’Then Gautama cursed his wife. “You shall be invisible to all creatures as you do penance in this hermitage! You shall be purified only when Rama, the invincible son of Dasaratha, comes to this forest. Wicked woman, when you offer hospitality to Rama, you shall be freed of your lust and passion. You shall regain your earlier form in my presence!” Gautama left the hermitage ...’*
When he had finished with what he came for, I lay back and let him sate himself on my beauty. I heard the milkman ring the bell twice. I let the cats slurp on the milk they had clawed out of the bag. Let them gorge too, I thought.
He sat up in bed scratching his handsome cheek still besmeared with the redness of my lips. He turned away from my limp arms.
‘What about your husband?’
What sort of a question was that? Hadn’t he come into the house using my husband’s voice, with his ardour, and with his own unquenchable thirst for what he had lost when my husband whisked me away with his wizardry? Oh come on! Did I know when I opened the door that it was he and not my husband who stood at the threshold? I was in my bathrobe, just out of my bath, expecting my beloved at the door, waiting to ensnare him all over again with my long tresses and fragrant arms. And whom do I find but this man wrapped in charm and long withheld hunger! Did I know then that he would step in through the door as I gaped at him, and take me in his arms? Did he know I was alone? Of course! He had left nothing to chance, but I didn’t know it then.
And yet, having seen through the ploy, I gave in.
Here are some reasons.
He swept me off my feet.
It was preordained. I had to, perhaps to tell this story.
I was helpless.
But wait! Do you think I am justifying my actions? No. I waited for what was to come, gauged the extent of my involvement. Could I prove how he, the desired of a million hearts, simply picked me up and placed me on the bed? Could I explain how I could not bring myself to say no to this man who ruled over the multitude? I? A mere mortal before him? I could not even open my eyes to look at him, hold his gaze. And I swooned before the ardour he offered at my feet. I couldn’t look at him directly but the mirror showed it all. His famous charm wrapped itself around my senses and I saw him come to me in a manner unimaginable for the countless whose hearts throb only for him.
I saw my beauty blaze in the mirror and burn in his eyes. I was helpless before his impatient, awesome craving.
Aditya returned on Saturday, jubilant with the new project he had wrested for his partners. He always knew how to wrest a win from under the opponent’s nose.
I waited. He would know. He could see through me.
In my mind I was inviolate.
But how could he not see the violation of my body?
At night, with the curtains drawn around us, the sheets crisp over our bodies, the lamplight muted, he quietly turned towards me.
‘I wish you would tell me yourself.’
I had nobody to speak on my behalf, no divine amanuensis to record my words. I told him how I was duped by the voice that pretended to be his; how I did not smell his adversary standing at the door. I did not tell him that I smelt his passion.
‘You welcomed him with open arms.’
‘Oh no! No! My arms were pinned to my side, dangling from where his arms held me in their grip.’
‘Why didn’t you prevent him?’
‘How could I?’
‘You didn’t want to.’
‘I didn’t want to ...’ A world of equivalence crouches in that admission.
‘Was it rape?’
How would I answer this? Does one shut one’s eyes during rape? Does rape make one feel satiated with an unexpected thrill? How could I answer this question?
‘You are better off without me. And he, the son of a bitch! I will see to him.’
He got out of bed and switched on the television. I was discarded.
‘What am I to do?’
‘Whatever.’ He did not turn to look at me.
‘Are you putting me out of your life?’
‘That’s what you have chosen to do.’
‘What choice did I have?’
‘The choice to say no.’ In the flickering light of the television, his grin was sombre, mirthless. ‘Stay if you want to. I cannot take you back. For me, you have ceased to exist.’
I turned to stone with my outraged modesty, with the remnants of my dignity, with the unwillingness to clarify, or to confirm.
I turned to stone, not out of calculated coquetry to win him back. My petrifaction was my protest against my perceived arousal, my husband’s demand for purity at all costs, at his acceptance of possible rape but not my shocked compliance.
