Saturday, December 5, 2015

Out of Print-CLF Stories 2015: Jonaki Ray


Jonaki Ray

The Neighbour
I always knew that their marriage was too good to be true. A love marriage. Bakwas! There was something very fake about her. While everyone else in the colony was ga-ga over her ‘vivacious nature, her dynamism’, I could sense that it was all an act.

I mean, look at poor Teju. He got married in September, and by October, she was off, ‘touring’. Who does that? The poor guy had to take care of the house, do the groceries, manage the maids, look after his father, and run the family business. And what was madam doing, that is what I would like to know.

I wish Mrs Gupta had taken my doubts seriously when she first told me about Teju and Shefali’s engagement. I had murmured right then, ‘Don’t you think your nephew could do better?’ He is a tall, strapping, good-looking guy. He comes from a good family. So, why should it be such a big deal if Shefali is bright and a working girl? She isn’t much to look at – skinny and dark. And if her nature had been sweet, say, like Mrs Saran, who gets along with everyone, it would have still been all right. But the way she is, hoity-toity, flying in and out for her tours, getting dropped off at odd hours by her colleagues in their expensive cars, I tell you, I knew their marriage was a sham.

If you ask me, though, Teju was better off when he was a bachelor. He came and went as he pleased, dropped by for snacks and tea, and seemed like such a happy guy.

I knew that sooner and later some big trouble would come to them, and I was right, like always, ha! I mean, if a man is left alone and it is obvious that his wife doesn’t care for him, he will start looking elsewhere, won’t he? I tell you even my husband … but anyway, I digress. When that young chokri, Rinki, started hanging around their house, I knew it would spell problems. She is young and pretty, and we all know that these women from the jhopad-pattis are ready to do anything with anyone. I don’t blame Teju at all. Don’t use that ugly word, rape, please! We are decent people here in this colony, and no one does such things. What happened is that girl enticed Teju, and now they are trying to make some money. Bruises, you say? Bah, everyone gets a few bruises once in a while. I could show you mine, and all I had done was chat with my sister on the phone for too long and got a little late preparing the lunch dabba for Mr Patel. But, do I complain? Never. A good woman knows how to keep her husband straight, I tell you.

The Wife
I just know that Mrs Patel thinks I am to blame. I can see her glaring at me every time I walk past her flat. For what, though? I have worked hard all my life and I worked hard in my marriage as well.

When I got through IIT, I was ready to forget that cramped one-bedroom government quarter of my parents. I took every internship that was offered, enrolled in English classes, wore the right clothes ... and I have to say, it paid off.

When I met Tej, I thought he was like the Mills & Boon hero my cousins drooled over. I ignored him at the party where we met, didn’t give him my number, and refused to talk to him. It was only a few weeks later, when I was trying to repair my scooter, and his BMW slid by, that I took his help. I met him for coffee a few times after that, but made sure to keep a distance. But, the first time I saw his house – spacious, airy, decorated with antiques – I realised this is what I needed to have in my life. I let Tej kiss me for the first time that day. I could see it all, Mrs Shefali Shah, clad in chiffon and pearls, running my own business, living in this beautiful house.

I guess you could say I played the game well. I let him touch and kiss me, but no sex. And yet, I made it clear that I was interested. Men are actually quite stupid, you know! I kept him in a state of perpetual neediness, sometimes being nice, and sometimes just cutting off all communication. It worked! He proposed to me a month after that day at his house.

Tej wanted me to give up my job after our wedding. But that was the one thing for which I played no games. I straight up refused. I work a million hours, but all of it adds up to experience, and it will help me set up my own business. And now that their business, or rather his father’s business, isn’t doing well, my salary helps run the house. And I make it clear that makes me the boss in this house and family.

And what if we hardly meet or spend time? Why does he moan about intimacy? He should understand that money is what makes the world run; he is a businessman after all. The few times we have sex, it is horrible. But, that’s part of the effort I have made in this marriage. Let him have his few moments of ‘excitement’ from that, I don’t care. I take care of the house, the business, the money, and now, our image.

I really don’t want to find out if he did assault this woman or not. Oh, you think I am in denial, and should admit that he raped her? What nonsense! Why should I ruin all the work that I have put into this marriage? I will of course, stand by him. Even if he did do something with this Rinki-Tinki, whatever her name is, what does it matter? He is my husband, and one day, we will have a bigger house, perhaps at Nariman Point. Anything is possible.

The Husband
I can’t believe they are accusing me, Tejasvi Shah, of rape. I mean just because there are men who are animals, who beat and bite women, force them like beasts, doesn’t make every man one.

Yes, of course, I watch porn and get excited. And yes, I do visit women once in a while. I mean, who doesn’t? My father did. So did my uncle. Most of my friends do.

When I met Shefali for the first time, I was entranced. She was not pretty or rich. But, man, what attitude! She acted as if she owned the world. And that day, when she was kneeling by her scooty, she looked so grateful and vulnerable. I felt ten feet tall. It was this strange mix of arrogance and helplessness that had me hooked. I know I could have done better. But, I felt that with her, I had found someone who was a challenge. She was different from the other women who fell for me. I don’t want to boast, but there were two girls in college who had sex with me on the first date. I mean women would do anything to patao me.

And now that she is my wife, the times we have sex, I am on top, grinding into her, and she strains away, face all screwed up. I get so excited. But, I am not a bad guy, you understand. I didn’t force her. And I let her work even after marriage. Doesn’t that show that I am a good guy?

I know that the old biddies in the colony feel sorry for me, they murmur that Shefali runs the house. I just learnt to ignore them all. I mean, is it my fault that the diamond-polishing business is going through a slump? Or that the shares I invested in to make up for my losses, also tanked? What is a man to do when circumstances are such?

Shefali was away and I was bored. And I wandered into our kitchen and saw Rinki, our driver’s daughter, lounging by the door. She often came and waited for her father. I had seen her as a scrappy kid, and now she was about to start college. We chatted for a few minutes, and then I kissed her. She tried to move away, and yes, I got a bit excited. I pushed her against the wall, and had her. She said No a couple of times, but then was quiet. So, how can it be rape? In fact, if you ask me, she must have enjoyed it. She would have struggled otherwise, no?

At the most, I would admit that I took her by surprise, but it was definitely consensual. And how dare, Chotte Lal, her father, press charges? He has survived all these years thanks to the salary we gave him, and now, all of a sudden, he is talking about izzat, and how his daughter is going through trauma.

I am telling you it was not rape. I don’t need to rape women. Why are you looking at me with that expression?

Jonaki Ray studied Chemistry and Computer Science, and then returned to her first love, writing. Her work has been published in Silver Birch PressThe Times of India, Telegraph India, Down to Earth, Pyrta Journal, The Four Quarters Magazine, and Kitaab, among others. 

The Out of Print Workshop at the Chandigarh Literature Festival 2015