did not, as she lived on a different plane.  Her plane was straight and diagonal lines that bored my eyesight.  I could not relate to the concrete jungle that she kept jabbering about.

I hoped that Piroska would find herself a kind man, as Ashok caused an earthquake in her life.  Men were suckers, I firmly believed.  They lacked the emotions of a woman.  I realised that her streaks of pain still hounded her.  I hoped she would not force herself with someone on the rebound.  She had her mother, who supported her in all her sorrow and grief.  I felt sad when she remarked that she could not bear children.  I saw a tear glisten in her eyes and fade away like a shooting star. I wondered if it would ever fade away the dark patches in her life, as it to clung on like a parasite.  Maybe one day, if her painting reached its peak, she would be a self-satisfied woman.

I thought of Bi, the shepherd boy.  He seemed to be over protective and possessive about Piroska.  I was sure this rugged mountain boy had a soft spot for his mistress.  I wondered if Piroska noticed the kind of glances he threw in her direction.  I couldn’t blame the teenager, as any human would stop to gaze at this wild beauty.

I wrapped my legs across Jiti’s body, turned off the light and dreamt about Piroska.  I dreamt my hands gently massaging her hands—my lips moving in her clean armpits. I could smell her in my dreams.  She had a softness unlike Jiti.  She was shy and tender like the evening dusk.

 


CHAPTER 25

Piroska had stayed awhile staring at the canvas.  The longer she gazed at it the more she got instigated to tear it apart.  The rainbow of colours, which had inspired her to live, today repulsed her.  Her hands wanted to coil on the bottles of oil paints lying nearby and hurl it on the wretched face.  She wanted to see every colour drain out and dry.

She took a step back, thinking she could test her mind in a better fashion, but it seemed to remain fixed.  She went further back, nearly toppling over a light stool—the illuminated Might had no effect on her.  She backed an inch away from the wall, felt a sharp bang as she moved back once more.  The bump was like a reawakening of the soul.  It seemed as though the confused mind that had been like an undone puzzle fell in place.  It was like a photographer who had got the right angle of an ugly face.  What Piroska was thinking all along was disastrous.  Her mind had been like the devil’s workshop.  It was like a potter who lumped his clay back when the shape that he wanted did not get formulated.

Didn’t she wanted what she painted?  The misrepresented image of the canvas held glorious moments.  Didn’t she sweat and slog to capture the moods of the sun?  Didn’t she want to create an unpardonable image?  Piroska felt confident that this canvas would be a hit in the art world.  It seemed as though, at an angle, the Sun God had opened his mouth, letting ferocious looking serpents to crawl all over the universe.  The vigorous and potent sun had been given a destructive touch to it.  It had always been portrayed in an effective position by artists, novelists and poets.  It either awakened through bouncing white clouds or slept gracefully behind mountains and over seabeds.

What had Piroska done?  She mixed the peace and power together and gave the “forceful” the look of a fallen weed.  It had the look of banished Satan from heaven—the fallen power of Samson when his hair had been cut, the defeat of Adonis when the wild boar killed him, yet the canvas had a victorious look of Odysseus who passed the wailing sirens.  The whole canvas had a very creative effect, making Piroska’s depressed mood light.  Bi came in to check on his mistress, and he smiled to himself when he saw a luminous smile curling on his kissable missey’s lips.  Her eyes were glazed to the canvas—lost to a different world.  He went out whistling a very romantic love song that said how the lover wished he would be in the arms of the woman he loved.  If his missey was happy, then so was he.

That evening Piroska spent her time spring cleaning.  The entire den had been in a mess for the last fifteen days.  It looked all stormed with all her stuff lying around.  She made it look presentable for whom?  She didn’t know.  She asked herself if she was waiting for someone, as no one visited her den.  It was her private place and she rarely welcomed visitors.  Yet she had an intuition that she would have a guest.  Her elated mood did not cave into a melancholy one when no one arrived at her doorstep.

She felt relaxed as she bit into a vegetable sandwich and read Mario Puzo’s “The Last Don” late into the night.  Bi packed off early, though he showed his reluctance of leaving her alone.  Left to herself, she felt at ease in this solitary place.  Tomorrow she would be packing her canvas and sending it to Yash.

What would his reaction be—appreciation or distaste?  If he acknowledged it, he would not show it.  He would, on the other hand, display displeasure on his gaunt face.  She wished she could see his visage when he opened the packing.  He asked her to send it across and did not even mention to bring it over personally.  His opinion on her work did matter, as he had good connections.  He was like a doctor who could diagnose a case correctly without causing a blunder.  He had the eye of an eagle that took no time to sight his prey from way above everyone else.  What he said had a value to it.  It was because of his that she could sell most of her paintings at a decent price.  Yash did not even visit her again nor did he made an effort to contact her after she had rudely asked her mother and him to leave the den.

Her mother gelled better with him.  For a fleeting second Piroska wondered if her mother had a soft corner for Yash.  They looked smart together and vibed well.  Her ma must be definitely missing the presence of a man in her life.  In spite of this thought, Piroska knew the mind of her conventional mother.  She might have helped Piroska to acquire a divorce, but when it came to herself, she would just chicken out.  Piroska could not yet understand why her mother still clung to her father.  The man gave her nothing, physical nor mental satisfaction, he gave her pain.  His relationship with Sarah no longer remained a hidden secret; both moved around freely like young lovers.  Suresh Bhat did not bat an eyelid when she showed her affection in public.  In spite of all the tales carried to her mother by her friends, she pretended not to be bothered.  But deep inside, Piroska knew that her mother’s heart bled with sorrow.

Her father had not even sent her a note of congratulation on her successful exhibition.  He seemed to be still embittered about Ashara.  Why he moaned still she didn’t know, as Suresh Bhat’s ties with Ashara’s business had strengthened over the last six months.  Piroska did not remember her father once at the den, he was touring abroad with Sarah.  She felt that all her childhood affection for him had come to a complete standstill.  She found nothing in her present life related to him.  She was politely obliged to him because she had to live under his roof.  He did finance some of Piroska’s wants, and she felt that it was his duty, and she was going to make use of him.  Since she was only his daughter, he had a responsibility towards her, even though she was divorced.  Piroska did not demand any alimony from Ashok during the divorce.  His signature on the divorce papers itself was a boon.  It set her free like the dove in Noah’s ark that did not return upon seeing greenery.

Her mind went to her friend in Sangeela.  She never noticed the masculine side of her.  It never struck her that she was gay.  Piroska never saw her in feminine clothes.  The lady did not even make an attempt to make a pass at Piroska.  Though at times she had held her hand, and casually flung her arms around Piroska’s shoulders, the attitude seemed informal.  Piroska envied her friend for having a stable relationship, even if it was with a woman.  While she, on the other hand, had no one to romance with.

It was late midnight; she did not seem to get any sleep.  She thought a little extra reading would tire her out, but it did not.  Piroska thought of going for a walk in the eerie night, but refrained from the idea, as it was unsafe.  She tried to focus her attention on the ceiling, thinking of her next project.  Tomorrow seemed empty for her.  This canvas had exhausted her thinking abilities.

Laying down, she started to remember the God that she had forgotten over the years.  She was not an atheist, but she had sidelined the creator with whose universe she was in love with.  The marble Ganapati that she had picked up at “Ganapatipule” took a back seat after her divorce.  She tucked the idol in her cupboard and regretted what she did.  Maybe all the bad phases that she was undergoing was due to the negligence of the deity.  She was never fatalistic, as she was always afraid every minute in her life.  She felt like a shipwreck whose masts were yet to be sunk.  Piroska felt guilty for her loss of faith in God.  Didn’t those few minutes of saying her prayers give her some mental satisfaction?  Didn’t the ringing of the temple bell make her transcend to a different world?  With these thoughts, she walked to her cupboard and searched for the deity.  It laid uncared for with her used brushes and paints.  How sad it looked.

She lifted it and placed it between her palms, it had collected dust and it saddened to see her for its state.  She bathed it in cold water; liking the new look, she placed it by her bedside lamp, which created a halo around its head.  Was this God angry with her for tucking him into her cupboard?  Would he not care for her any more?  She stared at it, and then picking it up, laid it in the inside of her palms and went off to sleep.   She heard a whisper in her dreams, as someone was reciting a poem for her.

 

“Stone God

Why do you stare at me

with those blank passive eyes?

 Look somewhere else.

I still do not understand you.

 

Look here

Talk to me

Is this the way life bids farewell?

Is this the way you greet lovelorn souls?

Is this how you will welcome me?”


CHAPTER 26

Yash sat sprawled in his garden with a relaxed face.  The black clouds floating in his direction looked dangerous like a host of locusts coming to invade a ripe grain field. Thor seemed to be at his peak, roaring across the sky as though in an angry mood.

The sea miles away suddenly darkened to a blackish-greenish smoke.  Flocks of sea birds were hurrying back to their nests as lighting swept across the dark skies.  The savage scene would have definitely excited the paint brushes of Piroska, as she had this sadistic attraction towards wrath.  Yash knew that her entire past life had been one of turmoil and hence she could relate to such moods of nature with ease.

He was overwhelmed when her canvas for the exhibition arrived.  He had not yet opened the packing to feast upon whatever she worked on.  It gave him great pleasure to promote her work—not because he liked her, but because the woman had great talent and maturity when she perceived nature in all its forms.  Being an art dealer, he looked at her painting with a creative eye that had the ability to draw attention.  Yash, therefore, wanted to see that her work got channelled in the right direction.  He wanted her to gain a permanent footing in the first few ranking of a good artist.  Piroska’s last exhibition at Lasa was given a good coverage and her work was much discussed in the art circle.  The oncoming exhibition cum sale had to fetch her a name and a good bargain.  Yash wondered what the packed canvas held—the blasé sea or the virginal earth.

The first big raindrop he felt trickling from the surface of his hair to his scalp, and then it rolled down his back and settled in his bottom cleavage.  More drops seemed to invade his body, which eased out; he felt too lazy to move into the house.  It was a long time since he got wet in the rain.  The force of the rain showered upon him, and Yash’s body felt as though the rain goddess didn’t feel ashamed to nestle herself on his lips, armpits, the deep set navel and his strong loins.  She gave him a thrill by drumming on his hardened nipples.  He felt tickled as drops rolled into his unshaven hairy armpits; he kept licking his hungry lips as more sweet water clung on to them.  “Gawd!” he groaned, if only Piroska had been with him—this passion that he was oozing out with the rain goddess would have climaxed with her great body.

The rain pelted down harshly as its stinging nature felt as though it were angry at him for thinking about another woman.  Yash chuckled at the thought of the elements of nature being jealous of the mortal woman…whether on heaven or on earth they were all the same.  He walked into the house looking like a wet chicken, leaving puddles in the house. Brug just turned his huge head away in disgust as he watched his master dripping every where.  Yash slipped into his tub of warm water, which chilled out his turned-on arousal.  He smiled to himself, did Piroska ever have encounters with the forces of nature where her body felt possessed and wet?

Drying out his wet body, he made himself a cup of coffee.  He felt comfortable walking around bare, he had Burg to make him feel shy of his nudity.  Sipping his strong café, he watched the rain slyly easing out.  In another few minutes the rain goddess would be exhausted with her play on mankind.  Yash decided to open Piroska’s canvas, what the little Red Riding Hood had in store for him he didn’t know.  Brug sat at a distant, away from his knelt-down master; his drooped ears twitched every time the scissors went clip clip into the outer package. Yash’s eyes popped out (like an over-roasted popcorn) as the disfigured image of the Sun stood gaping at him.

“Heavenly Joe!”- he exclaimed to himself, “What have we here?,” this babe was going to cause some loud music among the critics and art lovers.  Hodur, the blind brother of the Sun God Balder, would have laughed at the canvas with mixed feelings if he could see.  Yash stared at the canvas with mixed feelings, whether to weep or to laugh—a female Sun—that in its meekest element totally disfigured?  He remembered the mythological story about “Balder the Sun God,” who was looked upon by all creation as the supreme power—until he dreamt of the demons overpowering the gods, and the bright face was overcome by a shadow of distress.  Similarly the canvas in front of him portrayed pain, anger, frustration, all painted in bold colours.  The face of the Sun looked fiendish, ugly, dull and torn apart.  A Kunti would have never dreamt of having a Karna had she now set her eyes upon the Sun God.  The Sun, which beheld the symbol of cosmic awareness, was reduced to being unauthoritative.  The energy to whom Rama was asked to pray, by Agastya when he was disheartened, was playing a role of a submissive female on the canvas.  The energy that got about life and light was given a depressing figure.  Piroska surely had lost her sanity of imagination.

Yash, stared in awe at the strength of the created image, whatever—it sure was different in all its sensibilities.  Even if she got ranked in the first three, he would be happy.  Yash was more interested in her getting the name than the money.  Such kind of fame would make her more balanced and stable in mind.  Had she done meditation, he wondered, as that would do her a world of good.

Ashoka, that boy needed a shake for rapurting a young woman’s future.  He bought some expensive painting from Yash, but needed to get permission from his mother to buy it.  He was so hung up on his mother, and maybe this was what led to the final show-down in Piroska’s life.

Though Piroska refused Yash’s proposal in marriage, he wanted to give another try.  No doubt he had many women in his life, but she seemed to be really special.  He knew to go back on the topic meant trouble.  If she refused the second time, then he had to forget her.  A small drizzle remained outside.  Nature seemed to wash out the dirt and Burg curled up and went to sleep.  Yash looked at the canvas.  Crazy woman—she crept into his mind and hopefully it was to stay.


CHAPTER 27

If Piroska got into a state of depression, so did I for different reasons.  If she pretended to be out of that note with her painting (then she was sadly mistaken), so was I with my grey clay pots.  We both still permanently lived in a state of uneasiness, and what we held on to as happiness was a temporary phase.  Many memories remained undestroyed and many could never be deleted.  I recalled my conversation with Piroska.

 

“You, seem to be coping with yourself after the divorce?”

 

“No, can you see those colours on the mountains, in harmony with autumn, thats what my life is like.  Splashes of green and an advanced state of deterioration.  I don’t think I will see happiness again; it seems far across the horizon.”

 

“Why?” I asked.

 

“Why?” she looked ahead and repeated. “Why?  What kind of a life should I lead?  I have never given it a thought.  Marriage, not again, children—I can't even produce illegitimate ones.  The one that I planned on got bumped off.  Men are a bag of garbage.  It’s difficult to reconstruct life again.”

 

“Hasn’t your painting helped you to think positively?”

 

She stared into my eyes and laughed.

 

“It has saved one part of my life not the other.  I have always grown up with colours, but this colour does not add any bright hue to my difficult life.  It is like the mist that rises and exposes the weather and settles down again.  I have tried so hard with my counsellor to regain my confidence but something fails.  It boosts my spirits and dampens it too.  You will not understand the kind of brainwash I went through.  The episode with Ashok and the Madonna was tragic.  My true love got so badly jilted that I have no time to think of another.”

 

I felt as though she lied about that.  I understood Piroska’s agony and knew what it was for the mind to keep recycling itself, especially as nothing churned out came pure.

 

“Are you sure about the Madonna?”

 

“No, I keep thinking that it was a illusion. When I opened the door, I saw the face of Ashok and Ashok.”  She shook her head.”Can we make mistakes?”  she asked me innocently.

 

I did not answer because I knew the Madonna and the kind of fixation that Ashok had for her.  I could not comfort Piroska with lies.  To love again could have been difficult, as I had someone for three hours, and that was it.  I remembered the time when my holy father wanted to sell me to Tanabai, and those sentences stank even till today when he told his friend, “Tanabai is quoting a good price for her.  She said, she’ll sell high being young.”  I did not wait to hear anymore and slipped out of the house, running blindly into the chilled night.  Tears gushed out from my soft brown eyes as I sprinted on the banks of the Cauvery.  My soles bled with the sharp pebbles and shells cutting through my supple skin.  I ran wildly into the eternal darkness till I could not breathe anymore.  I gasped for fresh air as I flung myself into the wet mud, my tears got soaked in the damp soil, which smelled like fresh rain.  I was given a choice either to be sold or join the nunnery.  I preferred the confinement rather than get sold like a slave.


CHAPTER 28

Two months passed, and Piroska was agitated because she had not heard from Yash about her painting, yet was he disgusted or disappointed at her world of imagination?  Had he been drawn magnetically towards it as she had been?  She blamed herself for being so isolated and untrusting.  She became suspicious of anyone who came close to her or made an effort to be her good friend.  She was still paranoid and suffered a persecution complex.  Piroska’s inner sensibility was creating all this confusion, it was yet not prepared to disengage itself from her past pains.  Escapism, she thought, was not possible—she paused her spinning wheel—why not?  It could be if she committed suicide.

This ghastly thought ambushed her already darkened spirit.  How come she had never given a thought to this?  What an easy path to elope with the angels and the devils.  To be a part of a tour into paradise and the dark caverns of hell.  In both places her wayward soul would have to be court marshalled.  Imagine standing in testimony for your own self.  She was not a glorified saint to float in the abode of truth.  She would not be given laurels for all the sins she committed.  She laughed—sins—running away from a husband, making love to a stranger and hating her rich father.  These were some of the evil that she had done.  Her mind seriously started to contemplate dying.  She felt her negative side challenging her,

 

“Go ahead,” it said, “you will strike King Solomon's mines, you’ll become the princess of darkness—you’ll having torched horned bulls to protect you,” and the whispering went on aimlessly.

 

Her weaker, but positive side could barely be heard. “Don’t,” it squeaked, “don’t, you will be damned.”  Her mind sounded like the devil that wagged his hairy thorny tail, tempting Jesus Christ to jump from the mountain top.  Her deranged mind did not know to whom she should consent, and this made her uneasy.  Her head suddenly felt heavy as though tribal drums were drumming, her tangled mind felt as though pots and pans were clanging in a very unrhythmic fashion.  Her breath felt choked like a rusted hose pipe, suffocating her in her own surroundings.  Lucifer begged her to visit Hades, and the archangel Michael showed her the path to enlightment.  Both places looked tempting—hell had an aura of eroticism—black and sensual.  Heaven a halo of virginal bliss, white and yet sexual.  Her chaotic mind shook vigorously as though there was a stampede in the forest.  She had the urge to flee—but where could she hide herself—with her parents, Yash, or with God?  Everything around her seemed to drop dead.  The negative side was burning with anger and it seemed as though it were wrecklessly rebelling against the victorious enemy.  That small bright spot illuminated itself into a big star, giving her the security to live.

