a friend of mine who works with street kids in calcutta told me a very startling story when he came by to visit me. his landlady’s maid, sarita, an otherwise towering personality, seemed to be fading away in post partum depression after her most recent delivery. tch tch...poor thing…13 daughters, no wonder she is heartbroken! – the landlady had sighed to him as sarita slunk through the house looking like a listless specter.
a couple of days later, sarita failed to bring my friend his morning tea. when he went down to the kitchen for breakfast, he found rice and sliced vegetables scattered all over the floor. their containers were lying upturned, as if they had been kicked across the room. just as he was wondering what to do next, his landlady walked in looking traumatized.
oh god, oh god, you will never believe what has happened! – she mumbled after my friend had turned the fan on to full blast and brought her two glasses of water.
that morning she had apparently decided to have a woman to woman chat with sarita. she spent over an hour consoling her on the tragedy of the 13th daughter only to be met with a stony silence at sarita’s end. at last, her patience snapped – you can’t fight god’s will, sarita! how long are you going to go on moping like this!?
that’s what i am wondering, mashima! – sarita finally burst out - for how long can i go on like this…year after year after year!
sarita, sarita…do you want a son that badly?
a son? no, i don’t want a son! he will definitely grow up to be a wastrel like his father! my girls are a blessing…thank god for every single one of them!
but then…is your husband forcing you to try for a son, sarita…? – the landlady delicately ventured.
hmpf! that scoundrel is too drunk to know what he wants! – sarita snorted.
sarita blinked. what operation, mashima?
the operation to stop getting pregnant!
sarita blinked again. mashima…what operation is this?!
so the landlady told sarita about how doctors today could tie up a woman’s tubes or a man’s. she kept it simple and clinical – mostly because she was thoroughly embarrassed to be having this conversation with her maid, and also to make sure that sarita grasped the basics.
but sarita continued to blink uncomprehendingly, her eyes growing wider and wider with every word. mashima! what are you saying…why do they do that?
so that...so that...what do you mean why do they do that! why can’t you understand such a simple thing! they do it so that you don’t keep getting pregnant every time you go to bed with your husband!
sarita looked thunderstruck. mashima, are you telling me i get pregnant because…?
...don’t be RIDICULOUS, sarita!
for god’s sake, sarita! after 13 children...don’t you know? didn’t your mother tell you when you got married…?
she…she told me he would sting me like a bee...she never told me it would get me PREGNANT! – sarita spat back furiously - all this time i have prayed and prayed for the goddess to have mercy on me! all this time i have put up with THAT $#@$#!!! I WILL KILL HIM! I WILL CHOP HIS #@%$# INTO PIECES AND FEED IT TO THE DOGS! PAWING AT ME NIGHT AFTER NIGHT, MAKING MY LIFE HELL YEAR AFTER YEAR…!
then sarita had run from the house like a woman possessed, sending the rice and vegetables flying across the kitchen floor. the landlady, petrified by what she had set off, took a rickshaw to sarita’s jhopdi as fast as she could. by the time she got there, sarita had already split her husband’s skull.
the entire jhopdi was gathered around sarita’s hut. everybody was talking about how sarita had come home screaming for her husband’s blood and attacked him with a tava as he lay sleeping off his drunken stupor. the landlady stood gaping along with the rest. at the blood spouting from the gash and pooling up at their feet. at sarita, who was being physically restrained in a corner by an authoritative looking middle aged woman. at their saris soaked in blood. finally, two of the men took sarita’s husband to the hospital to get stitched up.
when the landlady left to come home, sarita was still spitting venom into the bosom of the woman who held her tightly clasped to her breast.
note: it never ceases to amaze me – the number of euphemisms india has for sex, our inherent discomfort with dealing with it like adults. when i heard about sarita, i remembered a friend of mine from school whose mother never told her about menstruation. we found her sobbing in the loo at school one day, terrified she was going to die. when she was foureen, her parents came back home one morning with a new baby brother. they told her god gave him to them at the temple. she honestly had no idea why we burst out laughing when she told us about it. she was shattered when we told her about sex. come to think of it…i learnt about sex from books and friends and bathroom walls and the movies as well. my folks and i never really talk(ed) about it either.
image credit: cover art of 'an ideal boy, charts from india'; www.amazon.com