A Touch Deep Down
Manasvi Mehta removes her spectacles, presses her tired eyes with her fingers, and puts her spectacles back on. It is past midnight, the letters in ‘Comprehensive Guide to Indirect Taxation’ look like marching ants; she has little recollection of what she read in the last fifteen minutes. She debates with herself if she can afford to sleep or take a break for refreshment, for she is much behind her reading schedule. On her study table is a glass of chocolate milk, now warm, but boiling hot when her mother brought it in an hour ago, and she helps herself to it and to a plate of nuts. Finally she decides: she will listen to two songs on her mp3, surf through Facebook for no longer than five minutes and politely refuse her distant cousin on that outrageous request. Then, back to study!
She reads Jhanvi’s, her distant cousin’s, email again:
Manasvi, I really need you to do this. Need at least 15 feedbacks by next week and as of yet my group has NONE! Pls pls pls send it.
(Fake it if you want)
Thanks for volunteering for A Touch Deep Down. Rest assured, your identity will stay safely hidden with us (your couriers will be handled by Administration and students will not be allowed to see them).
A Touch Deep Down is a textual art project by final year students of Mithibai College. It explores feminism, mind/body dualism, attention restoration, and the contrast between culture and sexuality. Also, it's really fun to participate ;)
Please see below for instructions and guidelines...
She huffs and puffs. The project is no less shocking to her now than when she first read it. Why would anyone participate in such a shameless thing? And what use could it be? How could it be a study project? Yes, there are some heavy words like feminism and mind/body dualism, but that does not help much.
She realises these words belong to that world out there in which Jhanvi lives, a bigger and more complex world than Jaipur’s Gandhi Colony. But Jaipur’s Gandhi Colony is where she is, and she is fine. So that is all there is to it.
Jhanvi is dear to her but she knows they are very different. Manasvi is a sincere, no-nonsense twenty-two-year old commerce student, and, like her elder brother, like her favourite uncle, like her favourite seniors from the Commerce section in school, she is going to be a chartered accountant and make everybody proud. At least that’s the plan – it is no joke to clear the CA – and that’s where she is heading. This is not an exciting plan, not a plan that makes her dreamy at noon or chatty with friends, but it is a simple and clear and respectable plan. She is a Mehta girl, and to possess a plan for the future is to be in a position of privilege.
She writes, ‘NO WAY!’ to Jhanvi, shuts down her computer and plugs on her earphones. A Touch Deep Down – what a scandalous idea!
From the window of her room she sees a slice of the moon struggling to show itself amongst heavy clouds. On the boundary wall of their house is a cat curled into itself. The street is deserted and reflects the yellow of the street lamps. The sight makes her sad. She indulges in this sadness by selecting a sad song on her mp3 player. Then, she studies for an hour and catches up with her schedule, just like she promised herself. But she fails to shake off the undercurrent of sadness.
Later that night, at an indistinct time, she finds herself awake on her bed. A blanket on, the night absolutely silent, she slips her hand inside her pants and touches herself ‘down there’.
Manasvi Mehta removes her spectacles, presses her tired eyes with her fingers, and puts her spectacles back on. It is past midnight, her parents must be fast asleep, and she debates with herself about the sanity of the her idea. On her study table is an empty glass of chocolate milk, an empty plate of nuts, a book on Indirect Taxation that she just closed, and a half-filled journal that she has dug out from her almirah.
She listens closely for sounds – none, not even the purring of a cat or the barking of street dogs or the cric-cric-cric of crickets – and feels reassured. She takes this silence as a good omen.
In her right hand is a pen, while the fingers of her left hand are on her top, over her tensing breasts. Slowly but surely they move to her shoulders, down her arm, across to her navel and then to the edge of her skirt. She whispers, ‘Just this once, for you, evil Jhanvi!’ and with unbridled passion touches herself deep ‘down there’. A powerful force takes over her hand, makes the pen run over the journal without stopping, lagging behind the rush of thoughts in her head.
She fills pages first with the obvious – what she is doing to herself and how her body is reacting – then adds her thoughts on the absurdity and stupidity of what she is doing, with her fears about performing these actions in a room with an unlatched door, about what if someone discovers her in the middle of it all and how misunderstood she would be, about what they would come to think of her – years of hard work, good work, so much niceness will all be destroyed in one single moment, and about why she cannot allow herself to just latch the door and do it in the privacy of her room. She fills the pages also with curses and accusations aimed at Jhanvi for making her do this despite logic. This goes on for four pages until, suddenly, in the flow of things, she finds the following sentence erupt on the paper in a large font: Every morning you motherfuckers, sitting at the dining table and having your precious tea, make me put my hands on my throat and choke myself. You enjoy this spectacle don’t you? If it is the fingerprints that you want to avoid, strangulate me with a rope and burn that rope! I will write you a suicide note. But don’t make me do this to myself daily. DON’T DON’T DON’T!! JUST DON’T!!