Piroska raised her head and beheld the mountains, which were bursting forth with a romantic hue.  The rugged cliffs clung onto the fading midsummer mist—clouds bounced up and down on the peaks.  The landscape was her mind and body.  It gave her joy which no one or nothing else gave.  Life given to nature decayed so subtly and it danced in and out with life…and when she looked at herself a while ago her face looked like a withered pear in summer.  Any passing stranger could read through her transparent face, it danced with fury, flushed with shyness, flamed with emotions.  It was a face that depicted a sensitive canvas.  Piroska, swallowed the beauty ahead of her and decided to ease out her strained body by going for a walk.  She would return and paint her autumn moods—for a friend of hers.  Ashok always loved Autumn, he would spend hours catching the glow of the leaves from red to brown to gold on his video camera.  The Madonna would barely sit through his video tapes.  “Boring—what’s so divine about it?  It happens every year,” and Ashok, instead of retaliating back, would sooth out his injured heart.  It would always be Piroska who would defend him.  The Madonna was the ultimate bitch, Piroska thought.

Standing in front of her mirror she said her name aloud.  “Piroska,” didn’t that mean the little Red Riding Hood?  A ridiculous idea struck her, why not dress like one?  No one was around in the house, her mother went to attend some social meet, her servants would be busy doing housework and the market place stares wouldn’t really bother her.  Wearing a bright red dress, with red beads around her neck, and a red hat, she trekked out.  If she thought she looked silly, then she was mistaken.  It looked as though she walked out of a fashion magazine; her skin was glowing like a winter apple.

As the little Red Riding Hood walked (minus her hamper) through Lasa, through its narrow lanes, passing its rustic inhabitants, hens crossing her path, children were feeding pigeons and listening to the low mooing of the buffaloes as their udders  released their load.  As she crossed the Lasa tea gardens under the glances of its natives who admired her colour and looks, she saw Bi running towards her with enthusiasm.

 

“Should I come with you, missey?” he asked expectantly.

 

“No, Bi, I can manage on my own,” she noticed the sullen face of the shepherd who turned back and disappeared behind a few trees.

 

When she reached her usual mountain path, she stopped by a road that led to the valley.  Piroska had a choice—to visit the explored landscape or to search for something new.  Many a time her glance had been shifted to that path, but her teen-aged shepherd boy, Bi, always seemed to give her a lame excuse when she wanted to venture into that path.  That day she had no one to stop her, and her feet led her into a new horizon (so she thought), as if entering into a fairy land.  Piroska recalled Robert Frost’s poem that she had to mug in school, “The Road Not Taken,” and as she walked, tripping over driftwood and moist grass, she recited a verse to her silent audience.

 

“I shall be telling this with a sigh

somewhere ages and ages hence.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

 

Piroska looked around as her voice climaxed with the serene landscape.  It seemed as though nature had stood at attention as her sweet voice rang like Christmas bells.

She felt at peace running down the secret path.  She seemed not afraid of what lay ahead.  The silence around her was amazing, her body felt a sense of purity, a feeling of gracefulness as she trudged under shadowy archways, caressing huge tree trunks, and admiring berries on shrubs.  Her eyes beheld a wild passion as they shifted from one scene to another.  In the midst of her enchanted mood, she heard a chanting in a dialect unknown to her.  It sounded as though a witch was stirring a brew, or a magician was drawing a magical circle.  Was she afraid?  Yes! —a little.  Curiosity made her peep and she was nearly strangled with her own laughter.  There he was—the clown—the witch doctor in his beastly clothes of paints.

What a weird character, he looked dark as a coalmine, hair that was wiry and knotted.  It was clasped into a tall ponytail and with the help of a root, it fell across his face like a fountain.  His face was painted like an owl, his lower part like a leopard.  His nakedness was barely hidden by Adam’s fig leaves.  He looked like a jester trying out a dance, and Piroska could not figure out the steps.  A funny kind of a modern rap dance—upwent one leg and sideways the other.  He threw his hands around, swirled his head and before he could balance himself, he crashed on the ground, on his butt, which had the stripes of a zebra.  He seemed to have felt foolish and looked around to see if anyone was watching.  His eyes caught the dancing face of Piroska, who wanted to explode with laughter.  A look of shame and bewilderment flashed across his narrow eyes and before a reaction could take place, he disappeared.  Piroska laughed and laughed, and it seemed as though the bees buzzed and the crickets creaked, the wind blew louder—enjoying the happiness of little Red Riding Hood.


CHAPTER 29

As I venture into my tale of passion, I cannot blatantly ignore the she-wolf of my story who inspired me to bring in the transformation in Piroska’s life.

The legitimising of relationship came forth when civilisations laid forth rules for incest.  Time existed and time still does exist when mothers slept with sons, fathers with daughters and brothers with sisters, giving Sigmund Freud the opportunity to explore into the Oedipus and the Electra complexes.  We cannot say that these complexes are dead in our society.  We are all aware that we live on the threshold of double standards, brushing everything immoral under the carpet.  How did Eve form a tribe if she and her children did not have relationships with each other?  Was she the only the woman around?  What can we say when Lot's daughters slept with him?  Didn’t the Caveman and the Cro-Magnon indulge in incest, as they had no order to relationships?  Yet Manasi’s and Ashok’s courtship was looked upon with awe.  Sometimes relationships needed no reasons to form—they just happened.

A woman without a husband, a handsome child whom she clung on for mental supports at first and then for the physical.  Ashok had the looks and the mannerisms of his father, which drew her to him.  She noticed the fright on his face when she seduced him—she felt guilty on seeing that innocent face glow with a different fear, but her sexual urges became urgent, and in due course she managed to cage him.  Every time she rolled under him it felt as though he were her husband to whom she was making love.  Though the man was dead and gone, he came to her through the boy.  He haunted her passionately and aesthetically due to this bondage of the dead and the living.  She never wanted to part from the boy—but when he set his eyes on the beautiful Piroska, life started to stumble beneath her feet.

 

“I am marrying,” he declared.

 

“Marrying whom?”

 

“Piroska.”

 

“A Russian, not even an Indian.”

 

“Cool it, Ma, Piroska is very much Indian.  Oh Ma! She is so beautiful, so very beautiful,” he lamented.  Manasi felt like the jealous Hera on seeing Zesus with the pretty Io, the daughter of the river God Inachus.  The pangs of love that fluttered from his eyes wanted her to claw them out.  She hated the idea of a rival, and had always been a jealous and possessive woman, even with her husband.  She tried out ways to change Ashok's mind.

 

“Don’t you think it is too early for you to get married?”

 

He laughed and said, “You have always been envious of all my female friends—being cold and curt whenever you met them.  This time I have made up my mind—you will have to learn to live with her,” he screamed and walked out, slamming the door. She became petrified on seeing him in this mood and became determined not to lose control over him.  It had never happened—this Piroska.

What Ashok pointed out about Manasi was the truth.  She resented him for having female friends and managed to keep them at bay.  The next-door potter (as she referred to her) became close to him; he spent nights at her place and this grieved her.  But one day, when Manasi was returning home late, she saw the clay maker necking in a car with another woman.  This scene eased her out of her tension.  Her son would be safe with the lesbian, but Piroska’s presence in Ashok’s mind seemed to have disturbed her.

Piroska no doubt was good looking and oozed with sex appeal, and Manasi could do nothing about it.  Her enemy was strong, energetic and talented.  Keeping her business aside, her mind throughout the day schemed horrible plans.  The only strong solution was for Piroska to find her in bed with Ashok—and she had wickedly done it.  It gave her great pleasure to see her daughter-in-law's face shell-shocked.  The colour on her face drained out like a pipeline that had no water.  The shrieking Piroska made Manasi laugh, as this was the final countdown.  She knew Piroska would never return for her bags.  Though Piroska left, her boy still suffered from a hangover. When she walked into his bedroom, she found him standing and staring at that wonderful canvas lost in his thoughts.  She had a wish to set the canvas on fire, but even if she did, would it make any difference to Ashok, as that bitch was imprinted on his mind and not on his canvas.

It enraged her when he called out Piroska’s name whenever he climaxed.  The intensity with which he used to make love subsided after his divorce.  The forceful thrust, the kneading of the breast had all become mechanical.  She knew it was impossible to defeat the Red Riding Hood in his mind.  The woman just stayed for eight months in this house and she drove her son out of his senses.  It seemed as though Ashok divided his body and his soul between the two of them.  Manasi did not want to share, she wanted the whole thing!

As Manasi sat on her bed eating hot popcorn and watching the film, “When Sally Met Harry,” she was not concentrating on the corn nor the film, she was thinking of Malacca in Malaysia, the “sleepy hollow” it was called.  She visited the place once with her husband, who mentioned that the Portuguese were the first Europeans to control its spice trade.  She vaguely recalled some of the places that she saw—the Dutch Square, Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, which was famous for its antique collectors. They also visited the Baba Nijonya Heritage Museum and the crocodile farm.  What she enjoyed the most was the spicy food, the taste still tingled on her tongue.  She had a wish to explore its spice market, and Ashok would be the best man to do the survey.  Though she had an enviably young marketing division, she preferred that her son go.  All she needed was to push him a little, as he avoided the marketing zone most of the time.

She switched off the video and relaxed into a soft bed.  She admired her legs, which were peeping out of her silk kaftan.  Ashok stood in the doorway, watching her “conceited woman.”  She always found some time admiring herself.  He walked up to her and kissed her.  She giggled like a small child as he tickled her with his tongue and enjoyed the glory of love making till its zenith.  She took this golden opportunity to tell him about Malacca and how it would improve their business fronts.  He said nothing.  He continued nibbling at her earlobes and paid attention to every single word that she spoke with interest.  It dawned upon him that if he misbehaved, the Madonna would not have anything for him.  He had to play along and stop brooding about Piroska.  A time may come when the fair Piroska would be his again.  He was crazy to grant her the divorce so easily.  The warmth of his mother's body felt like the flames of Muspellsheim, which suddenly got quenched.  He felt a kind of repulsion towards her, though it had existed inside him for years but he had suppressed it.  Now as she lay in a state of bliss, he felt like strangling her to death.  He kept on staring at the closed eyes and did not have the urge to kiss them—a different kind of fear existed inside him.  Manasi, feeling the intensity of her son's glare, opened her eyes to a changed Ashok.  But when Ashok saw her face, he melted.  He saw a softness in those motherly eyes, and all his fears drained out, and he hugged her by saying, “I will go to Malacca, Ma.”

 

“Yup, Malacca,” the Madonna chuckled when Ashok left the room.  She persuaded her baby to go.  Her uncouth motherly games worked on him.  Her poor boy always succumbed to her madness.  Was any action without purpose?  Sending Ashok on this market survey would enable him to forget his beautiful Piroska.  The woman stuck on to him like a shadow.  By pushing him to Malacca it would help him to regain his inner confidence, and he would be so preoccupied with the market scene that the past would be forgotten.  Maybe this trip would make him realise that no one could ever take the place of the Madonna in his life.  She, under any circumstances, would always be his.  A rotten horrid woman she was, selfish and crude, greedy and destructive, but who cared, she had the power and the money.

From a young age, marriage had never interested her.  Coming from a South Indian middle class family and being the only child, her parents flooded her with proposals.  She escaped from all the young men by creating lame excuses—”He has a long nose, Ma,” or “His house decoration is pathetic” or “He isn’t rich or educated for me,” and she had a long list of complaints.  Her parents finally reached a saturation point and stopped pestering her about the eligible men around.  Manasi for a few years was thrilled not to hear—”Mrs. X’s son has returned from the US” or “My friend's cousin is looking for a girl, he seems to be a good match for you.” or “Write for this matrimonal advertisement in the newspaper.” etc., etc. People around (especially in her community) used to get shocked—”24 and not married—we’d rather keep an elephant in the house than an unmarried daughter” they used to say.  Nothing affected her, but it made her parents suffer.

The Madonna was ambitious; she had an aim to get educated and to become independent.  Her outlook was not very modern, but she knew had she submitted to marriage, that would have been the end.  She had no intentions to become like her mother—housewife—and then bear a handful of children from which just she survived.  There was so much more in life than seeking support of a man.  It annoyed her to watch her mother brewing tea or coffee everyday, she did not eat till her husband returned from work.  She kept herself isolated when she got her menses ate in a different plate.  In the modern society she was outdated.  She wasted most of her time sitting in the “devghar.”  The kitchen became her second  temple.  Manasi had no vision like that and always caused a landslide when she argued about her mother’s monotonous life.

When she married Habu, she was a qualified with an MBA degree and had become independent woman.  She met him at a party and they clicked.  Life drastically changed for her from the middle class family to a sophisticated home.  She adjusted like a peanut in a shell, leaping in the business.  She was shrewd, manipulative and blunt.  She carried an aura of confidence and strength, helping Habu to steadily blossom in his spice business in different places.  They had some hundred odd acres of spice plantation in Calicut.  After her marriage she accompanied Habu to Wyanad, and she was fascinated by the spice range—cardamom, pepper, cinnamon cloves, arecanut.  The place was left untouched and had good wild life.  Habu had pointed out to a leech that cosily hung to his leg, draining out his blood.  He wanted her to see how it bloated and then just rolled off.  It was not a pleasant sight to watch.  The Malabar whistling thrush whistled in the early morning.  She was excited when he took on a Malabar houseboat on the backwaters and made her eat appams with prawn curry.  But happiness in her life had a short flight when Habu died in a freak accident on the ship.  The Madonna just received the ashes of her husband, and the only moment she wept was when she held the copper urn to her bosom—and that was it.

Seasons flew by, hot summers drifted into mucky monsoons, slanting rains to yellow woods, decayed leaves to cold winters.  Climatic conditions over the years weakened due to pollution, and her life also followed a cycle.  She recalled coming to Sangeela as a coy bride and her extrovert husband changed her.  He unveiled her off all her traditional priorities.  “You and your attire will not suit my business life,” he said, eyeing her when she dressed in a heavy silk sari for an informal party.  It didn't taken time for her to shed her physical appearance.  The Madonna underwent a metamorphosis.  Her tastes for clothes and cosmetics changed, off went her long thick braid to a pageboy cut.  Her rounded Indian figure underwent a slimming class, and she made all kinds of efforts to keep herself trim, regular exercises, diets, walks etc.  Suddenly the conventional Madonna became bare to the business world.  She got to see enough of money, which she never had and splurged it around generously.

As she still relaxed in her bed sipping orange juice, she got the memories of her pregnancy.  Things went a little haywire when she discovered that she was pregnant.  She must have requested the doctor a hundred times to recheck her reports.  The happy news of getting fertilised disgusted her.  She wanted an abortion.  The Madonna did not want to disfigure her curves.  The thought of a protruding stomach grieved her; the concept of waddling around like a duck drove her nuts.  She did not want to put on more weight.  Morning sickness and heavy breasts exasperated her.  When she had no maternal instincts, why should she bare a child?  When she was not yet prepared for motherhood, how could she allow something to grow inside her?  She couldn't come to love the beast that was growing inside her.  Manasi recalled the arguments that she used to have with Habu for supporting the child.  “Can't you see, its gonna damage my figure—I'm gonna look like a bloated fish.  Imagine sitting at home feeling heavy all over—please Habu, let me drop it,” she begged and wept.

He was stubborn. “No, you cannot destroy it, its going beyond time, I may be a modern man, but to murder our child, I shall not permit it.  I'm not gonna love you less, just because you look huge.”  That was the final word.

The Madonna remembered lamenting to all her friends.  She would ask for remedies to destroy the seed that lay inside her.  She tried to black mail her parents by threatening them that she would kill herself and the child if no one paid need to her complaint.  Nobody gave her an ear for her sorrow, and she had to bear the burden of her child for nine months.  Her mother just remarked “that she was very lucky.”

 

“LUCKY!” Manasi screamed.

 

“It’s a curse for me.  I have never thought of bearing children.  I am happy with Habu, this being inside me is going to derail all my fun—keeping me awake, changing nappies, feeding it and making my firm breasts sag.  I mean, why me?”  Her mother looked at her with disapproval and let her daughter continue. “Phew, those lousy labour pains, and then bleed for a whole month.  Why should I be punished?”  It never dawned on her that since she was irregular with the pills she was in this mess.

 

The Madonna smiled to herself, how immature she had been then—what she abhorred became an important place in her life.  Her flat stomach was an asset to her and she used to run her fingers over it everyday in her bath.  The flat plateau excited her.  The upcoming paunch made her scream.  She had been a foolish woman, especially if someone asked her.

 

“What's the baby saying?” and she used to curl in defence and retort, “what baby?”

 

Her tune of lament changed when she connected herself to the first kick.  It was an awakening for her, and she felt as though her child was drawing her attention.  Things changed when she held her newborn baby in her hands and wept at her evil self.  From then on the bond between the Madonna and Ashok strengthened.

Ashok become a firm part in her busy life, making Habu furious most of the time.  Ashok clung on to her wherever she went, and Habu to Ashok became a sour grape.  He wanted his mother anytime, and he would barely acknowledge his father.  One could see the difference in his eyes, when his mother entered the room the brown eyes used to dance with glee.  With Habu the eyes became kind of reserved.  Ashok preferred to be carried around by the Madonna rather than Habu.  The moment Habu picked him, Ashok would wail louder than ever.

Ashok preferred to sleep between his parents and this irked Habu.

 

“Manasi, since he has his own room, why don't you ask him to sleep there?”

 

“Manasi used to get annoyed every time,” he said that, “he needs his mother's love.”

 

“No, at the age of nine, make him independent, otherwise he is going to become a weakling.”

 

Instead of listening to Habu and taking his advice, the Madonna with her overbearing possessive nature made Ashok languid.  She circled her life around Ashok and kept a watch on all his moves.  Where he went?  What he did?  What he ate?  Whom he met?  It was kind of a questionnaire session when he used to return from school and college.  The early death of Habu made her fingers tighten around Ashok.

She became over-possessive and over bearing with him.  Her heart used to burn if he freaked around with girls.  He needed to tell her everything he did with them.  She became hysterical if he hid any secrets from her.  She wanted him to make her his icon.

As Ashok matured and started moving in all kinds of circles, she realised that her hands had become oily and she was slowly loosing her grip on him.  She never realised that, though he loved her, he had his own life too—and he needed company of his own age.  When he stopped telling her some of his activities, the Madonna would sulk till he came and told her what he did.

The next door neighbour used to make her uncomfortable.  She always wondered as to why her son spent so much of his time with this potter?  She had no looks, a physique like a man, and yet her son used to hang around her.  The Madonna always felt that some of the rebellious moods introduced to Ashok was by the clay maker.