‘If he can stand up to say you were unwilling, I could consider taking you back.’
I’d rather be a stone.
Aaliya visited me when I was packing some bags.
‘What’s this? Where are you going?’
‘Cleaning up, not going.’
‘Did you say sorry to Aditya?’
I had to look at her for this. I had to see the question in the depths of her eyes. She had to see the answer in my words.
‘Sorry? For being imposed upon?’
‘How could you give in?’
I pushed the open rucksack with my left foot. ‘You mean I welcomed him with open arms?’
‘N..no, but if it was rape, you could have said no.’
I smiled. I had to. ‘Tell me, Aaliya. How does one demarcate? Where does the line of rape end and consent begin when one has no choice? I took the scars on my mind instead of on my body. Is that what you want to see? The scars of my torment? The proof?’
‘Why didn’t you report it?’
‘And then? Take this private inquisition to the public fora? Who would believe me? Do you believe? Does Aditya believe? Come on, Aali. You know better than that. He is God himself, the invincible, irrepressible heartthrob of this nation and he enters my home and violates me. Is this what I tell the world?’
My laughter rings in my ears. ‘I did not advertise the post of rapist, if that’s what you mean.’ Poor girl, I didn’t mean to humiliate her. After all, we go back a long way, school, college and then theatre. ‘Why he? Ask Adi. He will tell you. That’s what’s gnawing at him. Adi cocked a snook at him when he won me. I was the prize and the prize has been desecrated.’
Aaliya stood by the window, a picture frozen in time. Like Aditya later that night. He too stood by the window, as if that aperture would give him respite.
‘What do you plan to do now?’
‘I thought you were leaving.’
‘Where should I go? Will my going away make me unreal, render me null and void? To whom?’
‘At least I won’t have to see you before my eyes every day. Spare me that torment. When I see you I see the other too, the one you brought into my room, my bed, and claim to be innocent about.’
‘Would you have had me violated on the street rather than on your bed? Does the setting determine whether the act is acceptable or despicable?’
‘This is not an intellectual discussion and it does not absolve you of your guilt.’
‘Guilt. Yes, guilt indeed. I gave in knowing I had no way out.’
‘People won’t think so.’
‘The walls around me have pre-existing niches, Adi, and your ‘people’ are waiting to fill them with pre-existing goodies according to each one’s taste. Only I know what fits. I could say he raped me and go on to admire your brawn as you bash up his handsome face. I could, if I wanted to, prove the rape. I choose not to prove anything. It’s my word against your ideas. The choice is yours Adi, not mine.’
‘Leave me alone! I wish you would disappear.’
I did not disappear; I stayed in our home, slept in our bedroom. Sometime after this, I do not remember the exact date, he returned from office and took cognizance of my presence.
‘Want to discuss something. Are you free for a minute?’
I wasn’t, but I made myself available.
‘I have to leave for France for six months. Tomorrow.’
I waited. Aditya looked at me in the mirror.
‘What are your plans?’
‘Are you running away, Adi?’ I didn’t await his answer. ‘No, I have no plans. Have a play scheduled for next week and am busy with that.’
‘So when I return, will you still be here?’
I stood before him now, between him and the mirror.
‘I’ll be here. Not waiting, not pining, not penitent, not imperceptible to all creatures, intangible, unseen, veiled; not for me the penance for a sin I am not guilty of. I have absolved myself of all perceived guilt. I will be here as I am.’
* Arshia Sattar, The Ramayana by Valmiki, Penguin Books, 2000, p. 74
Sucharita Dutta-Asane is a writer based in Pune. Her work has appeared this year in Vanilla Desires, Unisun Publications and Ripples, Short Stories by Indian Women Writers, APK Pulishers. Her retelling of Sita's story has been selected for Zubaan's forthcoming anthology, The Speculative Ramayana. Her collection of short stories titled The Jungle Stories won an award at Oxford Bookstores' e-author contest in 2008. Besides this, she freelances as an editor with a Literary Agency in India.