My story 19
“The Rape” had written originally in Odia in1989. After publishing in “KATHA,” a literary periodical, this story created a great controversy in Odia literature. But soon after, it was translated into various Indian languages like Hindi,Bengali Marathi, and Telugu. This story has also been translated in English by Swarnarenu Mohapatra and anthologized in The Harper Collins Book of Oriya short stories. It has also been translated and published in Spanish and published out of Spain and Peru, into French, and into Chinese.
Not that Suparna and Jayantnever fought. They had their fair share of fights like any normal couple but nothing out of the ordinary, nothing very bitter, and certainly nothing irreparable. Sometimes the fights were about the kids; sometimes about a domestic problem. In all cases, they would not last more than ten or fifteen acrimonious minutes and were normally followed by an hour-long sulk, which then melted like snow. And before they knew it, the day had resumed its easy pace, its pleasant ordinariness. Even cruel words like selfish, domineering, independence, profligacy, uneconomical, bandied about during the quarrel, did not exactly explode like bombs. Usually by evening, everything had been forgotten.
But today's quarrel was unlike anything before. Suparna was surprised how quickly it had taken on sinister proportions and the damn thing had happened before she realized it.
She had gotten out of bed early that day, still groggy with sleep and had meandered in and out of the bathroom and then into the kitchen to light the fire for morning tea. As the water began to boil, she methodically cracked her knuckles, stretched her body, and let out the yawns trapped inside her. When the brew was ready, she went and slipped her hand inside the mosquito net and gently shook Jayant awake. Tea in the open courtyard was still a beautiful ritual, something they loved with which to begin their day.
“I had a bizarre dream,” Suparna told Jayant between sips.
“What about?”Jayant asked. “I didn't have a pleasant dream either.”
“Not the kind you might be imagining. This was the strangest one I've ever had.”
“Well...well, I did it with Dr.Tripathy. I don't know how, but we were somehow thrown together, and we flitted from place to place looking for a lonely nook where we could be alone. But everywhere there was somebody or other. Eventually of course it happened.”
“He made love to me.”
“I wish I could too,” Jayant guffawed. “Not to you, but to somebody else.”
A ghost of a smile lingered on Jayant's face, but Suparna noticed it was cloudy. That lasted maybe a minute and then Jayant was his jovial old self again, but she sensed it was a put-on. He was simply trying to laugh it away, to show there was nothing to his flippant remark.
The dream had been bad and had caused Suparna a twinge of guilt but Jayant's remark was far worse. She had had no intention of startling or hurting him when she came out with it; the whole thing had cropped up just like that, entirely unpremeditated. She had no idea that it would upset him. Although he swore several times it meant nothing to him, she was not reassured. She observed his smile appeared to be forced, like something he had plucked from somewhere and planted on his bitter lips. She gulped down her tea and got up. The matter was best quickly buried.
On another day she would have argued vehemently: “What! You don't think I'm free to dream? Can I control what I dream?” Life, of late, had become a little too claustrophobic, a little too suffocating for her. As if taking advantage of her indifference, sloth and lethargy, life had confined itself to this house sitting on a small sliver of land. The outside world had even begun to scare her. And to think she had once fancied herself being reborn as a bird, a free bird in her next life! Had she ever imagined a life confined to four walls, one day like the next, her twenty-eighth year the same as her thirtieth or thirty-third?
She seemed immersed in the housekeeping chores of making hot rotis for her husband; correcting her son's lessons for school; taking care of her daughter's skin, teeth and hair, she had completely forgotten the rebel she had once been.
During a college picnic to Dhabaleswar, she had sat on the riverbank, defiantly smoking a cigarette, scornful of the sly innuendoes of her classmates. Who was that fellow, some Das Adhikari or something, she had confronted? “What, do you boys take us girls for cows or sheep? Can't we smoke a cigarette if we want to?” she challenged.
For three years following her marriage, she had not dreamt of giving in to the repetitive banality of everyday life, of limiting herself to her husband's world, and had hopped from Cuttack to Bhubaneswar to Puri. “I'll suffocate in this world,” she had told her husband. “Jayant, I need the earth, the sea, the sky.” She found jobs a fetter but decided to get one anyway and landed herself a fairly cushy offer. But about the same time, she became pregnant and when the doctor advised complete rest for five months, she had had to give that job up.