Piroska's entry into his life was like a thundercloud that slammed in without giving any notice.  She appreciated everything about this woman, be it her beauty or creativity, but the closeness between Ashok and her got her all upset.  Due to this, she indirectly became a sadist.  Though she enjoyed art, she made it a point to degrade its status.  Anything that Piroska liked, she deliberately hated.  With Piroska gone, her memory of her still brewed in his head, and she chose Malacca to despatch him.  She was not sure whether she was going to lose or win a battle.  She turned herself and allowed the glass of orange juice to spill on her satin quilt, and she watched the liquid spread and stain her bed in a round circle.

This orange round patch was the stain created on her life by Piroska.  It was like a girl reaching puberty, and her periods became a part of her system.till a certain age.  The Madonna could not rid mountain girl from her mind.


CHAPTER 30

Confused! Confused, that's what he was!  Why did he decide to go to Malacca?  Had he not he decided a millon times to keep the Madonna at bay?  Why was it not possible?  He crumbled down like the crust of bread every time she approached him.  Mother-goddess or mother-devil, what was she?  She cast her spell on him and trapped him in her magical circle.  He seemed to spin and buzz around her like a fractured bee.  How many times he had tried to repress his inner feelings, but it remained an important force in his personality and it would stay glued to him through out his life.  She was the golden eagle and he her prey, she could swoop down anytime and he would remain paralysed as though he was attacked by a bout of palsy.  He feared and admired her.  What a feeling of hate and love, he rode on, at times his graph would peak and at other times dip down.  Right now, as he drew his Opel Astra, he hated her for pushing his luck too far.  Malacca!  Marketing Survey!  Who the hell did she think she was, Queen of Sheba or Cleopatra, ordering everyone around.

Ashok, who loved the power of his machine, felt numb and lethargic.  He was not even looking forward to visiting his favourite spot, the lake.  His mood had become pensive and dull, and it seemed as though nothing would rejuvenate his senses.  His Madonna's overbearing nature repulsed him.  As he neared the lake, a cool breeze seemed to sedate his hurt feelings, and suddenly everything seemed to bounce around.  Colourful balls and balloons threw themselves high into the mild summer sky.  The green trees around the lake sang a lyric as the wind brushed through the leaves.  Ashok parked his car and with a lethargic slackness in the body he stepped out to enjoy the mood of the gleaming ripples on the surface of the lake.  There had been many a time when he and Piroska relaxed here—saying nothing but entertaining their minds to the natural beauty ahead of them.  He lost Piroska, and suddenly he felt lonely and forsaken.  He deprived himself of a mature relationship and understanding.  The Madonna destroyed most of his life.  It was no use blaming her, as he had been a part of the dirty game.  He could never resist the Madonna's flamboyant aura, in spite of the fact that Piroska was more gentle and relaxed; she use to leave them for their private conversations and rarely showed annoyance, and if she did, it was handled in their bedroom.  Many a time she was and had been suspicious of their intimacy, but he managed to wade out of it like a sly fox.  She was no fool to have overlooked the behaviour of his lying around, his peaceful heaven that had been disturbed by some revellers who did not understand the meaning of a clean environment.  He lit his cigar and pulled a drag of the Mexican stick, he loved the strong intoxicating taste that was left behind in his mouth; it was refreshing and it gave a punch to his salvaged brains and livened up his lost moral senses.  Piroska enjoyed its taste, and when he kissed her, she tried a drag but ended up coughing like a choked chimney.

He remembered the first girl he brought home when he was in college—Rima, petite and pretty.  He never dreamt that his Madonna would react like an uncouth bat.  The Madonna's face fell when they walked in holding hands.  The glare was hot like the nuclear radiation after the blast. Ashok unconsciously pulled his hand away from Rima.  A sudden fear had crept into his system when he saw the look.

Rima could not comprehend the sudden change that came over Ashok, and instead of sensing danger she continued to hang on to Ashok's arm.  A friendly bubbly girl who was not unfazed by the Madonna's frozen glares continued talking with the Madonna in a relaxed manner.  It made Ashok laugh—what an absurd situation, a growling bitch and a timid playful kitten.  The Madonna stuck to her chair till Rima left, not giving them a chance to be alone.

 

“Where did you pick up the rag from?” she questioned Ashok when Rima left.

 

“Rag—you call her—a Rag, she is the best thing that could happen to me.”

 

“Oh! Love is it?” she asked with scorn.

 

“Think so.”

 

“It won't last long,” she said confidently.

 

“We’ll see,” he replied.

 

Strangely enough, no girl lasted more than a month with him.  Was it because he wasn’t up to them, which was not possible, as he was rich, fun loving, intelligent and a good lover.  He had wondered if his Madonna was being the villain and sabotaged his relationships.  The latter instinct came out true.  He caught her one day threatening his third girlfriend, Yanka, and he was shocked.  He showed, did not react to it, but made up his mind never to bring girls home again or talk about them, as it infuriated the Madonna.  What he was afraid of was the suspicious nature of his mother's behaviour, which would seep into the college premises.  Most of them just rated her as an over-possessive mother who needed to protect her only son—and it stopped at that.  If any one suspected more than that, he wasn't sure.

Ashok had never liked Madonna’s hostility towards Piroska.  She never made an effort to be warm towards her fairy-like wife.  The face always drew into a sulk when Piroska crossed her path.  She never included her into any of the business decisions, even if he insisted.  The answer would be a firm, “NO”.  What does an artist understand about money matters and bribes?  Her visions are just narrowed to colours.  She won't understand our kind of life.

 

“But Ma, she comes from a business background far superior to ours.”  His mother would laugh at that statement.

 

“What brains Mr.Bhat has, not an inch of it has been inculcated into his daughter.”

 

Ashok, did not like to keep Piroska away from family secrets.  He felt that she was a part of the family and he made it a point to discuss it with her at night.  She was not so dumb as the Madonna thought.  In fact, many of the suggestions given to him by Piroska were taken into consideration by the Madonna, who did not know from where they came.  Had she even smelled it, it would have been dropped like a hot potato.  Piroska used to have a naughty smirk when her suggestions were discussed over dinner.  Ashok caught the amusement in her eyes and they used to smile.  The Madonna at such moments never understood the message sent across.

Ashok tried to be protective about Piroska’s art.  The Madonna could never think of her opening a painting nest in her house.  Ashok found that weird, this woman just pretended to hate the artist’s talent just because she was a threat to her.  Otherwise, the Madonna flaunted around art exhibitions on invitations and would return home raving about the medium, tone and theme.  She was such a hypocrite.  She killed the enthusiasm in Piroska, “We have one next door, I do not want one in this house.” Ashok hated the Madonna for such harshness.  Somewhere down the line he felt that he was the weak backbone.  Why could he just not put his foot down?  Though the insides of him rebelled, it never dropped out.  He could never defend Piroska.  The Madonna always trapped him in a very shrewd manner.  She sweet-talked him into anything that he did not want to do.  What a sweet-talker she was. Boy! He admired her subtlety, after all she was all his.

The mother goddess of his dreams, who he was afraid to lose.  His mind worked like the high and low tide of the sea.  Thoughts flowed and thoughts separated.  Disturbances turned in like the unconditioned sea currents.  Shooting hostile pain and suppressing love, which always wanted to break forth in the form of masturbation.  He recalled the first time he shagged—the first time he felt the hardness of his organ, he must have been thirteen.  What thrills it had given him as he saw the erection that stood out like a strong bamboo shoot, and he was aghast when it drained out the liquid.  It formed a transparent puddle in front of him, and he wasn't aware that the Madonna had caught him.  She said nothing but smiled—making him forget his shameful act.  It was manhood! It was his strength.  The kind of satisfaction he got was something he would never forget, and since then it became a part of him.

As Ashok's cigar got stubbed under his shoes, he knew that he would never leave the Madonna.  It would be death that would separate them and it scared him. What if she died before him?  How would he cope with life?  The string that attached them would fall apart if anything happened to her.  She managed everything in life for him.  She has created him and she would be the one to destroy him and watch him decay.

His loneliness gave him more aches than joy.  He needed company and he needed to think straight.  His path had always been crooked and thorny.  The thorns pricked him in his loneliness, its sharpness never eased away its pains.  It gave him sorrow.  As the rich illumination of the fading sunrays paved the way for dusk, Ashok's mood became melancholy.  He wished to go back to Lasa and be with Piroska.  She gave him a different comfort, a different peace of mind.  Life was not so easy.

The Madonna took over his life without him even realising it.  Ashok could never place his father in his life.  It seemed as though he never existed.  His mother always told him that he resembled his father in many ways.  Ashok could not recall any good memories with his father.  His father had been his arch enemy.  He could not tolerate the closeness that was shared with Madonna.  His father became his rival when he shared his love with his mother.  Ashok felt that he had full control of his mother and his father had no business to be with them.  Ashok never shared his school joys and sorrows with his father, it would always be his Madonna.  He got his affection and protection from her.  Not being a scholar in the beginning of his school days would enrage his father, and due to this fear Ashok always showed his report card to his mother, even after he started scoring high in school and got an appreciative pat from his father—Ashok stayed at bay.  He had been a mean child in spite of the love that his father doted on him.  Ashok never lacked anything from childhood, he got what he wanted as his parents could afford.  His school friends envied him whenever he came to class with an imported pencil box or school bag.  May be these were small gifts that his father gave him to get his love.

The death of his father happened too suddenly.  He hated his Madonna for going into a pensive mood.  She looked so lost when she heard the news.  He remembered how she wept holding the urn at the airport.  That was the first time Ashok saw her lose control.  He just stood by crying, not at the loss of his father, but watching his Madonna cry.  He never realised that his father's death would cause a crater in their lives.  He was happy thinking that it was now happy living, and he wouldn't have to share his mother with anyone.

The summer dusk took a long time to settle down.  Ashok did not shift out of his position.  How his childhood had flown past, and now he was an adult and yet some old attachments lingered on.  These had no valid reasons, as it continued to hang on and glow like an orchid throughout his life.  His incestuous craving for the Madonna would never come to an end.  The conflict that he had with his father existed no more.  He became the master of his own game.


CHAPTER 31

Jiti and her not-so-interesting boss, Mr. Rai, had to visit the Konkan coast for signing a business contract.  I decided to be a pile on till Borli and then explore the surroundings on my own.  I needed a divine break after having held my pottery exhibition at Faces in Bangalore.  The sales and profits were excellent to refill my coffers.  I needed to rest my brains in some cool corner, away from my family of potters, their wet wheels, and from the smell of dank clay.

My fingers went coarse varnishing and painting hundred and fifty pots and keeping up to private orders.  My colourful imagination suddenly switched off, everything seemed dry in my life, and I grabbed this opportunity offered to me by Jiti.  We drove into an “azure” horizon, which was breath taking.  The chill winter mist paved a path to the beginning of a mild summer; the surroundings had not yet been devoured by the heat, due to which the environment still looked green and young.  The Sahyadri ghats never seemed to stop spinning, it was like a “Top” that spun continuously and then gradually slowed down.  My head felt giddy, my stomach queasy and the entire orbit of mine felt defused with the constant chatter of Jiti and Mr. Rai on Indian politics.  One was fed up of reading it daily in the newspapers, and these two were wasting their energy discussing why Vajpayee should not have taken the bus ride (as though it mattered to them), the goonda raj in Bihar, the massacre of Dalits, the conversions of tribals by the Christian missionaries, the world cricket fever, and the striptease scene in the film, “Bombay Boys”.  I was thoroughly bored, not because it was politics, but the continuous banter caused me a headache.

I shifted my attention to the scene around me, the rugged cliffs on the V-ghats, the shelf-like structures formed along the mountains, which had been caused by lava pour thousands of years back.  It was unbelievable that this dense forest had been attacked by volcanic eruptions, causing deep dentures and cracks in the mountains. No wonder this region was called Jurassic.  My imagination became a bit flighty when I imagined this place with dinosaurs romping around without being disturbed by man.  I definitely would not like to have these lizards coming back again.  They were too huge, uncultured and unlikeable, not the kind where I could reach out and touch.  A Stephen Spielberg felt comfortable having them around—not me, the pot maker.  The past geographical erosions seemed eerie and remained permanent fixtures in our texts, just as our past hounded us all the time.

As we drove on bumpy roads to reach the village Diveagar, I noticed that the red silk cotton trees had blossomed to their fullest.  The red-pink colour had a flushed glorious look.  I recalled the tree back home.  It had been tall and gaunt and had a great nuisance value to its surroundings.  It had flowered for many odd years and the dry cotton pods used to burst due to the summer heat, causing havoc—fluffy, silky bits flew around, causing everyone to sneeze.  The soft flakes scattered around, clinging on to grass and people's hair and floated around like a wiseman without a face, giving blessings as it went along.  It was difficult to burn it because of its silky texture.

The wired roof courtyard back home gave a full view of this tree.  My mother and I use to sit on a coir bed (the kinds used at the Punjabi dhabas) just to admire this tree.  When she used to braid my hair she would say, “How young this tree had been when I married and came here, and look at it now, mature and grown up.” Maybe she related her life to it; it must have given her an inner solace from her disturbed married life.

When the tree bloomed, all the leaves fell off and what remained was its grey-blackish bark with thorns all over, and to this sharpness the green buds flowered into silky petals. The black-greyish thorns reminded me of the thorny crown of Adam that tempted the innocent Eve to lose her virginity.  It got memories of Good Friday where the priest used to tell us the agony of Christ's thorned crown, and how we children were made to weep by listening to his dramatic voice in the school chapel.  Now I could not cry over the crucifixion, as I had been crucified many a time mentally and physically by the system that I lived in.  I had no God’s head to bow my knees to.  I just bowed to my work, which gave me money and satisfaction.

My mind had strayed—where was I?  The coir bed is where I slept during summers, facing the star-strangled sky with a torch nearby.  The flashlight had purpose; late in the nights I used to watch these bats fly in and hang themselves on the tree to suck the honey from the flowers.  They hung like artificial danglers from an Egyptian slave's ears.  My wicked mind waited for them to settle in, and then I flashed the torchlight on them to disturb them.  It gave me sadistic pleasures, switching the light on and off, and the ones who took advantage of this were the local boys, who with the help of a shotgun shot them down and cooked their meat.  I could not digest the idea of eating bats flesh for dinner.

 

“It tastes just like chicken,” they said.

 

Jiti and Mr.Rai left me at Diveagar, a small village and town-like place.  I liked the idea of spending my time exploring the next three beaches before I reached Harihareshwar.  It felt great to be alone and away from the chatterboxes; Jiti hugged and kissed me with “I'll miss you, dear.”  I felt like pushing her aside, she annoyed my nervous system many times.  Lately, she had the tendency to drool all over me in front of others and I disliked that kind of affection.

I made friends with a local boy Ramu, who perching me on his bicycle seat cycled me through the lush “Betelnut Wadis” and then abruptly dropped his bicycle, sending me down on the white sand like a bag of potatoes.  He laughed, watching my bewildered face—the last I remember falling off a bicycle was at the age of ten when I learned to ride one.  I laughed back with Ramu, who made me walk through dense vegetation.  I could hear the wild roar of the sea, but didn't know when I would be facing it.  Every time I questioned Ramu about the distance of the sea, he used to point his dark finger ahead and reply, “five more minutes.” Those five minutes never seemed to come to an end and we plodded on sinking our feet into the soft sand, which glimmered like grounded precious stones.  Suddenly the narrow sand lane opened out to a magnificent white beach.  I excitedly watched the blue water rumble and toss with great gusto towards it.  Like a child, I screamed and sprinted to receive it and got engulfed in its strength.  Ramu was one step ahead of me, bouncing up and down like a basketball on every high wave.  The child in me came through as I rolled in the water, after many, many years I felt absolutely free of myself.

Ramu, my young companion, became my guide.  He helped me pick seashells of all sizes and shapes, sandstones, fossils etc.  We came across a skull of cow, whose dead carcass must have been left on the beach by the village folk.  We hired a rickety six-seater and drove to a Gravel Beach Rokhadi, which I believe had a three-thousand year-old Beach Rock and a few sea stalks.  I was indifferent to the sea because of its roughness and refrained from entering the water—yes I did not want to be swept away.  Life was precious to me; I had many dreams to dream in reality.  Ramu, on the other hand, daringly flung himself onto the high seawaves.

 

“Be careful you'll drown,” I screamed and showed him actions with my hands.  He just laughed, showing off his white teeth and leaping on a higher wave.  I don't think he tried these stunts to impress me as he lived on the coast, and I had seen many of his kind in action.

Ramu took me to a small fishing village, “Walvat”.  Small boats and trailers were anchored on the shore.  The light-ringed wind made them dance in their constrained spaces—bumping into each other with glee.  Each boat had a colourful flag with some symbol on it—a Swastik, goathead, stars, fish, scorpion, apasaras, etc.  “The variety of symbols was a sign of good omen to each of the fishing family,” said Ramu.  My nostrils flared as we covered an area where Bombay duck and prawns were kept to dry.  The fisher folk were a friendly lot and readily posed for photographs with us.  I liked the way the Kolin women hitched their saris tightly above their knees.  They looked so sensual in their watery surroundings, swaying their hips as they carried their baskets on their head.  “Would I look so erotic in those clothes?” my mind wondered.  I think with my masculine build I would have passed as a eunuch.

This beach I discovered had different geographical features, like sand dunes, pomoea creepers and spinifex grass, the entire beach was covered with ripple marks.  I sat on a rock against which waves lashed, and it seemed a water nymph was throwing diamonds into the air.  Had Piroska been here, out would have crept her wild imagination on the canvas.  She would have enjoyed every bit of this unfriendly span of water.  I thought of inviting her, but with Jiti around I did not take any chances.  Ashok had shown keen interest, but I do not know why he backed out at the last minute.  I was sure it had to do with Jiti.  Ashok, like Piroska, enjoyed swimming irrespective of the season.

The salty sea wore me out.  I felt sticky all over and needed to collapse somewhere and snore.  Ramu took me to Harihareshwar and dropped me at a Konkani family rest house.  The place was huge, having betel nut “wadis”.  A few jackfruit trees sprouted small green prickly fruits.  The women of the house (a busy gang) were busy rolling out potatoes and rice (papads).  Some were busy filling plastic bottles with Kokum and Alma sherbet.  Most of these products were sold in the market.

I sprawled myself in an airy room after dinner, packing Ramu home in the six-seater.

 

“You don't have to pay me tomorrow, can I come?” he asked.

 

“If you come, you shall not disturb me,” he nodded happily at that.

 

“Eight o'clock, memshabih,” he grinned.