She stops. She has no idea where this came from and what it means. But this is not the time to think. She is panicked. Quickly she buries the journal amongst her books and, without giving any further thought to what has transpired, switches off the light and goes to sleep.
What she has written in the past three weeks in states of excitement:
- A recounting of various times when her mother was bitchy (that time when she did not allow her best friend to sleep over, that time she starved and sulked so that Manasvi skipped the class trip to Manali...). She accuses her mother of pretending disappointment to make her feel guilty all the time.
- A description of a phantasmagorical reptilian beast, who storms into India, into Jaipur, bringing death and destruction, finds Manasvi abandoned in her broken room, and steals her to some ancient jungles in China where she must do inappropriate things to herself or the beast will kill her.
- A confession of her crush on her Uncle and a simultaneous acceptance of the crush as harmless. She finds the Uncle – well built, moustached, but socially awkward – cute.
- An envy and irritation at her brother’s apathy with her situation and with the household situation in general, which both of them agree is too negative.
- A plea to her father to listen to her. Also, pieces of advice for him, some of which she keeps doling out but which he carelessly ignores.
- Three entries that contain nothing but sounds of ecstasy, and curses followed always by two exclamation marks, and statements on her body’s reactions (‘Oomph!! Ahhh!! Sigh sigh sigh!! Fuck me motherfucker. Do It!! Pleassssse... my nipples are hardening... it is wet, so wet, so wet!!’ and so on and so forth)
- A rushed but satisfactorily vivid sketch of her fondest dream: a trip to Egypt with a man she is in love with.
Manasvi Mehta removes her spectacles, presses her tired eyes with her fingers, and puts her spectacles back on. It is past midnight, her parents must be fast asleep, and there is no reason to feel afraid about what she intends to do.
She tiptoes to the kitchen, steals a candle and a matchbox, and locks herself in the common bathroom of the house. In the candlelight she flips opens her journal to the first entry. One by one she tears the pages off, reads them, with compunction and fear and curiosity, then burns them. The remains of each page fall from her hand into the newly installed western commode. It takes her an hour to burn down all the evidence of her misdeeds. While nobody has taken note of her extended presence in the loo, her venture is not completely successful as three of her fingers have suffered burns in the process.
In the photograph in the local newspaper she is flashing a V sign and a grin. Her face does not appear clearly in the print, as the rank holders form the first line of the group and are in focus, but this photograph finally establishes that she is CA Manasvi Mehta. Now and forever.
The storm of wishes following the announcement of her results have kept her occupied – phone calls from friends and relatives, people visiting her in person, treats and parties with batchmates at the coaching centre – so it is after three days that she sit down with the Mehta family at the dining table for evening tea. They are sipping milky tea, munching snacks, gossiping gently. The tv is on. The atmosphere is unusually light and relaxed. It is in this mood that her Uncle says, generously, ‘Joining me from next month, beta?’
‘No,’ she says. ‘I am going to sit for campus.’
That she has looked straight into her Uncle’s eyes and not hesitated even slightly amuses everyone. But children say such things. Her father dismisses her reply. ‘No campus-shampus. Private companies pay little, make you work like a donkey.’ Mother says, ‘Who knows which city you get sent? So dangerous for girls. Don’t you read newspapers?’ Brother says nothing.
She doesn’t look surprised or distressed. She takes a large sip of her tea, stands up, places the cup in the kitchen sink, returns unhurried, and announces, ‘I want to go away from home for a year. I have talked to Jhanvi, she will make room for me in her apartment. This is final.’ She leaves the gathering for her room, the doors of which she shuts upon reaching.
The silence pervading the dining hall makes the situation almost funny. Manasvi’s father mumbles something but does not mumble much. Her mother, shocked, stares at the closed doors of her daughter’s room. The brother and the Uncle keep their eyes and ears on the tv. They all finish up their snacks and pretend nothing important has transpired.
Mohit Parikh's debut novel Manan is due for release in August 2014 by Harper Collins India. His work has published or is forthcoming in Identity Theory, Burrow Press Review, SPECS journal of art and culture, Out of Print Magazine, TBLM, The Affair and other places. He received Jury Commendation at Toto Awards for Creative Writing in English 2014.