How those five months had altered her life! New experiences overtook her. She became a mother and forgot all about wanting to be a free bird. She should have taken to her wings again, maybe with her first-born strapped to her back, but somehow she hadn't. Then came the second child, a girl. The son's smiles, the daughter's impishness, the deep and untroubled sleep following her husband's vasectomy, all made her forget. She forgot Saul Bellow and Garcia Marquez; she forgot Sam Pitroda and ShabanaAzmi and Ananthamurthy. Without the slightest twinge of inhibition, she began to gossip with the neighbours. For instance, the Mohanty’s could make a kilo-and-a-half of curry out of just half a kilo of mutton or Suparna had received plenty of gold jewellery at her wedding and had added considerably to it since. And also, every time she looked into the Pradhan's quarters, she saw the husband either picking lice from the wife's hair or scouring the pressure-cooker. Gossip came so easy to her.
The milk van stopped in front of the house and the driver honked the horn. Her three-year-old son came running inside. “Ma,” he screamed. “The milk van!”
Suparna was surprised at herself how she could dawdle so long over washing the dishes; she would spend more than thirty minutes over what should take not more than ten. The overnight milk bowl was still inside the fridge and there was no time to scrub it clean. She picked up another bowl, asked her son to hold the money for the milk, ran a hurried comb through her hair, smoothed down her sari, stole a brief glance at herself in the mirror, and then went out. The driver gave her a broad grin: “Were you still asleep or what?” She gave him a shy smile.
She rushed through the cooking and had breakfast ready before eight o’clock. Jayant seemed to be in a hurry that day. When he was ready for the office, she put down her toothbrush with the dollop of toothpaste she had already squeezed on it and walked to the gate to see him off.
“I gave you Littil's stool examination report yesterday, remember?”Jayant said. “We will have to see the doctor today at ten. I'll try and sneak back from the office for an hour. Be ready.”But before Suparna could say anything, he had revved up his scooter and sped away.
Another routine would overtake her now, one which would first involve spanking the children for no reason and then bribing them with chocolates, hot savouries, and toys. There were lots of household chores to do: the drawing room to be tidied. There were crumbs of bread and globs of curry not only on the floor but on the table, on the sofa set, and everywhere as well.Jayant encouraged the children to eat breakfast with him but never bothered to stop them from making a mess as he himself would be engrossed in watching the morning shows. The bed had to be made. The milk had to be boiled. The living room floor had to be swept and swabbed with a wet rag. A semblance of order had to be restored to the whole place. Then there was the water filter candle to be scrubbed and cleaned; rice and dal and vegetables to be cooked, all before Jayant came back at ten o'clock. And she would have to shop at the green grocer's before starting the cooking. She felt numb.
As she made the bed, she felt a tiredness overtake her. She threw herself on the bed, wondering whether she should hire a servant again. But servants caused more headaches than not these days. And with a servant around, the whole day would be spent under a pall of irritation and mutterings under one’s breath. She had been so happy when she had seen the back of her last servant some four months ago. The rigors of housework had melted down the rolls of fat around her waist and now she was back in shape! The only problem she faced was not having someone to keep an eye on the children. The other day, when she had been a little distracted, her daughter Littilhad picked a used ampule of distilled water out of the drain and chewed it up. It had taken a distraught Suparna quite an effort to extract the pieces of glass from the child's mouth. Her tongue was lacerated in several places and her stool had to be rushed to the doctor for examination.
With a heave,Suparna got up from the bed and went into the drawing room. Her son and the daughter were in the midst of a roaring fight. She broke it up and banished them to separate rooms to play with their own toys. Then she picked up the broom and started sweeping the floor. Cooking could wait, she decided.