 

I slept like a log that night, not having any dreams or thinking of anyone.  Maybe the scene and the surroundings gave me peace of mind from my past.  The smell of burning wood woke me.  Someone lit a fire to boil water for a bath.  This place was away from the cultured city life.  It was lazy and untouched by etiquette and social manners.  It was modern in its own way.  People had time to chat and were in no great hurry as in the cities.  Ramu did not come that morning and I was glad to be left alone.  I had to reach the beach before high tide broke in.  I was given a calculation to follow and advised strictly not to go beserk into the deep sea.

I was lost with what I saw at the beach of Harihareshwar—an infinite carpet that stretched endlessly into colours of black, blue and green.  I gasped at the unchaste beauty of nature, the horizon touching the other end of the earth.  It seemed as though Heaven and Sea were going to slip into each other's arms.  The water dazzled like a diamond necklace on a Queen's slender neck.  Ships passed in a distance, may be foreign launches that shamelessly invaded the Arabian Sea.  Our Indian miniature boats tossed around as if afraid to be swallowed by sharks.  Would Jiti have enjoyed this scene?  I wondered.  She would have appreciated this form of nature, but would not have gone ga-ga over it.  Show her domes, archways, slanting roofs, French windows etc., she would have been thrilled.  We were poles apart in our perception of beauty, and yet we were attracted to each other.

I did not make an attempt to enter the Shiva temple, as the queue for darshan was long.  Instead, I walked to a deep dyke formed again by volcanic eruptions.  Steps were constructed by government officials in the dyke cervice so that people could reach the platform below, which opened into the sea.  During high tide, the dyke nor the platform was visible.  I overheard a guide telling his tourist group,

 

“When, I tell you to move—move or else you will just be able to wave goodbye to your ma, pa and friends.  No one can save you nor risk their life to see you out.”  He sounded crude but that was the truth.  Many accidents took place here; defiant youngsters who thought they could defy the sea during high tide got gulped into the mystic sea.  It was like the mouth of the hungry whale that swallowed Jonah.  Romantic couples in a different mood got swept across when they miscalculated the coming in of the high tide, freak accidents were a regular feature in this zone.

On hearing some of the gruesome tales, I gazed at this starved span of blue that opened its mouth wide enough to swallow in souls, anchor them somewhere in their mysterious palace and use them as slaves.  After securing the souls, the water gods allowed the body to float in a decayed manner.  I shivered at the ghastly thought of dying at sea, (it looked transparent on top but dark and dense inside).  Either I returned whole to be cremated, became prey to some fish, have my mutilated self found among some rocks or tangled in some seaweed.  My wandering mind frightened me, and I decided to seek other pleasures.

I leaned against a rock platform, which soared into the sky.  Some parts of it had been filled with honeycomb structures created by the sea some millions of years back.  These structures looked like abandoned beehives that were burned down by man.  I felt as though the sea were glaring at me.  Far away a mist settled and the colour of the water synchronised with the hue of the sky.  The shades did not remain constant for a long time, and my vision took some time to adjust to the active colour changes.  Rock with covered green slimy moss loomed in from the sea.  It seemed as though a whale of crocodiles had camouflaged themselves to be near the shore.  I wish I were a sea-maiden riding a sea horse that was able to explore the intense interiors of the sea.  I could move along the coral reefs, swim along with different types of fish and sit on the backs of dolphins, whales and sharks, feel the soft head of an octopus,  seek adventure in Neptune's palace; meet the sirens who tempted Odyssey and the sea serpents that attacked sailors and ships.  I would love to wade my way into the deep oceans, hide behind seaweed and watch the cuttlefish, lantern fish, viper fish, giant squid, starfish, ocean strider, Portuguese man-of-war, etc. pass by.  I would love to move into the icy seas and cuddle myself with polar bears, and seals, and watch the black guillemots pass by.  I would never shoot an albatross as the Coleridge's Ancient Mariner did.  I would follow it to give me some good luck.  Dreams, dreams and dreams, that’s what my life was made up of.

A blue kingfisher swooped down at a fish, which had slyly surfaced up to stare at the blue sky.  Hard luck—the shrewd fish gave the bird a slip and the bird had to soar out.  It made many such futile flights into the sea, like a swimmer learning to swim for the first time.  The fast rolling of the waves over each other did not permit it to fish.

I ventured away from my relaxed position and came across a long Geo formation, which was filled with water.  Small crabs threw their legs around in leisure, not afraid of being caught and eaten.  They were too damn small to be caught and crushed between man's greed.  I nudged a reddish looking crab that had been stationary for a while with a dry stick.  It was dead.  I lifted it out with the stick edge to check if it was not pretending.  It was not.  I dropped it back and it sank to the bottom of the pit as the others swam around disowning the dead one's soul.  On this rocky platform a geography student would have found many exploits made on it by nature— sea, soil erosion, and lava—be it pot holes, retreating cliffs, hook formations that was due to sand depositions, sea caves and faults.

I found a twirled seashell that looked like a ram's horn.  I held it on my palm.  It was brownish-white and had mud stains on it.  I stared at its conical shaped head and there was my crystal ball.  I saw the gory past—the face of my sick mother.  How fragile she had become.  She could barely sit up to be fed.  I saw the nurse pick her up and place her on the wheel chair.  Ma looked so fragile and small as she slumped into the chair.  She seemed so uncomfortable and felt better sleeping.  One was afraid of her acquiring bedsores, which she finally did get in the end.  Her face seemed so helpless, not being able to do anything on her own.  Had she ever dreamt of lying so ill and watching us flutter by silently doing our jobs.  She knew as we knew that time was running out on her, and she feared her death as we did.  None of us wanted that vacuum left behind.  Though bed ridden, she was our strength.  Though medicines and injections were pumped into her, it made no difference.  The insides crumbled like an unbaked cake—and there was no hope left.

Ma hated darkness and preferred to sleep with the lights switched on.  She always told me that she saw someone standing near the door.  We ignored her as we hoped that the visiting Yama would disappear.  Looking at me, he would let her live for sometime.  Many a time I used to snuggle behind her, knowing that she was going to die and that I would not be able to feel her again.  She always had a smile for me.  “Ma, you got to survive, you got to fight to live.  You can do it—you can make it.”  Her smile wavered and a tear stood stationary near the corner.  I made an effort not to hug her too tight in case I disturbed her saline tubes.  I was sure she felt like chucking everything aside and dying.  With all the medications we were actually torturing her rather than allowing her to die peacefully.  My own tears blurred the image of sorrow, and I flung the shell into the sea.  I knew it would return to the shore with the next wave, as our old memories did.

As I walked away with a heavy heart, trampling crabholes, crushing their homes, which took three hours to build.  I crushed hearts drawn by lovers on the stiff dank beach.  I walked back to the rock platform and sat in a cave-like structure that had a mouth like a damaged skull.  I felt secure in this hermit enclave to lament over my dead mother.  A small crowd filtered on the beach after paying homage to Lord Shiva at the temple.  A youngster was playing the mouth organ, and the soft music of an old Hindi film got gulped by the roar of the sea.  Everyone seemed to enjoy paddling in the water, boys played cricket, football and Frisbee on the beach.  Shy brides held their husband's hand, looking at their toes.  They walked, hands filled with green glass bangles, which spoke for their coyness.  I wished for Piroska, with her easel, canvas and paint, to brush the entangled sea with its weeds, rocks, sand and mysteries.  She would have got everything around her alive.  I missed her presence; she spoke her heart through nature and painting as I did with my pots.  I rarely remembered Jiti those three days.  Such joys would never be looked upon with admiration—it would be Piroska who knew what a gentle breeze was.

Far, far away the early summer heat had not been able to suck the life on the mountains.  The blue sea, the green vegetation and the brown mountains looked like another planet—rich and aloof.  Maybe on the other side my mother lived to tell her soulmates about me.

A shrill voice screamed across,  “Move away, it's time for the high tide.  If you want to kiss death, then hang around, move, move, move.”  It was the same guide.  I scrambled to my feet and charged as though, I, the “holy” sinner, saw the almighty descend with the keys of heaven and hell.  The on coming waves that frothed as it hurled itself towards the beach looked like God's woolly hair, and the force of the water seemed like his anger.  I did not turn back to see His strength.


CHAPTER 32

Three hours passed and Piroska continued with her leisurely stroll (as I may call it) on the untrodden pathway.  The foliage was not so dense as she thought it would be.  Streams of sunlight trespassed from slender openings in the thickets.  It seemed as though God was lighting up her overcast life, feeling sudden pity for the little Red Riding Hood.  He rarely showed sympathy to this soul.

Piroska tramped along, not bothered about time, bobbing her red hat like a red beetle hopping from one blade of grass to another.  An unusual excitement glowed from her face.  It looked as though a sudden confidence surged in her, making her look forward to her final entry into the art world.  The coming break did not seem far away.  Swami Gopinathan, their family astrologer, microscopically scanned her horoscope before her marriage and predicted that there would be a fall and rise in her life.  He gave no further explanations to his prophecy, and Prisoka paid no heed to it either.  The reason she felt that Gopinathan did not explain to her about the dark side in her life was not to hurt her.  He knew her since she was a little girl and watched her mature.  Her father consulted him for all the new ventures that he would be undertaking in his business.  Gopinathan was present for all functions in his Dhoti Kurta and Kolhapuri Chappals.  He was one of those believers who was totally devoted to Hanumanji.

Thinking back now, Piroska realised that Gopinathan associated “fall” with her divorce and “rise” with her artistic talents.  Piroska had always been sceptical about soothsayers and felt that these people had the power to twine one in their palm, and the individual became hooked onto every saying of theirs.  He became the demi-God in people's life, the torch bearer for the depressed.

As she put her life in a frame, one side of it had been so patchy like a quilt, and the other grey like a tree without roots.  Even if Gopinathan had warned her about her unsuccessful marriage, she could not have saved it.  If it had to break up, it would have anyway with Ashok or anyone else.  She was destined to be rolled in the silt.  She felt foolish at the thought of going and asking him about her painting and Yash.  Since she had not heard from Yash, she was a bit worried.  The other half of her mind wanted to take a chance and plunge into anything that was risky and face the consequences.

An hour back, she was feeling exuberant with her life and now it slid back to a sense of pessimism.  This fluctuation, the switching on and off made her livid.  Her independent self, which she needed so much to stabilize, always tended to falter at the wrong time.  The source of conflict lied within herself after her divorce.  This framework of the inner and outer mind had nothing to do with her parents who had never been authoritative, nor did they have high expectations from her right from childhood.  The worm that had settled in her psyche continuously wriggled to reach out to the past.  It was like she reached a plane of sublimation and at the crucial meeting of the body and soul it just drifted apart.  She tried many a times to solve the puzzle of this aimless wandering, but there was always a block missing.

Piroska looked at her watch.  It was 11 a.m.  She could not believe that she had walked for three hours without stopping anywhere.  This kind of savage energy she spent only on her canvas and no where else.  Her walks up Lasa Mountain took her two hours; since the pathway was familiar, it was brisk.  This untrodden pathway, which had not made her mind preoccupied for sometime, had given her this extra zeal.  She decided not to walk anymore and settled herself on an uneven cut bark, whose wood might have been cut by the village folk for firewood.  For the first time in the morning, she wondered when this walk would end.

She removed her comb from her red haversack and at the same time out tumbled her purse, scattering all her belongings on the ground.  Piroska bent down to pick her comb, pen, hairpins, receipts, money and her parent’s photograph.  She remained on her haunches and stared into the warm faces of her parents.  It was their wedding photograph.  How young and happy they looked in their bridal attire.  As she gazed on, two sharp eyes were watching her earnestly.  He had camouflaged himself like a desert chameleon and tracked her.  Piroska had not frightened away the witch doctor (as she had thought); instead her beauty and the flash of her own disturbed mind had forced him to follow her.  He wasn't the bad wolf who wanted to destroy the little Red Riding Hood—he wanted to save and cure her.

He read her mind as she gazed into the photograph.  He drew an imaginary circle around her and deciphered what she was thinking.  Her eyes shifted from her father to her mother.  What a pretty, devastated and forsaken woman she was, and her father was handsome, successful and a betrayer.  Piroska received good parenting from both of them in her childhood.  He was a very significant figure in her life and always sent positive messages about Sushmita to her.  Piroska never witnessed him running her mother down in her presence.  She saw her father in good humour, kind and gentle to her mother and herself.  He played the role of the doting father and husband whenever he was at home.  Attitudes started changing when her mother's best friend entered the picture and became Suresh Bhat’s secretary.  With time, he started becoming indifferent and negative.  Everything kind of started rotating around “me” and “mine”, which disgusted her mother.

This gradual change in their relationship affected Piroska.  She just could not understand why her mother still slept in his bed.  Why did she put up a pretence during social gatherings when everyone knew about Sarah and Suresh Bhat?  When Piroska became older, she could not associate herself with him, and he started playing an insignificant role in her life.  Suresh Bhat pampered her with all that she wanted, books, clothes, cosmetics, etc., but he hated it whenever she asked him to get imported paints and brushes from his foreign trip.  He never got over the fact that Piroska took up painting instead of business.

Piroska remembered when he looked at her first painting with disgust.  That utter disinterested look sent a clear deep message to her, and from then on she avoided showing him any of her new creations.  Her father paid compliments to her on all fronts except her art.  He deliberately made an effort not to understand it.  Her main interests were ignored by him, and Piroska turned to her mother for appreciation.

Piroska read somewhere that mothers had the tendency to mess up the personalities of their daughters.  That surely was a myth.  Sushmita never forced her identity on her daughter.  She allowed Piroska to mature gracefully and saw to it that she did not depend emotionally on her.  Just that period of divorce, depression and frustration had Piroska clung to her mother.  Right from Piroska’s childhood, Sushmita had noticed her daughter’s aptitude for painting and encouraged it.  If Piroska was missing, her servants found her under the dining room table furiously colouring.  She preferred colouring books to storybooks and always stopped by if she saw something beautiful.  Difference of opinion existed when Piroska became an adult, but it wasn't good riddance to bad rubbish.  Sushmita Bhat played the role of mother and father when Suresh Bhat started to isolate himself from family matters and was busy with his business schedule.  Therefore, the mother daughter relationship became strong.

Looking at her mother's face, Piroska could not call her “over protective” like the Jewish mothers who were supposed to devour their children.  Nor did her mother depict herself as the typical Victorian or Indian mother who spent their time in the kitchen, spring cleaning knitting, etc.  Her mother's time was spent in taking care of the Lasa health centre, spending hours with the womenfolk, listening to their problems, promoting birth control and childcare.  A lot of energy was devoted to the village school children.  When Suresh was not in town, Sushmita visited the tea factory to do the administration.  She kept herself busy.  Piroska knew that she could never be so versatile like her mother, and this did not create a complex in her.  The artistic talents would never die in her; she could paint even at the ripe age of eighty.  Her mother nurtured her to stand up feminine to abilities—and Piroska valued them.

What hurt Piroska the most was when she was getting married to Ashok.  She could not relate to getting separated from her mother.  To succumb into a new relationship terrified her.  She wondered if Ashok would turn out like her father and shatter her life.  Then who would she cling to?  She could not go back home, but she could work on her art.  When she told her fears to her mother, her mother laughed, “Not all men are like your father, dear.”

Ashok turned out not like her father but more dangerous.  If she had not built her life around painting, she could not think what would have become of her.  At that juncture of depression she had no resistance to control her mind, nor the rebellion to recreate herself—she just saw death.  Fate had bounced her back to a colourful life with her canvas.

The witch doctor watched her drawing circles in the air with her feet.  She seemed agitated about something; he wished he could come out and talk to her.  She may just get frightened, facing him alone in the jungle.  He watched her showing everything back in her haversack and began to walk again.  He was amazed at her mood; it was light and happy as she whistled a hilly song of love.  He followed her till the end of the road, which opened behind the Temple Lake.  Piroska had never been here but had watched this green mossy water from the temple stairs.  A manmade bridge of wood was connected to the other side.  She walked over it, leaving the witch doctor to think about some good mantras for her survival. 

Piroska stared at the spire of the temple and questioned herself.  After so many months, why had she been led here?  Did she need to go in and ring the holy bells?  Would her prayers be heard after such a long depression?  As she leaned against the white pillars of the temple, feeling its coolness and reviving energy inside her, she watched a mother carry her wailing newborn baby to be blessed by the priest.  What a pity, she could never be a mother.  What dreams Ashok and she had of bringing up their child.  They decided the kind of playroom they would have, and Piroska would paint the walls with different pictures.  Everything was lost in that second of seeing that gory scene—smashed mentally and physically.  She could just recall running down the stairs of her Sangeela house—sobbing loudly—and bang, she fainted on the road.  She did not feel anyone carrying her to the hospital; she was numb all over.  She never wanted to focus on the scene she saw.  Ashok naked—Piroska shook herself out of that ghastly scene as tears trickled down her face.  Will that memory ever be washed away?  She walked into the temple and rang the bell; its loud music gave her courage.  With folded hands she stood in front of the deity with one sentence—”Wash my past away.”  Suddenly she felt light in her mind as she walked back, chewing the sweet coconut “prasad”.


CHAPTER 33

When Piroska left the house, Sushmita got this sudden urge to pull out her pandora box.  It was not a very big trunk—silver in colour, having a copper latch.  It was her first trunk to the boarding school and she carried it along to her college hostel and then to her husband house.  Suresh eyed the antique with interest as it came bobbing along with all her new suitcases.

 

“What an ancient treasure box.  Do you want to leave it in the attic?” he said amused.

 

“Oh no!  It is going to stay right here in the bedroom,” she said defensively.

 

“What is so precious inside?”

 

“All my worldly sentiments.”

 

“Love Letters.”

 

“Maybe,” she laughed, falsely being on guard for the next question, which never came.  There was just a withdrawn silence—a silence that troubled her for a few minutes.  Whenever she felt like browsing through old memories, she opened the box and then put the things neatly back.  Every spring cleaning spree of hers wanted her to throw out the unnecessary junk.  It never happened.  In the last five years she did not open it for various reasons, and her old memories remained locked.

It had been an hour since Piroska left and she knew that her daughter would return late.  Sushmita locked her bedroom door, pulled out the faded trunk from under her teak wood bed, unlocked it and the happiness of the past loomed in front of her.  The opened trunk greeted her with a musty smell.

Hitching up her cotton chanderi sari, she sat cross-legged on the cool black-grey granite floor.  She started emptying her belongings. A copy of the translated Ramayan that she received for playing the role of Sita in the college drama. Her first perfume bottle gifted to her by Raj—it was empty but the soft smell still remained.  A wooden carved Hyderabadi jewellery box whose copper lining had become black.  Letters sent to her by her father when she joined boarding school.  A valentine card given to her by the hero of the class—someone whom she did not care for but had always liked her.  Stamped leaves and flowers put in a scrapbook collected by Raj and herself on the Lasa Mountain.  Her personal diary, which had yellow stains and needed to be destroyed because it contained her relationship with Raj.  In a yellow pouch, she had kept Raj’s brown beads, which he gave to her when he went to Paris.  Sushmita preserved Piroska’s first nappy, her teddy bear that had lost its ears, her favourite walkie-talkie doll, whose legs and arms were broken, and she recalled how Piroska wept when the doll had lost its voice due to the leaking battery.  Wrapped in a muslin cloth was Piroska’s first oil painting done at the age of twelve.  It won her an inter-school prize and Suresh  nearly tore it apart.  It was a landscape where the valley was strewn with bright yellow and red flowers.  Sushmita treasured it.  Sushmita realised that Piroska had a personal vision to whatever she laid eyes upon and her brush moved gracefully, especially with music.  At the bottom of the trunk was a newspaper, and from underneath it she pulled out a black and white photograph of hers and Raj’s at the Lasa village mela.  He looked a cartoon in his bell-bottomed checked shirt, long hair beads around his neck and she in her tight short Salwar Kameez (a fashion at that time) with fifty balloons in her hand.  At every mela Raj bought her these fifty balloons and a dozen glass bangles.

Though she barely wore them she hung them on a rope (640 of them) in her room.  Before she got married she took all of them to the mountain and smashed them (ten selected ones remained in the trunk).  She refused to wear green glass bangles on her wedding day, upsetting her mother and relatives.  She became adamant and the story ended there.

Had anyone walked into Sushmita's bedroom?  She thought she heard Piroska’s voice.  Her reflex action made her quickly put the things back; she did not want her daughter to peep into her memories, maybe some day she would open it for her.  She heard the knocking on the door, with speed she pushed the trunk under the bed and opened the door to an amused Suresh.  Her mind raced as to what was he doing here.  Had he not gone to the factory?

Suresh looked at her hitched-up Sari, making her feel shy after many years.  Sushmita did not make an effort to pull it down.

 

“Looking through your Pandora box?”

 

“Yes,”

 

“Feeling satisfied?”

 

“Yes,” and Sushmita nearly choked on that word when she noticed that in a hurry she forgot to put the photograph back in the trunk.  “Oh God!  Please don't let him see it,” her mind raced.

 

“Any problem?”

 

“No,” she stammered.

 

“Why are you looking so flustered?”

 

She could not reply.

 

“Is the photograph on the floor bothering you?”

 

Sushmita could have died, he noticed it.  “Oh God! Save me!” she wanted to shout.  Why was the man so cool?  Why was he not angry?  Why did he not stand up and beat her guts out?  Why was he not abusive?  Suresh looked into her terrified face and calmly said,

 

“You can keep my brother back in your ancient trunk.  How long are you going to survive on his memories?  He is dead and gone, Sushmita.”

 

These words were said with such gentleness that Sushmita burst into tears.  What a fool she was to think that he knew nothing.  What a stinking bloody fool she was! When she lifted her eyes, Suresh Bhat left the room.  Standing and staring at her in awe was her little Red Riding Hood.  The last thing that Piroska expected from her mother was for her to fall into her arms and weep.  No questions asked.  No explanations were given.  Mother and daughter clung on to each other—for comfort.


CHAPTER 33

Piroska slept that night in her Red Riding attire a very disturbed woman.  Her weeping mother in her arms had shaken her to no end.  Piroska could not come to terms with the fact that the woman who gave her the strength had become vulnerable.  Maybe, she did cry in her bedroom, drowning her sorrows behind closed doors.  This openness came to Piroska as a surprise.

What was the reason?  Her father?  The dead uncle?  Or the Pandora box?  Piroska had always been curious about the treasure box, which seemed ancient with its copper latch.

 

“What's in there, Ma?” she once asked.

 

“Skeletons of old memories.”

 

“Can I have a peep whenever you open it.”

 

“Maybe—when I get tired of looking at it.”

 

“When will that be?”

 

“When I am dead and gone,” Piroska hugged her mother.  She would rather have her mother alive than dead.  Since then the Pandora box had become defunct.  If it troubled her mother, she decided she rather not pester her.  Piroska’s mind had been suspicious, what were the secrets in the box that her mother was so protective about?  She hoped one day her mother would tell her the story about the box.

As Piroska tossed and turned in her bed like a dissatisfied storm, she had the vaguest of dreams—everything looked so real in her dreams.

She dreamt that she turned into the little Red Riding Hood.  A pretty lass whom the villagers envied for her beauty.  She had long straight black hair, fair complexion, black eyes, a long nape and tender lips.  Her mother requested her one day to take a hamper, filled with fruits, bread and cake to her nanny across the thin forest.  Piroska, excited at the thought of visiting her nanny, wore her best Sunday clothes—a red dress with a red hood and red boots.  She twirled in front of the mirror—round and round she went like a whirlwind.  She could hear her mother asking her to hurry up.  She ran down the stairways took the hamper and whizzed out in front of her smiling mother.

As she went along the forest path picking wild flowers, something huge ran towards her, nearly making her lose her balance.  It was the forest’s naughty wolf who stared into her face.  Big brown eyes danced in front of her.  A hungry tongue hung out.  The burly wolf did not look so wicked as one imagined him to be.  His thick hair smelled of the forest animal flesh.

 

“Where are you going little one?” he asked kindly.

 

“Going to visit my nanny down by the end of the forest.”

 

“What’s in that basket?”

 

“Cakes, pies and brunes for my nanny.” Piroska watched the saliva drop from the wolf’s mouth.

 

Piroska walked, puzzled by the kindness of the animal. “Very unusual for him to be so kind to me,” she muttered.

 

The cunning wolf raced her to her nanny’s house, ate up her nanny and laid in bed, waiting for Piroska.

When Piroska entered the white cottage, whose door was wide open, she called out to her nanny.  A hoarse voice replied from the bedroom, “Piroska, I am here in bed with a cold.”  The gruff voice took Piroska by surprise.

 

“Come to my bedroom, dear one,” it said.  When Piroska entered the room she saw her nanny snuggled under the patchwork quilt with her frilly bonnet covering her face.

 

“Put the hamper on the table, undress and lie besides me, child.”  Piroska did as she was told, and as she slipped into the bed—she smelled a familiar smell of flesh and forest.

 

When her nanny turned to face her, Piroska felt as though she were facing a werewolf.

 

“What happened to your ears, nanny?”

 

“Grown bigger to hear you, child?”

 

“You eyes, seem different—your nose seems different—your TEETH?”

 

Piroska started to scream.  The wolf snarled, showing all his sharp teeth.  “To gobble you, my child.”  Out jumped the wolf and ate her too.

 

Piroska, switched on the light, threw off her Red Riding clothes and sat shivering on her bed.  Why did she dream the story of Le Petit Chaperon Rouge?  Who was the wolf?  Was it Ashok, Ashara or her Father?  Who wanted to devour her?  Why did the hunter not enter her story as he does in Grimm’s Little Red Riding Hood? Could the hunter not have taken the form of Yash and Bi to axe the naughty wolf?  Who was the nanny?  Why was she dreaming this dream?  Did it have anything to do with her?  It had so many sexual overtones.  Would it have been so easy for the wolf to eat her up?  Piroska’s mind reeled with queries.  She became scared of everything in her room, the mirror, bed, curtains, chair, shoe rack, etc.  Pulling on her overcoat, she went to her parent’s room and slept between them.  The warmth that came from both sides suddenly put her mind at rest, and she went into a deep slumber.  Lying between both her parents she felt as though a strong shield existed around her, giving total protection.


CHAPTER 34

A week had passed after my return from Harihareshwar.  Life returned to its normal pace, a busy schedule of keeping up to orders.  Jiti had flown to Mumbai with her boss.  In the last two months, I felt as though Jiti was drifting away from me.  I felt that she was seeing her boss after office hours.  She started doing things that she had never done—coming home late and drunk.  Of course, in our kind of relationship you had the freedom of walking out at anytime.  I would feel miserable if she did decide to leave me.  We had been together for six years and I could not think of the void created in the house if she left.

Sitting in pensive thoughts, I heard Ashok honking his Cielo and screeching to a halt in front of my house.  Whenever he drove in like this it meant that he had something to say.  I hoped whatever he had to tell me made some sense.  He strolled in, dumped himself on my cushions ordered me to get a can of beer and something to munch.

 

“Is your other pocket in?” he asked.

 

“No, she has gone to Mumbai.”

 

“With that creepy boss of hers, I suppose!”

 

“Ashok, relax.”

 

“How do you stick around with her—she gives me goosebumps when she is around.”

 

“Ashok—that’s enough,” I said.  I was aware that he did not like her.

 

“I have something to tell you and you are not going to like it.”

 

“You must be going to Lasa.”

 

“No, I wish I could.”

 

“You are leaving the Madonna?”  I laughed when I said that—I knew it would never happen.

 

“For sometime,” he said seriously.

 

“Where are you off to now?”

 

“Malacca!”

 

“Malacca—that’s too far to hide yourself, boy.  Knowing your Madonna, she may follow you there.”

 

“She decided to send me there.”

 

“What’s new in that, even if she asks you to drown yourself, you’ll do it.”

 

He looked straight into my eyes, hmm, I have been asked to do a survey of the spice market there.”

 

“That’s ridiculous, how can a man involved in finance know anything on marketing.”

 

“Come on, I have done it before, and moreover, I am taking Rahah with me.”

 

“Rahah—who is this?  I have never heard of her before.”

 

“She is my girlfriend.”  I looked at Ashok with disgust.  When he knew a woman like Piroska could not last long with his Madonna—this Rahah of his would see the door soon.”

 

“I know what you thinking about.  Relax, my Madonna has not yet found the mouse in the cupboard.”

 

“Ashok, she will find out.  Your mother is street smart.”

 

“I have taken all precautions—Rahah does not telephone me at home.  We do not meet at the pub.  We meet twice a week at the lake.  She drives down in her car and I in mine.”

 

“Doesn’t Rahah find the situation queer? “

 

“Well, I have told her we have some business tensions and she should not disturb me at home. “

 

“Had I been in her place—I think I would have given you the boot.  What will happen if the Madonna finds out? “

 

“When she does I’ll deal with her,” he said that with real confidence. “

 

“You said the same about Piroska. “

 

“I know, I could have handled the situation deftly.  I allowed the Madonna to emotionally blackmail me.  I know I was a weakling and I could not defend my legal mate from the Madonna.  This time I have gathered some inner courage and Rahah will be mine. “

 

I did not trust this man.  He seemed and looked so strong in his verdicts when he was away from the Madonna, but the minute she came in front of him he melted.  No girls lasted with him.  This Rahah whom I had not met would have to pay a price if she hung around long.

 

“What are you going to do in Malacca with her? “

 

“Stay in with her and then come back and get married. “

 

Marriage, this boy had not learned from his last mistake.  How could he forget the past so easily?  I decided not to interfere with his life.  He was old enough to understand his personal situation.  If he wanted to dig his second grave, he could do so.  I was curious about Rahah.

 

“Is this Rahah of yours like Piroska? “

 

“Not so beautiful, but intelligent like her. “

 

“Where does she stay? “

 

“Sangeela, a graphic designer by profession, widow, and has a six month old child. “

 

I wondered how the Madonna was going to handle this kind of a mature babe.  Piroska was raw and hence, it was easy to push her out.  This Rahah seemed a tough woman.  That wouldn’t matter cause the Madonna was used to handling the scum in her business.  What would matter to her is her son being weaned away from her.  At the same time I thought the baby’s presence may just change her attitude.  Her motherly instincts may just reach out to the child.

 

“When do you plan to speak to the Madonna?”

 

“I have no such intentions, I am going to get married and land at home.”

 

“I think, Ashok, you are committing a grave mistake.  That will be the end of you.  She will not be able to bear it.  I don’t think you should do it.”

 

“She has hurt me enough.  I won’t allow her to ruin me again.  I do love my mother very much.  I know I cannot live without her, but somewhere I have to break the ice.  It is not going to be easy to forget her and to forget Piroska.  I feel lonely after Piroska left.  I need a companion.  It is not possible for me to share everything with my mother.  I do tell her a few things, but most of the things I indulge in she does not like.  I cannot bottle up my secrets any longer and I need to let them out.  Rahah is considerate and we share a good relationship.  She is older to me by five years and in many ways she understands me and relates to me the way my Madonna does.”

 

This said it all; he looked at this older woman like his mother.  I could not utter a word.  Time would tell if Rahah survived or not.  We sat silently for half an hour, each occupied in our thoughts.  I wondered if I had a dominating mother, would I have survived?  I wondered why God had taken her away so soon.  He should have taken my sinful father, who moved around in his false cassock.

Ashok always troubled my thinking process.  I generally never knew how to find a solution for him.  If I did find one, he never took the advice seriously, or the Madonna uses to jeopardise it.  I tried many a time to forget Ashok’s problems but failed to do so.  I always looked at him like a child in trouble needing a helping hand as he grew up.  I needed that kind of support when I was growing up, but never got it.  It was a lonely life struggling to reach the top, but I had managed.  I tried to get rid of the past like the dead wood of a tree—but the stump remained.


CHAPTER 35

Ashok sat in his car for a while, seriously thinking what the potter said.  If he did not tell the Madonna about Rahah, there would be trouble.  If he confessed to her again, there would be trouble.  What should he do?  He placed his vexed head on the steering wheel, thinking hard to confront the problem.  He had two weeks left to fly to Malacca.  Should he tell her now or after his return?  He did not want Rahah to face any problems, and she would definitely leave him if the Madonna used her caustic tongue.  Rahah was not like a Piroska, soft and gentle, she was outspoken and stubborn.

When Ashok returned home, he found his Madonna sitting in the living room reading Radha Krishnan’s “An Idealist View of Life.”  Ashok wished that she could apply some of the philosophy to him.  What was the use of reading when the philosophy of life made no sense in daily life?  The Madonna eyed him when he entered and guessed from her son’s facial expression that everything was not right.  She saw his car parked in the clay maker’s house two hours ago.  She wondered what went wrong.  If he walked out of her house in a huff never to return, she would have been too glad on his decision.  That did not seem the case.  They were thick pals and the Madonna realised in due time that the potter was harmless.  Her son was not attracted to the unattractive woman, whose fingers had the artistic touch when she moulded a pot on the wheel.

Ashok did not wait to speak with the Madonna; he just planted a kiss and walked to his bedroom upstairs.  This was the sign of his being disturbed.  He did not speak up immediately.  He kept brooding to himself, and then when his mind could take it no more—he spilt it out.

The Madonna wondered now what had happened.  Nothing seemed wrong in the office or at home.  Did he not want to go to Malacca?  Was this mood to do with his friends?  Did he find a girlfriend?  This was not a possibility after Piroska packed off.  Ashok never entertained serious dates; he did go for dinners with girls but no serious attachments.  She never got reports of him with a steady girl.  He avoided her for two, three days and the Madonna did not confront him—though she became frantic when on the fourth day he did not mention his problems to her.  Something seriously was wrong.  Was he planning to leave her?  She flung a silver arrow in the dark.  He would never do that.

Three days were left for Ashok to leave for Malacca and his mind was all boggled and tense.  He was not sleeping well and at times had felt like flinging the Madonna’s door wide open and screaming, “I am in love with Rahah and I am going to marry her.  You dare touch her this time, I’ll kill you.”  The very thought of getting rid of his mother had made him weep.  He decided to go and consult the clay maker.  She understood him better than the Madonna.  He came to me looking sluggish and withdrawn.  His face looked defeated.

 

“I need some advice,” he said.

 

“About Rahah.”

 

“Yes, I just cannot handle the situation.  He broke down weeping into my cushion.  I did not comfort him.  He needed this break.  I left him for few minutes to sniffle into my satin covers, staining them.  After seeing him composed and breaking into a foolish smile, I said, “This task is getting tougher for you day by day.  You look like a Christian sinner who is thinking twice of approaching the confession box.”

 

“It seems better to just vomit out your sins to the priest behind the box and keep hearing him say, “speak my child, I am listening.”  At least someone is there to listen to you.

 

“Forget it—the confession box is as political as the ballot box during elections.  What are you afraid of?”

 

“Have you ever confessed?”

 

“Ha, to whom and for what, which holy man is going to save your skin on earth?  Who is going to give you salvation?  Someone who we presume to be holy, lays his hand on your head and says you are forgiven is a load of humbug.  We sow our own seeds and reap them too.  One has always heard that “salvation is not escape from life.  Why should we confess to anyone when we know how to redeem ourselves?”

 

Ashok looked at my stern face. “You mean to say I should go ahead and do what I feel like?”

 

“Why not—it’s your life.”

 

“You know, I have to tell the Madonna about Rahah.  How do I do it?  I do not want to hurt her.  You remember during the time of Piroska, how demonic my mother behaved.”

 

“Yes, I remember.  Do you think she is going to change?  She may make your life miserable again.”

 

“Help me, I do not want to face the same consequences.  I am terrified of her wrath.  I do not want her to get upset.”

 

I looked at him with pity.  He was trapped in a rabbit’s burrow and could not find his way out.  Ashok was so trapped in her snare that escapism was just impossible.  Had his inner psyche been strong, he would have the energy to break all the barriers.  The sense of determination had not strongly gelled together.  With his personality, only even if I pushed him toward my door would he be full of zeal.  Once at his own front door—ice turned into water.

 

“Ashok, my advice to you is—go and spill the beans.  Be like Jack and the Beanstalk.  Face the consequences.  Be determined and stop behaving like a torn jellyfish.  Threaten her that you will leave the house.  Tell her you need to lead your own life.  If you cannot do it, then forget Rahah.”

 

“I cannot do that.”

 

“Then go and fight your battle.”

 

He suddenly rose.  “I’ll do just that,” and he walked home like a determined warrior wanting to win the battle.”

 

I was thrilled when he walked out with such confidence.  I just hoped he stayed like that till he faced the Madonna.