She wasn't halfway through her chores when Jayant returned. “I shan't be a minute,” she said, hurrying to change her clothes. She had misplaced the almirah keys and it took some time to locate them. Jayant, moody, jumpy, irritable, impatiently stayed by the front door. “Done, done,” she babbled repeatedly. “Through. I shan't be a minute.” When she looked for her shoes, she found a thick coat of dust on them as she hadn't used them for such a long time. She looked around for something to wipe them off, maybe a brush or a piece of cloth, to wipe them off but found nothing. So she hit them against the floor before slipping them on. Then she hurried out, closing the door and locking it.
It was nearly eleven by the time they reached the clinic. That was the busiest hour and there was already a long queue. “Now can you understand why I wanted you to hurry?”Jayant hissed.
“I couldn't do that simply because of Your Highness’s command,” she snapped back at him. “Who do you think does all the chores?”
Jayant grasped his son's hand and said to Suparna, “We'll wait outside. You take Littil inside and show her to the doctor.”
“Both Dr.Tripathy and his wife seem very busy today,”Suparna observed.
For a long time, the doctor wasn't even aware of Suparna's presence in the room. She inched closer to his table, one chair at a time. The doctor would raise his eyes every now and then from the patient he was examining, his gaze one of pure contemplation, and look abstractedly around. Suparna tried to catch his eye with a nod of her head but nothing seemed to register.
In real life, Dr.Tripathy seemed so different. In her dream, he had appeared a lot younger, almost youthful, with scarcely a wrinkle on his forehead, and certainly much taller than his actual five-foot-one or two. The Dr. Tripathy in her dream definitely was not so solemn, so weary, and so irritable. She noticed that nearly half his moustache had already turned grey. His face in her dream was oddly handsome, as if carved by a sculptor, albeit not a consummate one.
Her turn came.
“What's the matter?” the doctor routinely enquired.
Suparna gave him the run down on how her precious daughter had tried to eat a glass ampule.
“You should keep an eye on young children,” the doctor admonished her, his voice a touch unpleasant. Then he pushed back his chair and stood up, asking her to bring her daughter to the examination room. There, he made the little girl lie down on the table and began to feel and press her stomach. The girl started kicking and flailing her arms about. Suparna had to hold her hands and legs to keep her still. When the doctor inserted a tongue-depressor into Littil's mouth, she turned her head this way and that, and Suparna had a hard time pinning her down. The doctor did not quite mask his irritation when he showed Suparna how to hold the child. His examination was thorough and meticulous and he took his time over it. Then he said there was nothing the matter with the girl. Suparna was greatly relieved. She offered the doctor his fee but he waved it away. He didn't even prescribe any medicine. Suparna picked up the stool report from his table, folded her hands in a namaskar, and walked out.
Once outside, she found Jayant pacing the road in front of the clinic with their son, who was bawling for chocolates. Jayant ought to have met the doctor, she thought. She would have liked him to be with her when the doctor examined their daughter. She bought chocolates for the children and returned home.
Later that night, all the housework done, Suparna closed the back door, locked the front gate, washed herself, poured two glasses of water from the filter, and took it to the bedroom. The milk had cooled down and she put the bowl inside the fridge. The clothes had dried and she took them off the line, folded them and put them on the rack. The TV, the fan, and the lights in the drawing room were still on so she switched them off. She checked the front door once again before finally getting into bed.
“If you want to read, switch on the bedside lamp,”Jayant said.
Although she would have loved to read for a while, she was totally worn out. “I'm dog tired,” she replied. “I can barely keep my eyes open.” She got under the mosquito net. The children lay spread-eagled in the middle of the bed. She straightened them out and moved them into their places; it took some effort. Jayant could have lent a hand but he didn't. As she lay down, she felt his hand around her waist. Oh God, no, she thought, stiffening. Not tonight. Didn't he see how tired she was? She gently pushed his long hand away. But the hand crawled back again. This time she repulsed it firmly.
“So you met your Dr. Tripathy today, eh?” Jayant enquired, with a snort of laughter. “And the dream came true, did it, huh?”
Suparnawas startled. It was like a stinging slap. Did Jayant mean what he said or was it just a sick joke? Whatever it was, it did not lessen the sense of humiliation beginning to overwhelm her. Being raped couldn't have been any worse.
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