 


CHAPTER 36

Ashok returned home to an empty house.  The Madonna had not returned from the office, the servants seemed to have disappeared as though sensing the holocaust that was going to occur in the house.  The time was 7:00 p.m.  “The Madonna should be back any moment now,” he thought.  The hands of his watch ticked slower than ever.  He had the urge to move it an hour ahead.  What was taking her so long at the office?  Hope she didn’t go out for a drink with her friends.  She always called if she felt that she would be late.  An impatient hour of waiting passed; there was no sign of her.  His agitated mood turned into fear.  What if she had an accident?  What if she was lying dead somewhere?  Ashok panicked with all kinds of thoughts.  What if her face got disfigured and nobody could recognise her, then she’ll rot in the morgue—a rich woman dying the death of a pauper.

He heard the car drive in and saw the Madonna enter the house in a light mood.  He had to take advantage of this mood and talk to her about Rahah.  Had the potter not warned him to be prepared for the worst?  “He had to do it—NOW,” his mind screamed.  The Madonna gazed at her son; his face still held that disgruntled look.  Something serious was on his mind that she could not interpret—for a change.  Was he mad at her because she had neglected him for some reason or the other?  He knew that she was busy preparing for his stay in Malacca.  She was going to miss him for six weeks.

Ashok watched her gently settle down on the sofa.  She still was very pretty.  For a moment he did not want to bring sorrow to that light mood.  “Don’t let your emotions rule you,” the potter’s words hit him.  He should not give in to her—NO—he had to speak out.  A sudden firmness entered his system; he had to bulldoze her before she played her emotional games on him.

 

“Ma, I have something to say.”

 

“What is it?  Don’t you want to go to Malacca?  Something has been troubling you for the past few days.”  The woman was smart, even if she knew, she pretended not to know until the other person spoke.

 

“I have been troubled not for the past few days, but for the last month.”

 

“Why did you not tell your Ma?”

 

“You won’t understand,” he saw a hurt look pass by.

 

“Understand, what?” I have always come to your aid.”

 

Ashok laughed at that, it was the truth.  She always had listened to him but “Not in the case of my women.”

There was silence.  She just stared at him blankly.  He could not gauge what was happening in her mind.  He took this chance and spoke out, and it seemed as though the angel of courage became his mouthpiece.

 

“You never allowed any of my relationships to work out.”  He felt as though he had mauled his enemy.

 

“That is not true,” she said in defense.

 

“Come on Ma, you drove Rima and Yanka out of my life.  You hated all my girlfriends, including the gay potter.  You were jealous of all of them.  What did you do to my Piroska—drove her to depression.  You did not even encourage her creativity nor allow her to set a studio in the spare room.  You thought she was dumb and stupid.”

 

“If she was, then I said she was,” she said calmly.

 

“Oh! No, Ma! Did you ever appreciate her as a woman, as your daughter-in-law?  You saw us together and the bitch in you came out.  You knew I loved her and you wanted to break our bond.  You were afraid that in her company I would drift away from you.  With your destructive mentality—you sent her back a total broken person, making her barren for life, tearing her away from all the happiness that she needed.  She lived in a state of fear for a year or so.”

 

“What were you doing when all this was happening.  Why did you sit around silently watching the destruction?”

 

Ashok stamped his foot.  “Bloody hell, did your psyche ever let me live in peace with her?  I wouldn’t be surprised if you peeped in the keyhole to see how I made love to her.  You were envious of our love; you hated her coming close to me.  You made me a weakling by walking all over me.  You destroyed my entire life.  Now, if you dare come in my path—that will be the end of the mother-son.....…”

 

She stopped him there, “What is that you have to say?  Come to the point.”  She was so unruffled that Ashok’s knees started to shake.  The inner voice nearly drowned him with its screams, “Go on, tell her.”  The Madonna did not lift her gaze from her son’s face and watched him pick up the courage to speak—poor soul—she thought as she heard him say, “I have made a decision that I am going to marry a woman called Rahah—whether you like it or not.”

 

“I did not stop you from doing so, did I, when you married Piroska?”

 

“You did not stop my marriage, but you managed to ruin two lives.”

 

A bitter laugh came through her pointed lips, “What is mine will always be mine.  Nobody even dare flicks a bit of it.  This Rahah of yours, is she another of the Piroska kind, sitting with a paintbrush and romancing with nature?  Is she one of those dreamers, like your Piroska was?!”

 

“What did you ever understand about nature, sitting up there in your air-conditioned office.  What would you understand about a breeze that spoke, about a flower that bloomed or a bee that buzzed?  For you beauty in the real sense never existed—you live on the superficial plane of artificial disguise.”

 

She did not say anything, just chuckled.  The Madonna was mean—it showed how much she enjoyed Piroska’s company.  Ashok had wanted to hit her hard.  She was not his mother but a harlot in disguise.  She was disgusting and negative.  She was overbearing and had the spells of an enchantress.  This time he was going to fight her.  He was going to shield himself from all her nonsense.  If he had to leave the house, he would.  Giving any explanation to this woman was not worth it.  She was a demoness, wicked, uncouth and uncivilised.  She would devour her own child if she could.  He looked at her with vengeance in his eyes.

 

“Rahah and I will marry, and if you do not agree, then you can live here alone.”

 

Suddenly, Ashok noticed a shift in her eyes, they had softened and there was a change in her voice, this lamb-like behaviour made Ashok alert, as he could not trust this woman.  She could cover the deadly night with her goodness.

 

“Come, Ashok, don’t be harsh in my old age.  Tell me about this woman whom you are so much in love with—more than your mother.  She must be a hellofa woman for you to think of wacking out on me.  Sometimes mothers take second place in their son’s lives.”

 

Ashok’s heart tugged sorrowfully, his mind wavered—was he doing the right thing?  Should he tell her that life would not change for them after his marriage?  Should he be discreet?  If he gave her more information, then she would bell the cat.  Handling this woman had become a tedious affair—he felt drained out, with her manipulative mind.  He had to tell her about the woman he loved.

 

“Rahah is a widow”(up went the Madonna’s eyebrows) “that has a six-month-old child, a girl to be specific.”  The Madonna had an amused smile.  Whether she was happy or not, Ashok could not read.  “She is a graphic designer and lives in Mumbai.” He had to lie there, otherwise she’ll scan the city like the FBI agents.

 

“Hmm, Mumbai,” she said thoughtfully.

 

“When do I get to meet her?”

 

“Very soon.” This frightened him, the meeting.  “Day after tomorrow, before I leave for Malacca, I’ll get the child along.”  She said nothing and walked away.  Ashok heard her bedroom door slam shut.  He did not stay for dinner.  He bolted to the potter’s house to tell her that he nearly had won the war.  I had eagerly been waiting for Ashok, keeping my fingers crossed.  I knew he could come here again.  The smile that kindled on his face when I opened the door showed some hope.

 

“What happened?” I asked.

 

“Give me some dinner, then I’ll talk.”  I served him some baked corn and garlic bread and sat on the carpet to listen to him.

 

“You know the bitch, she plays her chess game very shrewdly.  I told her about Rahah and she will meet her day after tomorrow.”

 

“Has she agreed about Rahah?”

 

“Has the Madonna ever agreed on any of my women?”

 

“Be careful about Rahah, and more important your mind has to be strong.  You fail and everything will fall apart.”

 

“I understand that, I have to control my floundering mind.”

 

“Ashok, to be honest, why don’t you brief Rahah about the Madonna.  You have to warn her about the Madonna’s over-possessiveness without giving details.”

 

“I have told her about it.”

 

I knew Ashok was nervous, but he had to face the situation.  If he made a second mistake, I decided not to have anything to do with him.  But I knew it would never happen.  I just could not understand him.  My heart was being kind to him because destiny had paved his path—made him insecure—and there was still time to save him.  With the Madonna, the scene was different.  She was selfish and canny.  She always thought herself to be the important one.

The Madonna did meet Rahah and she agreed to their marriage.  Ashok said she sat for hours with the baby cooing.  In fact, both had many common interests and had a lively discussion on the business front.  Maybe she gave in to Ashok, fearing Ashok’s threat of leaving the house.  “Was she really afraid?” I wondered.  I could not clearly judge the Madonna.  Ashok left for Malacca a very happy man.  I felt very happy for him.  The boy would settle in to a family life and hoped the Madonna realised that her son needed a break.

A week later, as I was sitting and varnishing a clay pot in shape of a beaker, I received a telephone call from Ashok.

 

“Let me give you the news of my life—I am not getting married.  The Madonna did not like her.”  Slam went the phone on the other side.  I just leaned against my cool walls and wept.

 

I wept like this when my mother’s coffin got nailed and got lowered into the grave.  Life seemed so defeated from all sides.  I should have guessed from the beginning about the Madonna.  Rahah was lucky that she escaped from the claws of the Madonna—unlike Piroska—my Piroska.


CHAPTER 37

Suresh sat brooding in the solitude of his library.  He was surrounded by all kinds of books—Management, Computers, Politics, Literature and Encyclopaedias.  He was an avid reader and made it a point to buy books wherever he went.  He enjoyed sitting here alone among the dead writers or came in here when he felt he deserved a quick nap.  The library was situated at the back of the house and his windows opened out for him to view the tips of the beautiful Lasa Mountains.  This place was exotic; he lived here since he was a child.  He had no fascination for mountain climbing like his brother had; Raj spent most of his college days smoking joints with his friends.  He was more familiar with the hills and dales of Lasa than Suresh.

He poured out a peg of scotch, which he hadn’t touched.  For the first time, it hurt him to see his brother’s photograph with his wife.  He would have called it fantasising adultery.  Suresh was under the impression that Sushmita had destroyed all his brothers’ memories.  Her pandora’s box always had a very suspicious aura about it from the time it came into his house.  With the passage of time, his devoted wife made him ignore the box.  Suresh did understand the bond of first love, but after so many years of marriage it took him by surprise to see Raj’s photograph with her.

His brother had been the freaky kind who enjoyed life, attended all parties, refused to take interest in business, carried enough of money for his friends to exploit him.  He wore the weirdest of clothes and wore colourful Kurtas, smoking joints in the mountains.  Being the youngest in the family, he got away with murder.  Suresh could not save his brother from death, as the heavy intake of liquor and drugs destroyed him.  Raj’s lack of interest in the family business forced Suresh to take interest in it—if given a chance, Suresh would rather become a pilot.  His parents left the empire to him and retired to the south where his sister lived.

Suresh could not blame Sushmita for holding onto old memories, what he had done to her was worse.  His relationship with the beautiful Sarah was well known to all.  He still felt physically attracted to his wife, (though he slept next to her without touching her).  She had those conventional sensual looks—thick braid that hung loosely behind her, the large brown dancer’s eyes that had a touch of Kajal, thick shaped eyebrows, sensuous quivering lips, a slim waistline that glided with swaying buttocks.  In many ways he had to agree that Sushmita was above Sarah.  Sarah was a walking beauty but lacked the charisma his wife had.  Suresh was confident that even if Sarah abandoned him, Sushmita would never leave him.  Though she had a strong mind, in many ways she was conventional.  The Hindu philosophy of the idealist wife still remained in her.  When he saw her sitting alone at Raju’s wedding, a sudden pity surged through him and he proposed to her parents.  Though she had made a fuss, with pressure from her family she relented.

Time changed everyone’s destiny in his house.  He got a boost in business and spread his fingers into exports and government contracts, which strengthened his financial position in the Indian market.  This plunge made him forget the existence of his family.  He wasn’t very happy when a daughter was born to him.  It depressed him more when Piroska took up brushes instead of learning the business strings.  It broke his heart when she divorced Ashok and broke her engagement with Ashara, thereby making him lose two business deals.  Why she turned away from both he did not know.  “She just could not get along,” that’s all he got from Sushmita.  He did not prod any further because he knew nothing would be told to him.  What a lousy father he made.  Money drove him to lose his family life.

His daughter no doubt was very beautiful, but the special father daughter relation did not click somehow.  They could not see eye to eye, and the major conflict was because of her interest in painting.  He wondered if he was the cause of this estrangement.  He did miss the family togetherness, but due to his busy schedule both mother and daughter had isolated him.  Or had he isolated them?

He never attended Piroska’s exhibitions, in spite of hearing good reports about them from his business circle, which buzzed with praise for her.  He internally felt proud for her, but his stubbornness could not allow him to acknowledge it.  It was below his dignity to appreciate her work, especially when he had disowned it from the beginning.  His life was filled with conflicts and controversies, and he had to face them alone.  Life was like a chart, never having a steady rise for a long period of life.  He got misery onto himself. It was like having everything in life and yet missing out on something.

As he sat in his chair, he suddenly felt lonely.  He had this urge of calling Sushmita and asking him to join him for a chat.  Even if she agreed to share a glass with him, the conversation would be one sided with him doing all the talking and she blankly staring into the glass.

He decided to let life be as it was, everything would take its own course.  It was too late for him to mend the broken fences in his life.  However, there was only one thing he was very sure about, and that was that Sushmita would never leave him for anything.  That feeling of security brought him from the depths of gloom.  He gulped the brown liquor in one shot, feeling good as the warm liquid burned his throat.


CHAPTER 38

Though I decided to disown Ashok, it never happened.  I felt extremely sorry for him, tangled as he was in all sorts of emotions.  I had no heart to destroy the confidence that he had built in me.  He may have had a wide circle of friends, but he trusted none, not even the Madonna.  In my company, Ashok’s spirits were revived, and it would have been extremely cruel if he was out of my sight.  Had not one of the ten commandments said, “Love thy neighbour as thyself.”  I could not recall when I had last touched the Holy Book, although I no intention of doing so in the next few years.  Certain prayers had been forced into our system by the convent nuns and it remained to stay.  I remember being hustled into a chapel to recite prayers that had no meaning to my existence.  The legality of my religion was forced upon me at the time of the holy confirmation, which I abandoned when I left school.  I remember myself in a white lace frock, which may have cost a fortune for my mother one hundred rupees.  It was one big ceremony of rejoicing.  With time I realised that I had to live for myself, whether God died for me or reincarnated Himself to save me from damnation.  Anyone could become God after four hundred years—Gandhi, Clinton or Hilter.  It is all in the making of mind who you want to have reign high.

As I lazed in my cosy drawing room with many a conflicting thought eating musk melon, I saw the world reel in front of my television—the attack on Yugoslavia—by the merry tribe of NATO, the killing of those innocent school children, chaos in Seoul, the fall of the Indian economy, and Indians playing miserably in the world cricket.  The universe was in a state of chaos like my mind.  As I switched channels, I came to my favourite channel, MTV, because the DJ’s face seemed very familiar.  Suddenly I started dreaming long waking dreams.  I was intoxicated by this morning walker in my grandfather’s village when I was eighteen years of age.  I had a tomboyish look, which did not keep me away from him.  It was a morning flooded with reminiscences.  And suddenly I felt I was in a different era on a flying planet, sailing happily towards the core of my heart.

As the sliver rays of the morning sun broke out from its mother’s womb, it gave me great delight to watch its rays slip through the softness of the scattered clouds.  Its birth every morning cast a meditative glow on mankind.  Each dawn was a new experience, a new envious sight.  The random colour changes were never the same everyday.  To my creative eye it was yet another resurrection.

This small village swung into brisk action the minute the rooster opened its vocal cords, the cows mooed while getting milked in the rhythmic movements of the glass bangles, shepherds herded flocks together, birds twittered, old wise men sat outside and brushed their teeth, all with twigs—all these things gave the rural area an etheral look.

The distraction in the morning waking me up was not just the rooster but a sprightly farmer who passed by the house every morning for his walks. From my grandfather’s ancient wooden balcony, which creaked when I leaned, I could not frame this man’s features.  He looked tall and had an energetic gait, wore a dhoti and kurta that clung to his lean body.  He reminded me of a rustic in search of creativity.

He walked briskly every day before the Sun showed its claws.  He seemed to be absorbed in deep thought as he looked nowhere but straight ahead.  The beautiful surroundings never seemed to disturb him.  I thought he was some kind of a weirdo.

I never saw him return home on the same path.  I assumed he had a different pathway to his house.  His aloof gait somehow attracted me to him.  I had discovered my sexuality then, but this attraction that I felt for him was different.  It was not a physical urge that I felt for him, but a strange sense of attachment.

It was not possible for me to directly find out who he was—that would have led to gossip and giggles among the village folk.  They were a shy lot who covered their faces the minute a man came across their path.  I seemed weird to them in my jeans and khadi kurta, trying my level best to adjust to their habits.  I used to come here to relax and had taken up the secretive task of writing a book, “The Orthodox Missionary,” which never came through because I started to make clay pots, and the book remained history.  I liked my grandfather’s outdated modern house, where you still bathed in open barns, drank water from the bore wells, and sat on the floor to eat hot food baked in mud ovens.

This morning walker became a part of my system.  Either I got up too early and had to wait for him or he whizzed by before I awoke.  I had to find a stratagem to get information on him.  One of those cold autumn days I decided to corner the milkman by asking him if he delivered milk to the morning walker, “Babu.”

Raman’s eyeballs dilated oddly as if they would disappear.

 

“No, Missey Baba, that babu is not one of us.  Though he wears our clothes, he does not live here.  I don’t like the way he pretends to be like us.”

 

That seemed interesting to me and I allowed Raman to continue, “Missey, he comes from beyond the hills, from the big bad city and lives here with his dog.”

 

So the stranger had a companion.  “Missey, he talks to no one and keeps shooting birds and fishing in the stream.  I have seen him many a time sitting under the mango tree, writing away to no end.”  The stranger did have an aura about him.  He seemed to be like a wild animal that needed to be caught and tamed.  I had this unerotic feeling of taming him in the wheat fields ahead.

The next day, picking up some courage, I followed him, looking a little feminine in my shorts and tank top that hid my flat fried-eggs-like breasts.  Maybe I was ten footsteps behind him.  My eyes caught his broad shoulders that tapered to the waist.  He had a rugged physique.  The cool breeze of the morning suddenly made me feel brave.  I needed to see his face and my sixth sense did not warn me of any danger.  I walked fast and caught up with him.  “Hello, I am Michi, the potter who lives there.”  I pointed back to the fields and then to the house.  He just smiled.  He just stared into my eyes, and any normal girl would have stopped dead at those grey, deep-set eyes.

 

“I know,” he said with a lopsided smile.

 

So he had been investigating me as I had been doing him.  I liked the whisk of grey hair that curled free from his open-necked kurta.  He, a poet, came to this isolation to feel the buzz of the bees, hear the dying flutter of the birds shot, feel the caress of the golden wheat fields, watch the walk of the village belles, get used to the long silence, view the reflection of the sky in the wells, listen to the carols of birds and watch the browsing of cattle.

 

“Have you seen those village girls balance those pots of water on their heads?”  I nodded.

 

He said that he was experimenting with a new rhyme scheme.  He was filled with his poetry.  He did not feel shy to recite some verses from his new work to me.  It took him no time at all to make verses on the spot.  He would stand by a lone tree and gaze into the sky and say “listen to this poem.”  He was so proud of himself, like any Irish would be.  I became his morning companion and we spent hours exchanging ideas and thoughts.  Someone more feminine than I would have loved to have him in their arms kissing him and listening to him whisper love sonnets.  He once tried to touch me and I said, “I am gay.”  He laughed aloud and liked my honesty.  “Let me tell you a secret, I am one too.”  I had the last laugh then.

Those were some of my fleeting memories.  We lost contact when he left for England with his French boyfriend.  Good dreams can be shattered by a vampire’s kiss, and mine was when the bulldog-like face of Sister Maria came in to teach me about a disciplined life.  She was one of those strict nuns who had joined the holy gang when her boyfriend had been shot in the Second World War.  One never saw a smile even flicker on her face.  She always wore a grim look.  Everyone in the convent was afraid of her.  My seesaw went high as it had no weight on the other side and bang went my soul into another tunnel of misery.  The nunnery was not a pleasant place for me.  I just could not bring myself to like it.  How could I when I had forced myself here?

 

I remember Sister Rita, who saw me standing near the convent gate weeping and came to my aid.  She was a pretty woman with a soft voice.

 

“What is the matter child?” she had asked, drying my tears.

 

“I have come to join the Holy Order.”  She took me in and in the chapel side room made me sit down and asked me if I was mentally prepared for this long journey with God.  I felt like saying no to her, but the thought of getting sold scared me and I said yes.  A lovely smile ran across her face.  She looked like a lily in winter.

 

“You need to be a dedicated soul to join us.”  I nodded.

 

“You cannot break the order once you have taken the three vows.”


CHAPTER 39

Piroska stood outside her studio, admiring the blue sky over her head.  It was fascinating to gaze at this vast span of heavenly colour.  She observed that the sky never remained the same.  At times it danced with the breeze and sometimes it shined like the wings of an angel in flight, and it laughed like a child when tickled.  The passing wind tossed the clouds, making them change direction, sometimes very cheekily hiding the rays of the Sungod.  Sometimes it acted a little generous by filtering the powerful rays through its fluffy gaps.  At times all the clouds gathered together as though they were in deep discussion.  They rolled over each other and then drifted apart as if in disagreement, making it appear as if a group had been formed to solve a problem.  Their behaviour seemed like the members of the Indian parliament, what is hell for the human being was heaven for the clouds.  It was a place where the good and the bad souls disappeared to become stars.

The happiness that she saw overhead suddenly frightened her.  Why was she tormented by this fear of instability?  What was she afraid of now?  Had she not overcome her major hurdles with her paintings doing well?  She earned enough on all her works.  She faced her ex-husband with confidence.  She smugly broke her engagement with Ashara.  Even her father to a certain extent became history in her life.  She had a doting mother who gave her all the love and support, and yet an uncertainty hung over her.  The bee seemed to keep buzzing in her ears during times of happiness. WHY?? Why?  The face that had shined sometime back turned into a dull frown.  Was this because she had not heard from Yash?  Or was she annoyed with the fact that in spite of being in love with Yash she could do nothing about it?  How could she, when she acted like a cold-blooded reptile when they met.  She wondered if he would propose to her again and how she would react.  She knew nothing about him, but just that he was an art dealer who had an export garment business and was a good friend of her mother’s. APART FROM THAT SHE KNEW NOTHING.  Pondering over this unusual thought, she realised that it would not be wise to get into any legal attachments.  What seemed dreamy at first did not always last long.  One major mistake had been enough, a second would be like the second coming of Christ—destruction of body and soul.  It would be worse then the predicted third World War and she would be a part of it too.  She shuddered to think of clashing swords with the Madonna.

The face of the Madonna gave her cold feet.  This was one person whom she would not be able to face.  The root of all her miseries was this evil woman.  She was the cause of her unstable mind, and she hoped her mother would never invite her for any of her exhibitions.  She would never be able to confront her, never in her life.  The woman sucked—her sneering smile, her sarcastic comments, her sensual body could never be challenged by Piroska.  She was a total failure when the Madonna loomed over her.  This was one person whom she wanted to keep aside and she knew all along that all her mental illness was due to this woman.  The Madonna was an unbalanced woman and Piroska wanted to have nothing to do with her.  This woman raped her of her senses, stripped her of her ambitions, deprived her of the holiness and of marriage and wrapped her in a cell of darkness.  She was like the step mother in the fairy tale of “Snow Drop” (Snow White), who would have felt comfortable to stand in front of her looking glass and ask,

“tell me, glass, tell me

Of all the ladies in the land

Who loveth my son more?”

 

and the Madonna would have loved to hear,

 

 “Thou, my dear lady, Thou!”

 

This would have made her dance with glee, and would have stifled her to death had the mirror answered,

 

“Piroska, my dear lady, Piroska.”

 

Piroska could associate her character with that of Cindrella’s stepmother, the plain and simple Iago, the witch in “Sleeping Beauty” who was slighted.  But at the present moment she did not want to dampen her spirits.  In spite of the darkness that the Madonna had caused in her life, a brick had been broken in her trapped cell, allowing the rays of the sun and the moon to seep in.  At the same time she felt she was harnessed like a horse to a cart.  She had to drag the load everywhere she went, and if she galloped too fast with her thoughts, then she would topple and roll into a mucky ditch.  She had to control herself by taking the reins in her hands and trot in a positive direction.

Time had been wasted, thinking of the Madonna.  Piroska looked up into the heavens and saw that the clouds had cleared, leaving everything clean.  It seemed to give her a message of keeping her mind free from the past.  She was inspired by the sky and got into the mood of painting.  Her spirits bounced back to normal at the thought of dousing herself in paints.  She fluttered into her studio like a flighty butterfly, coming out with her easel, canvas, brushes palette and paints.  All these inanimate belongings were her prized possessions, and they became her family, giving her immense happiness.  This was her world.

This was her happy globe where she feared none.  She did not bother to wear her painting overalls and gaily began to mix her colours.  Colours mingled with each other and splashed on the brown earth, leaving colourful spots of blues, reds, greens, white and black.  The scene on the ground looked like a herd of joyful coloured zebras on a run.  She looked up at the sky and blinked, as the morning sunrays attacked her.  Her brush flew on the canvas like a professional artist and clothed the blank canvas with a riot of colours.  At this moment she wanted to capture everything around her, she wanted her canvas to be a colourful one.  Water colours she chose this time.

Piroska had lost track of time and she did not even realise her legs ache.  She did not even notice that Bi had come and was watching his “memsahibs” fly into the other world.  How beautiful and happy she looked at her work.  He dared not disturb her as that would drive her crazy.  Like an obedient servant he sat on his haunches, watching his Missey finish her work.  Piroska’s small canvas, the size of a painting in a living room, took five hours to finish.  Her aching limbs did not trouble her as she stood back and admired her own work.  The sky looked so complete with the clouds and the flight of sparrows. She was happy and the sudden clap from behind made her swirl nearly into the arms of Yash.  The excitement in those eyes suddenly vanished as she faced the man she loved.  Bi sneaked away behind the trees, leaving the two alone.  This man was the same one who had given those flowers to his father, and he was the same one who had visited the art gallery a day before the Missey’s exhibition.  Why did he come in so suddenly and remove the flash from his Missey’s face?  Piroska did not notice the shepherd boy slip by, as she was so concentrated on Yash.  Why did he come?  In no way could she avoid him.  Here with him she would have to face another kind of music.  Had he met her mother and then come here, or had her mother planned something new for her?
CHAPTER 40

 

Piroska stared hard at Yash as though she was seeing a yahoo from a different planet.  Why did he come to her doorstep?  Sometime back she was thinking about him and here he stood, clapping his hands at her finished canvas.  Why did this man always creep up behind her?  He always managed to give her a surprise, not giving her nervous system a chance to function in a normal manner.

No words were exchanged, as he moved with a cool gait towards her painting, surveying it with an eagle’s eye.  His eyes danced in a light mood and appreciated the scene before him.  In his heavy drawl, facing the canvas, he just passed one comment, “the painting could have done without the birds.”  She made an attempt to defend herself, but before she could even utter a word he said,

 

“I need to talk to you.”

 

“What was the need to talk with her?  Did he not always communicate with her mother, why her now?  What new thoughts did he have in his mind?” she wondered.  Maybe he came to tell her about the painting that she had sent him two months back.  He did not even have the decency to reply.  Maybe he came to tell her the good news that her work was not well received by the audience, and the disappointing look on her face would give him some kind of pleasure.  Why did she have these dramatic thoughts in her insane mind?  He was her agent, and he would never feel happy if what he promoted, had received a set back.  Why could she not just think that he had come to give her some exciting news?

Yash looked at her face.  It had an amused frown.  He wondered if he had made a mistake by coming here.  Should he have asked Sushmita Bhat for advice before landing at the studio?  He had made up his mind once and for all he was going to propose to her.  He just had to take the chance.  Even if she refused, he would not feel hurt and would still remain her agent.  If she said “yes,” nothing like it.  He could not really tell much about this kid’s psyche, she blossomed so full of life and then, one by one, her petals fell apart with her divorce, due to which for one and a half years her work had received a set back.  Time had healed, and slowly she sprang back to her world of colours.  Her last exhibition got her back into the limelight.  He was happy with her progress and wished that Suresh Bhat would encourage her.  The man so was different.  Yash had met him on many occasions, but he had never mentioned his daughter’s work.  Yash had found that strange, as any father would be proud of his daughter’s success.  He had, in fact, asked Sushmita the reason for her husband’s indifference to Piroska’s paintings.

 

“Yash,” she said, “Business and art don’t seem to gel for him.  He has always been upset that Piroska kept away from his business.”

 

“That is crazy.  The girl has an in-born talent.  She has the gift to brush colours across a canvas, giving instant joy to people; he should be happy that his child does not need to depend on him.”

 

“You and I understand that, but Suresh looks at his vast empire, and wonders who is going to take care of it when he grows old.”

 

“He is intelligent enough to find a solution.  Why hurt Piroska?”

 

“You won’t understand that psyche of his,” she said sadly.

 

As Yash continued to gaze at the painting, he saw how each stroke of the brush had matured from canvas to canvas.  She started to take individual orders and kept herself busy.  Her last one, which she painted for a common friend on Autumn, was divine.  One could feel the dying warmth of the summer sun when you stared at the painting.  The landscape with golden, reddish leaves hung low to be swung back to action by spring, and yet Keats would have said that Autumn had its own music.

He always noticed that Piroska had this great sense of involvement with nature, and valued her environment that she could present on the canvas.  You could notice the sense of pleasure she derived from her surroundings.  Yash was amazed at her visionary insights of nature.  Since she grew up in this greenness where nature glowed to its fullest, it was easy for her to relate to it.  He stood in front of the canvas for ten minutes, wondering if this open place under the bright sky would be good to propose.  What he was thinking she didn’t know.  He said nothing to her, and she was forced to break the silence.

 

“I think we should go in, as it is getting hot.”

 

“Yes, of course.”  Helping her pick up her belongings, they walked into the coolness of the studio.  This time the mess in the studio did not bother her, as it had when he came here with his mother two months back.  He just looked around at the mess and sat on the cane stool.  He had not yet spoken.  “What was the matter with this man?” Piroska wondered.

 

“What would you like to drink?”

 

“A coke, maybe.”  She expected him to say a “a peg of gin” or “rum coke.” This was hardly his drink!

 

She handed him the can and watched him open it.  He still said nothing; she felt he was behaving like her—dumb.  What kind of a conversation should she have with this man?  His presence made her claustrophobic.  Darn him, why was he so quiet?

Yash was aware that he was making the situation worse by keeping quiet.  He could see her flustered face.  This lady looked good with even a frown on her face.  For the first time Yash was high-strung in her company.  He had a good equation with women from all kinds of professions.  He came in contact with women fashion designers and models for his garment business.  He had rolled into bed with many of them, having no serious attachments.  This fairy that was sitting right in front of him, staring at him as though he were a ghost, had stolen his heart.  She held a strange attraction and his heart pumped extra loud when he met her.

Yash was not afraid of rejection.  What he feared was her reaction to his proposal for the second time.  He decided to do some talking with her before he proposed.  He needed some warming up.

 

“Have you thought of holding another exhibition?”

 

“Not in the near future.  I have to complete all my private orders.”

 

“How many do you have in hand?”

 

“Around six miniature ones.  I hope to complete it in the next two months.”

 

“Hmmm.”  He said nothing else.  For this woman, money was not her main concern.  She took pains over every canvas, and due to this she took a longer time than other artists did.  This dedication that she put in helped, as she always stood out from the rest of her breed.  The quality of work could be seen.  She was in no hurry, which was a good sign as she always knew the matter she wanted to paint. There were some works that she did on the spot, but her choice and combination of colours were perfect.  Her paintings were the kind that you would love to have in the drawing room and bedroom, as they were very picturesque.  His mind could not think of any more questions, and he was getting bored with this game of his.  He was feeling as though he were on his first date.

 

“Did you meet my mother before you came here?”

 

“No, she does not know that I am in Lasa.”

 

“Oh! I don’t think you would have met her at home, as she has gone to the tea garden.”

 

“Is there any problem?”

 

“No, her routine rounds.”

 

Why was this man making such small talk?  Why did he come here?  To chew her brains!!?  Why did he just not break the ice?  If her painting was not rated in the first ten, so what?  She would try harder.  She did not want to ask him, knowing he would speak up.  She looked at him.  His head was bent and it seemed as though he were admiring his long fingers.  She had the urge to reach out and touch his hair, to caress his face.  It seemed as though they had met yesterday.  He suddenly looked up and caught her staring at him.  Their eyes held fast for a second and both quickly turned away.

 

“Piroska.” He just had to say it.  “Well, I came here with a reason.”

 

“You could have e-mailed me.”

 

“I prefer to talk.”

 

“What is it?”

 

He stared into her soft eyes. “Will you marry me?”  He searched for an answer on her face.  Saw none.  The silence in the room told him what she was thinking.  What was there to think about?  His proposal was serious.  He was not going to dump her.  He was known to the family, he had a few flings some years back, but those were different days.  He was wealthy and independent.  He would encourage her with her work.  He could still be her agent.  The table was well laid out.  Piroska said nothing.  She got up in haste and moved towards the window in deep thought.  He wished he could enter her mind and find out what she had to say.  Her mind was like a swift brook, collecting everything as it flowed on.

 

“Do you need time to think?”

 

He got no answer.  Her back was turned to him and she did not make an effort to talk to him.  It drew him mad.  “Control yourself,” his mind said.

With a slight change in voice he spoke to her again, “Piroska, I asked you a question, could I have an answer for that?  It is insulting for me to stare at your back.  Please could you turn around.”  She paid no heed to what he said.  Or was she trying to annoy him.  Yash got up from his chair and moved in her direction.  Maybe she needed some gentle handling.

Piroska smelled the musk on him and turned to face him.  Yash saw the tears and wondered if he had said anything amiss.

 

“Have I disturbed you by proposing to you?”  She just shook her head.

 

“Then why are you wasting your tears?”

 

The look that she sent him was a wrong signal.  She walked towards the cane chair and sat down. Yash could just not take his eyes off her.  She was trying his patience.  Why couldn’t this babe speak?  She was behaving in such an immature manner that Yash wanted to walk out.  He remembered the time she had been ill after her divorce.  “Just a serious depression,” Sushmita said.  Piroska had looked so frail then.  Now, she looked like an undefiled dove, and he felt like telling her what his friend Haggai told his wife when she was in a pensive mood.

 

“Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor; thy belly is like a heap of wheat set with lilies.

 

Thy two breasts are like two roses that are twins.

 

Thy neck is a tower of ivory ; thine eyes like the fishpool—this, thy stature is like to a palm tree,” etc., etc.

 

It used to sound so romantic when Haggai went on his knees, reciting this to his wife. Yash, liking the sound of it, had learned it, and had not used it, as he did not find anyone appropriate to say it to.  This was not the right mood to woo the undecided Piroska.

 

“Piroska, could you give an answer?”

 

She looked at him and with a quick sinister smile said, “No, Yash, I cannot marry you.”  She watched Yash as he walked towards her, briskly catching her shoulders with both his hands and shaking her hard.  He was hurt.

 

“Why not?  What is your lame excuse this time?  Are you going to tell me that you are happy masturbating in your bedroom thinking of me, or are you gonna say that you are frigid, or better still that you discovered that you are a lesbian like your friend, Sangeela?  What is it woman?”  The violence in him was like a missle that had hit its target.

 

“Why should I give you an explanation, it is my decision.  I do have the right to say no to you.  I have my own problems.”

 

“Your problems!  What new problems have you created for yourself?  Have you been seeing someone?”

 

“What do you mean by that?”

 

“You know what I mean.”

 

“I do not,” she said smugly.

 

“Oh, you do, all right.  You drooled over me in my bed, asking me to make love to you over and over again.  You wanted to be possessed by me.  You withdrew when I asked for your hand, as you were engaged to that rat, Ashara.”

 

“Thankfully you got the courage to break that tie now what?  Piroska you are in love with me as I am in love with you.  What is it, why are you behaving like this?  Why are you throwing away the opportunity that is at the door?”  He walked away from her and slumped himself in the other chair.  “Are you afraid of my age?  Do you feel that your mother will object?  Yes, your father may, but not your mother.”

 

Piroska, took her time to answer.  Had she made a mistake by refusing him?  What Yash said was true.  No one would object to her marrying Yash, and what her father said made no difference to her.  She loved the man, she knew that she would be happy with him.  Then why had she created this bridge between herself and the man whom she loved?

Yash read the deserted look on her face.  He had to be careful and not lose his head on this fair one, whose skin glowed like the evening amber sun.  Had he not prepared himself to face the worst?  Then why behave in this uncouth manner?   Why was he getting hurt about her answer in the negative?

Piroska walked back to the open window and stared into the green eyes of nature.  How happy she was in these surroundings.  Her paintings gave her so much solace.  Did she need a man to make her happy?  But this man was so different, so connected with her life that he would not harm her.  Ashok was a freak case (and he really did not harm her), it was the whole situation in the house that she could not handle.  Everyone around did not have to be like him.  Yash lived alone and she had no fear of the Madonna.  The thought of the Madonna made her walk out of the studio Yash followed, wondering what was wrong now.

 

“Could you take me for a drive?  I am in need of some fresh air.”  Yash blinked at that request.

 

“Drive!  Anything you say baby.”  He got a smile for that.  “Your car or mine?”

 

“Yours,” she said without any hesitation.

 

“You will have to walk down a bit.”

 

“You did that so I could not hear the roar of the car, and you could jump on me from behind.”  He laughed loudly, making her join in.

 

“You guessed right, honeycomb.”  He opened the door of his silver Cielo, letting her get in first and then, taking the driver’s seat, he drove down the road.


CHAPTER 41

As Yash drew down towards the valley, Piroska felt the jitters.  Why did she ask the man to take her for a drive when she had refused his proposal?  She was taken back by the way Yash’s annoyance suddenly subsided.  His hands, which had shaken her shoulders, relaxed into a gentle massage and he had just stared into her eyes.   She had read the hurt feeling on his face, but she could not change her mind.  Her shaky mental make up would lead to further confusion.  She was aware that she was not making an effort to lighten up her past.   Life was like a roller coaster, you could be happy, sad and tearful.  No one had everything in one shot.

 

“What are you thinking so seriously about?” he broke into her thoughts.

 

“Nothing interesting.”

 

“Something depressing I am sure.”  She laughed heartily at that.

 

“I was thinking about the term happiness. Why can’t it remain permanent?  Why do we have to go through various phases?”

 

“If we always got what we wanted, then the devil would be out of his job!” he said with a grin.  “You don’t need to crib about happiness, you have got it.  Your happiness is your painting.”

 

“Yes, it has given me lot of pleasure.”

 

“Then what is your grief about.”  Piroska did not answer, and Yash realised that he had touched a delicate note.  Trust him to put his big foot in his mouth.  Maybe if she spoke her mind she would feel better.  Her social circle had developed over the last six months, but he doubted if she trusted any of them.  Her confidant was Sushmita Bhat.  Would she be game to confide in him?  He had to try his luck.  He really wanted to help her and be her good friend.

 

“I have hurt you by refusing to marry you.”

 

“What are you afraid of?”

 

“My last marriage was not a happy one.  I have been drained out.  To get into another legal relation is just not possible for me.”

 

“You cannot give up like this.  You know everything about me.  Your mother has known me for years. I am not going to dupe you.”

 

“Yash, what I have undergone has been mental torture.  My past comes to me very easily.  I have tried to overcome it, but it has a hold on me.  It sticks to me wherever I go.  I become a difficult person to deal with, and this would be a major problem in my life.”

 

“I am just aware of the fact that Ashok had an immense attachment with his mother, due to which you got neglected.”  Piroska refused to speak up.  It was not possible for this man to brainwash her. What would she achieve by pouring her heart out to him?  He would just be sympathetic towards her and she did not want anyone’s compassion.  Couldn’t the man talk of better things in life then her past and her marrying him?  He said nothing about her painting.

 

“What did you think about my painting?”

 

“Great, I was amused at the way you massacred the most luminous star in the sky.”

 

“Well, I think the Sungod in his feminine form looks powerful.”

 

“I think your whole breed is insecure.”

 

“You seem to be like the rest who feels strength, and power lies in the muscles of man.”

 

“Of course it does.”  He could see the anger gently flashing across her face.” He provoked her a bit more. You could change the sayings of the Holy Avesta, which says, “When the sun rises, the earth made by Ahura Mazda becomes clean.”  Instead you could say, “When the female sun rises, everything around gets nourishment and without her, nothing can survive, neither vegetation nor animals, and the cycle of rain takes place just because of her heat, and whosoever performs the ‘surya namaskar’ will get spiritual and physical fitness from her heavenly rays.”

 

“We all have different beliefs.  What I perceive, you do not have to!”

 

“Oh yeah, I guess you are right.”  He thought he best leave her alone.  This pussy might just change her mind and get off right in the middle of the road and walk back home They had driven far away from the den.

 

“How long have you known Ashok and the Madonna?”

 

“Say around seven years.  Ashok had an eye for art and has been one of my good customers.  We have met at many exhibitions.  The mighty Madonna I have encountered at a few parties.  She seemed an interesting person to talk to—very shrewd and a good business woman.”

 

“Did you like her?”

 

“She seemed all right to me at all the parties that I had met her.  I heard she wanted to start something in Malacca.  She never refused Ashok for any of the paintings that he wanted to buy.”

 

“Why should she when she carried her son in her pocket most of the time?” Her voice suddenly became shrill.

 

“Are you alright Piroska?  You seem to be upset.”  He got no reply.  What a funny babe she was.  She reminded him of a radio that went always went off tune.  Yash started to whistle “--------” by “------------.”

 

And suddenly he heard Piroska crying.  He stopped the car abruptly, screeching to a halt.  Now what, was wrong with this babe?

 

“Piroska,” he continued, as she sobbed.  Yash put his arms around her shoulders wiping her tears with his handkerchief and comforting her.  She dug her head into his broad chest and wept aloud.  Yash was amazed at the way she was weeping. Anyone passing by would have thought that someone was dead or she was raped.  Thankfully they were away from the Lasa crowd, just one or two cars whizzed by.  People would think that two lovers had stopped by to snatch a quick kiss.  When women cried, Yash always melted and he never knew how to react.  He tightened his grip on her shoulder and, lifting her chin towards him, he kissed her.  She at first clung on to that salty taste and then suddenly withdrew.

 

“What is wrong with you sweetheart?”  Why are you always so disturbed?  Has anyone hurt you?” Why don’t you just talk it out?  It will help you, Piroska, to bring out all your pain.  If you are going to bottle it up, then you shall suffer all your life.”  Piroska just pushed his hand away and asked him to drive her to her den.  Yash was totally confused.  What kind of a woman was she?  Had he made a mistake by proposing to her?  Why was she dramatising it so much?  Something serious had taken place in her life for her to behave in such a kinky manner.  Had she been raped?  God forbid no.  Did the Madonna treat her badly?  What made her come to this state, he wondered.

 

As they drew near to her den Yash asked her again, “Do you want to talk?”

 

“No,” she said.

 

“If you feel like, then call this number.  I am staying here for a week.”

 

“Why don’t you return to Goa?” she shot back.

 

“I wish I could, but I have some work and some serious thinking to do.”  Yash left her at her den and sped away without saying a goodbye to her.

 

Piroska walked into her den feeling lost and defeated.  She looked around her studio for comfort, but received none.  Everything around seemed cold and numb.  It seemed as though they had all disowned her.  Why couldn’t these inanimate things at least understand her?  No one would, as she never made an effort to understand herself.  The minute she stuck her neck out to breathe some fresh air, it suffocated her.  Why did this happen?  Why could she not bring her life into focus and live with it?

Why was she always whining?  She straightened herself to think for herself.  Yes, the Madonna and Ashok gave her a raw deal.  She felt betrayed.  The man who she had grown to love suddenly beat her hollow.  This is what she could not come to terms with.  Maybe had Ashok confessed to her about his complexes, she may have found a solution. In that house everything happened behind closed doors.  Ashok used to be so tight-lipped whenever she spoke about the Madonna’s behaviour.  He suddenly used to withdraw into a deadly silence.  Piroska at times felt sorry for her husband, who shared his frustrations only with himself.  He just was not able to share the truth with her.  Piroska felt hopelessly broken.  She had to make an effort to become insensitive to her past.  The best way she could do this was to get married to Yash.  Would he agree after all the drama?  What an asshole she was, throwing her life to the wind.  She decided to meet Yash that evening and hoped that she would not change her mind at the last minute.  She seemed like a character from a book who had a shattered story to narrate. Who did not have the courage to bare her sorrow and grief in public?

Yash, after returning to his motel room that faced the Lasa valley, was agitated with the divine Piroska.  Why the hell did he have to go and meet her?  She was so involved with herself and her own injuries that she got the past and the present all mixed up.  Due to this, she was ruining her own life.   Had she said yes to him, he would have given her the happiness that she had never got.  He started to pack his bag to leave for Goa.  He cancelled all his business appointments.  He did not want to meet Sushmita, as he was getting bored with everyone.  She would get to hear of his stay from the manager, as it was the Bhat’s motel.  He checked out and drove down to Goa.  It was better he kept away from Piroska and to ask her another time about marriage.  He felt defeated and lonely for the first time.


CHAPTER 42

Piroska that evening never went to the motel.  Instead she went home to meet her mother, who would solve all her problems.  She went up to her room, had a wash, and waited for her mother to return from the factory.  Time ticked by slowly.  The sun was setting and her mother had yet not returned.  Piroska started to feel drowsy.  The meeting with Yash had worn her out.  The clock in the hall chimed ten.  She normally slept at eleven thirty after doing some reading.  She had no urge to complete the last few pages of Scot Turow’s “The Laws Of Our Fathers.”

Sushmita Bhat neither called nor left a message that she would be late.  Where the hell was her mother?  Hope she was not stuck in the village with some child who was ill or run out of gas.  Why did she not use the cell to call home?  Piroska wondered if she should drive down and get her mother back home.  It would be a waste of a journey, as she did not know where her mother exactly was.  Had her mother met Yash, and were they planning a way to get her to say yes to marriage?  If they were, then things would be made easier for her.  She yawned her fifth yawn and decided to go to sleep.  She would talk to her mother the next day.  Yash, she assumed, would still be in town.

She went up to her room, undressed, brushed her teeth till they shined and slipped under her cool quilt.   She was asleep in a wink, and she did not have to think about what she required to dream about.  She was on a boat with Yash, who was rowing the boat into the sea.  She held a brown paper package in her hand.  It was her painting that they were taking to the exhibition.  The sea was calm and its waves lapped at the sides of the wooden boat.  Yash was in a good mood, and as he rowed merrily, she saw his strong muscles glisten.  She was so happy to be with him.  The diamond ring on her finger gleamed.  It was a wedding present from her friend in Lasa.  Who said that diamonds were for romance and prosperity?  Piroska saw her wedding day.  It was a small gathering of close family friends and relatives.  Her father was present, and she had noticed how happy he looked, greeting all the guests and guiding her mother to introduce her to new faces.  She noticed a change in her father’s behaviour.  His face was serene Sarah was missing, he seemed to have kept all his business woes aside.  After many years, she saw her mother blush when her father held her around her waist and whispered in her ears.  She just prayed that they would always remain like this.  Her friend from Sangeela came in a smart tailored suit.  Anyone would have mistaken her to be a man.  She kept on hugging Piroska because she was so happy with Piroska’s decision.

The boat shook and she clung onto her painting, it had to reach safely for the exhibition.  It was going to be a big day for her.  She would become a celebrity, she would be in the news, and people would come and interview her about art.  She went back to her wedding day; Yash looked handsome in his cream chudidar kurta, he wore a colourful “bandini” turban and looked like a prince getting all set, waiting to be crowned.  She enjoyed the sanctity of the marriage ceremony.  The smoke got tears to her eyes, and she felt as though all her mascara was running down her face.  She could not understand half the “mantras” that the “pandit” was chanting.  At times he would go fast with them, and it seemed as though Yash was slipping him notes to complete the ceremony.  At other times he went so slow as though he were running out of coal for his engine.  No relatives came from Yash’s side.  He said he had none.  He disowned all his blood relatives after his parents died.  His friends could not be more than fifty in number, all from the art world.

As Yash rowed the boat, he pointed to a kingfisher who dived into the sea and flew away with a fish in her beak.  A flock of seagulls flew over them.  They looked so beautiful as they flapped their wings along with the wind.  She liked the way they followed their leader.  At times they flew high into the sky, and at times they came near the sea surface.  They seemed to enjoy the flight and murmured in their language to the blue water.  Her eyes shifted to her husband, who also seemed to have been watching the sea birds.  He must have felt Piroska’s gaze and he looked at her hanging on to the package.  She held on to it as though it were her prized possession, as if it was going to make her future depend on this work.  She was at the mercy of the Sungod who was either going to appreciate her work or show his wrath for portraying him in the female form.  Rowing became difficult as the wind started to get mischievous and did not permit the boat to go further.  Yash had to stop rowing and the boat started to turn in half circles.  He saw the terrified face of Piroska and made signs with his hands to keep her calm.  The wind, which had picked up momentum, seemed to have lost control of its steering wheel.

Piroska felt dizzy as the boat turned for the third time.  She focused her attention on her mother on her wedding night.  She had never seen her mother so happy and bustling with enthusiasm.  She tried never to leave Piroska’s side but had to when she was called to attend to guests.  She kept whispering into Piroska’s ears, “Your father has changed.  I wonder what went wrong with him and Sarah?  I am so happy that he has found his way back home.”  Piroska just squeezed her mother’s hands.  Her wedding had been lucky for her mother; she needn’t worry about her mother’s loneliness now.  Piroska had always wondered what would happen to her mother when and if she got married.  Now that major tension was over.

She saw Menaka in her high element; she found one of Yash’s friends interesting.  One of those longhaired arty kinds in kadhi salwar kurta with a shabnam bag.  She was sticking to him, getting dirty looks from Sushmita’s conventional relatives, but it did not bother Menaka one bit.  That woman, if she got hooked, was enough.  It did not bother her what the rest of the world commented.  She would always say, “It is my life.  I can do what I want with it.”  What surprised Piroska was that her cousin always had moved around with classy men and Erab was hardly her type.  She had never shown a keen interest for art, as her world was only horse racing, travelling, and gambling.  She came just for Piroska’s exhibition and for holidays to Lasa.  So this sudden change liking paints surprised Piroska.  “What did Erab find in this woman?” Piroska wondered.  When Menaka caught Piroska staring in her direction, she just winked, sending her thumb down, a sign meaning all is well.

The boat rocked, and Piroska prayed hard to God, to take care of the wind.  In her hurry to reach the exhibition she forgot the elephant God besides the bed.  He would have been of great help.  She wanted to go and sit near Yash, but her neatly wrapped package would not permit her.  She would lose her balance if she got up.

The sea was getting noisy and rough, though it had not changed its colour.  Its strength made the wooden boat drift further into the sea.  Had she got her paints and a canvas, she would have stood and painted the scene on the rocking boat.  She would have got a natural effect of the sea.  She had forgotten that too in her hurry.  The birds flew out of sight as their wings could not withstand the strong gale.  It seemed a storm was brewing far off, and Piroska could not see the shore as the waves swung high.  She suddenly became scared as she saw the worried look on Yash’s face, they were at the mercy of the sea-god, and very soon she felt she would be meeting all the sea creatures.  This unruly wind was up in arms to delay them from getting to the exhibition.

Piroska tightened her grip on the packed painting.  It shouldn’t be blown apart, as all would be lost.  The rising sun would never rise on her canvas.  “Oh, God, please help,” she murmured.  Why had they used the boat?  Why did they just not drive down?  Yash had wanted the romantic feel of the sea and now they were facing it’s wrath.  The boat abruptly jerked, and she felt as though she were going to kiss the sky.  Piroska screamed and yelled as she tossed up and down by the sea.  She saw Yash frantically telling her to hold on to the sides of the boat.  That was impossible.  If she held on to the sides, then that meant letting go of the canvas—which meant drowning.  She just shook her head at him because she could not hear what he was trying to say.  His mouth kept opening to tell her, except words like “idiot,” “canvas,” something that made no sense to her.  It seemed as though he was doing some breathing exercises, and he looked so funny that she started to laugh.  She had just one wish, to save her wet painting.  What Yash was trying to tell her did not matter.

She watched Yash moving towards her direction, holding the sides of the rocking boat.  What was this man up to, was he trying to call death?  Before he could reach her it started to rain, and a huge wave tossed the boat over, sending both of them into the dark, angry sea.  Piroska felt herself sinking as she held onto her canvas.  It was difficult.  She tried to keep to the surface by floating, but the waves pushed her down, making breathing a difficult task.  She could save herself if she let go of the canvas.  But how could she let it get separated from her?  She worked hard to create it for the exhibition.  She clasped the canvas possessively.  If both had to die, it would have to be together.

Piroska could not locate Yash.  Maybe he was dead.  How could he abandon her at the last moment?  He was a stinking fucking bastard.  She saw parts of the broken boat dancing along the waves.  It seemed to enjoy her distress and plight.  She moved in its direction, thinking that she could hang onto it from one side and hold the canvas with her other hand.  Every time she felt nearer to the wrecked boat, it drifted further away.  Her limbs ached, and for a second she wanted to drown.  She saw Yash’s dead body getting tossed around by the waves.  She had no tears for him.  She just wanted to live.  She saw the smiling face of her parents waving to her, and as they disappeared among the huge waves she heard a familiar voice.

It was a nasty voice.  It laughed at her situation, the beautiful Red Riding Hood in trouble.  It laughed loudly at her wretched wet canvas whose paint got washed off by the sea.  The brown paper package had become soggy and was torn away from the canvas in shreds.  Piroska did not want to look up and face the jeering laughter.  It said,

“Ah! Piroska, what have you done to yourself?  Look at your Sungod getting raped by the mighty sea.  Your beserk imagination has failed you this time.  Why don’t you let go of your canvas it will never reach the exhibition.  Everything is over for you.”  Piroska held the canvas tighter.  She should not listen to the voice or she would never reach her destination on time.

 

“Piroska, oh the beautiful Piroska who made the colours on her canvas dance.  What a pitiful sight, you look like a drenched chicken.  Ha!”

 

“Stop, stop your chatter you wild one.  I will never leave my canvas behind.  Go away, I need to reach my exhibition.  I have to display my work.  Time is running out on me.”

 

“Time was never with you young girl.  It messed up your whole life.  It took your husband away the first time and now look at your second one floating in the water to be eaten by the sea animals.”

 

Piroska wanted to block her ears as the voice started coming nearer to her.  She had no place to hide herself.

 

“Piroska, my child, look who has come to meet you.  Look who has come to save you.”

 

Piroska screamed, “Don’t come anywhere near me.  Please go away, you are wasting my time.”  The voice did not seem to lose its gentleness baiting her to look up.  She did not want to, cause if she did, then this would be her end.

 

“Piroska, think that angels have sent me to save your soul.  Look up, dear girl.  Look up.”

 

Piroska looked up and her grip on the canvas loosened.  A huge wave tossed her painting away, and the Madonna laughed as she saw Piroska struggling to reach out for the blank canvas.  Her hands and legs were flapping, trying to get hold of the canvas as it moved further away from her.  It was tossed by the waves and beaten ruthlessly by the slanting rain.  It seemed as though the claws of hell were closing around it.  She lost sight of the white sheet as it floated away from her.  She saw the sad face of Ashok hiding behind his Madonna.  He had not changed.

Encyclopedia CD-Rom
 

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Collection CD-Rom
 
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Database Integration
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